courtesy The Examiner
On May 11 at the Montage in Beverly Hills, approximately 300 people gathered to listen to a speech about standing up to extremism and intolerance in Islam. The topic was certainly not new, just another clarification of the old story: Islam doesn’t condone terrorism. The real reason why an array of California political and civic heavyweights – politicians, academics and community leaders including the California Lieutenant Governor, Los Angeles City Councilman and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, and several members of U.S. Congress – attended the event was to listen to the keynote speaker, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, spiritual and administrative head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
Courtesy Chicago CBS Local
These days, anything and everything can be uttered under the guise of free speech. We can hurt the religious sensitivities of others, call people names, stomp our foot on someone considered the son of God by billions. It’s all protected in the name of free speech. Don’t get me wrong, as an American Muslim I am indescribably thankful for the freedoms I receive in this great nation of ours. Without the First Amendment, I’d be unable to practice my religion freely, take time off for Friday prayers, invite friends over to my local mosque or even write posts such as this one in a Jewish publication. No doubt about it, freedom of speech is probably the greatest liberty and blessing we all enjoy here in the United States. But sometimes I think we misunderstand this freedom altogether.
Courtesy: Pew Forum
The Pew Research Center this week revealed another extensive and newsworthy piece of research: The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society. The results of the survey, which consisted of more than 38,000 interviews of Muslims in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia in approximately 80 languages, reveals many things on many topics. Some revelations are interesting, others curious, and a few even downright alarming. As an American Muslim, though, I was mostly interested in the appendices, which discuss the attitudes of U.S. Muslims and compared them to similar themes among Muslims of other countries. Here’s my take:
The gloves are finally off: according to a poll, one third of Americans want a state religion. Two hundred years after the United States was created by men and women fleeing the stifling rule and religious persecution of their homes, we have come full circle by expressing a desire by some to return to a state sanctioned religion. No surprise that the preferred state religion is Christianity. Reflecting on the reasons for such a supposedly non-American public opinion, the pollsters wonder if it could be “reflective of dissatisfaction with the current balance of religion and politics”. In my mind, however, the results of the poll point to some deep-rooted issues, which instead of being dismissed as inconsequential because it could never actually happen, should be analyzed to understand the thought process of millions of the population.
The nation is still reeling from shock after Monday’s attack on the Boston Marathon. Gun violence notwithstanding, this is perhaps the first real terrorist attack on US soil after 9/11. Understandably emotions have been running high; no surprise then, that as the events unfolded many people, including the media, jumped on the “Blame the Muslims” bandwagon. The New York Post famously inflated casualty numbers and reported that a Saudi man was apprehended as a suspect by the police. Social media was inundated by predictions of guilt and accusations of violent jihad, at the same time as the Muslim community mobilized to condemn the attacks.
Courtesy: Huffington Post UK
It seems that controversy over the hijab – the Islamic tradition of covering a woman’s hair and body – will not die down anytime soon. Governments such as France and Germany seem to be dead set against it, while theocracies such as Saudi Arabia go the other extreme by forcing women to cover. But ask the average Muslim woman, and she will probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Since when is dress a political statement, even a weapon? FEMEN – a feminist Ukrainian protest group – seems to think it is, and is up in arms over the hijab, declaring April 4 as International Topless Jihad Day. What FEMEN activists perhaps did not expect was that Muslim women who wear the hijab are a tad possessive about their right to wear it, and don’t take lightly to a declaration of jihad (Arabic for struggle) against it.
Pope Francis with Foreign Diplomats, Credit REUTERS/Tony Gentile
The news out of the Vatican seems to be getting more and more fascinating every day. An avid researcher of all religions – and especially interested in all things Catholic because of my educational ties with convents – I have been following the abdication of Pope Benedict and the election of Pope Francis, and all that’s happened in between these two major events, with great interest. When Benedict resigned, I felt a moment or two of incredulity, because it’s practically unheard of. Then I followed the whole voting process, including the betting, with bated breath. And I haven’t been disappointed, for Pope Francis is proving to be an absolute gem in so many ways. As I said, fascinating news… even though I’m a Muslim.
Perhaps no other country of the world has received so much censure about its treatment of women in recent years than Afghanistan. First the cold war, then the civil war, then the oppressive rule of the Taliban, and finally the American war on terror – Afghanistan’s female population has been continually left in poverty, danger, and tragedy as long as memory serves. In recent years, however, with the help of American troops in some cases, and as a result of more education and awareness in others, Afghani women have made great strides in their standard of living, from serving in the police force to hopefuls in politics, and it looks like their luck may finally be changing.
Benazir Bhutto. Credit: Creative Commons/iFaqeer.
March being Women’s History Month, it gives rise to the inevitable discussions of women and their contributions to our collective past. For Muslims, March can also be a time to recognize the achievements of women from our own faith tradition, and in some cases it is a time to discover new female role models we never even realized existed. Stories of the past can serve as powerful motivators for all of us, but for Muslims in particular, the tales of intelligent, brave, creative and influential Muslim women can serve to lift us all collectively into a sense of pride. For the rest of the world, these stories serve to break down stereotypes of the “Muslim woman” – with her perceived limitations, oppression and handicaps.
Last week I highlighted the tale of Noor Inayat Khan, a little-known Muslim spy princess during the French Resistance. Since many in the western world consider Muslim women in the Middle East and Asia to be more oppressed and weak, this week’s Muslim Woman story is about the “other” side of the world. This week I journey in my mind back to my native Pakistan to highlight Benazir Bhutto, a female Muslim political leader who personified women’s empowerment and stood up for democracy in the face of dictatorship.
As a woman, I welcome the month of March – Women’s History Month – each year as an opportunity to pay tribute to women who have made significant contributions to our world. As a Muslim woman, I also look forward to this month as a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions Muslim women have made to the sciences, literature, honorable struggles such as the French Resistance, and so much more. During a time when women in Islam are viewed as dependent, covered up, and oppressed, I look forward to the narratives of strong, independent, and intelligent Muslim women of the past as a much-needed boost to the generally negative and (incorrectly) chauvinistic paintbrush that Islam has been painted with over the last few centuries. This month I will write a series of posts about several little-known Muslim women from whom I personally am honored to learn, and who can demonstrate what Islam really offers to women in terms of freedom, creativity, and authority.
My first historical profile is someone from the recent past. Noor Inayat Khan (1914 – 1944) was an Indian Muslim descended from Tipu Sultan, but more importantly the first female radio operator sent from Britain into occupied France to aid the French Resistance. Interested in music, poetry and writing from a young age, Noor decided to set aside her pacifist Sufi upbringing and participate in the war in order to help change Western perceptions about Indians and Muslims. According to Ayahs, Lascars and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947, she once said: “I wish some Indians would win high military distinction in this war. If one or two could do something in the Allied service which was very brave and which everybody admired it would help to make a bridge between the English people and the Indians.”