Sunday, February 28, 2010

What We're Doing for Literature

I saw the Invincible Abdullah series some time ago and made a mental note.



In an age where Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia are mentioned on nearly every secular homeschool blog, I desired a series of books that we Muslims could enjoy for our children and ourselves. I don't know if this is it, after all, we haven't read them yet, but if it's good, InshaALLAH, I'll let you know. The series is four paperbacks with corresponding workbooks, purchased separately. I got mine from Islamic Bookstore, (this isn't a paid advertisement by the way - it was cheaper for me since I'm in Canada). Read More...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Different Methods, Same Goal

We're trying different methods to learn the multiplication tables. My daughter can fill out the chart but she's slow about it. I'm hoping that rote memorization helps her speed up her mind when I drill her, InshaALLAH.



She also wrote our a few rhymes for the more difficult numbers in the table. There are rhymes on the back too. We didn't do them all; I want her to understand commutative math too, i.e. 4 x 7 = 7 x 4, etc.


Read More...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Battle of Uhud


We've finished the Battle of Uhud and now on to the Battle of Al-Ahzab, (Battle of the Trench), InshaALLAH. Read More...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Problems for Muslim Immigrants in USA

Those who migrate from their own land to any other part of the world, whether it is a developed country or poor nation, they definitely face some problems. These problems occur due to the change in food, religion, language and other values of the residents of the area. Because every part of the world has its own way of living and others cannot easily accept it.

USA is country where people of every religion, cast and ethnicity live; they all came from different regions of the world. Muslims have got decent population in USA but still they face many problems. One of the main problems they face is to learn Quran and get other islamic education material.

Few years back there was no well-known Islamic School in USA. Muslim families were not able to teach their children Quran Recitation and translation. With the passage of time Muslims of the USA developed themselves.

One of the Muslim families in USA launched online Quran Recitation teaching School in 2005 and hired trained Quran tutors who teach online Quran Recitation to the children in USA. Today after three years they have become the worlds the first, the best and the largest Online Qur'an Academy. This school has taught more than 5000 kids and parents to Read Qur'an with Tajweed.

Read More...

The Battle of Badr

The snow is back. The kids have been pretty upset this winter because they hadn't had the chance to get outside and use their toboggans due to the mild weather that we've had (they were sick a lot too).

Finally, we had a decent snow and the weather was okay so my husband took them out to a hill that's at the far end of the field behind our house. I was able to spy on them from the balcony while the baby slept.







When they came back, my son was so excited that I couldn't get him to focus for anything, lol.







Of course, little sis had to get in on the action. She says she's serious/mysterious; to us, it sounds like "seewious/mysteewious".





After everyone settled down, big sis was able to get into her Islamic Studies lesson and really enjoyed herself. We are still using the same books as before but we're really taking our time with it so that the names and events stick.

We pulled out the atlas so that we could fill in a map as we go along; It was a blank map that I scanned from a book that we have but there are plenty of them online also.




We've also covered the continents and oceans but I'll have to give her a spelling test, InshaALLAH.



Finally, she wrote a summary of the Battle of Badr and added a map and picture that we found online.

Read More...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Shia Nikahnamah: Reforming Muslim Law Through the Backdoor

Yoginder Sikand

Attempts to reform Muslim Personal Law to address some of its provisions that impact particularly harshly on women have inevitably met with stiff resistance from the ulema or Islamic clerics – even though, as some advocates for reform point out, these provisions have no sanction in Islam as they understand it. For its part, Indian political parties, with their eyes on the substantial Muslim vote-bank, are loathe to tamper with Muslim Personal Law for fear of angering the ulema, who project themselves as the authoritative spokesmen of the country’s Muslims. Reform in Muslim Personal Law, it thus appears, is impossible as long as the ulema continue to oppose it.

While the overwhelmingly Sunni All-India Muslim Personal Law Board continues to oppose any significant reforms in Muslim Personal Law, a recent initiative of the little-known All-India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLBD), a group of Shia Muslim clerics set up five years ago, indicates a growing willingness on the part of a section of the Indian ulema to address crucial questions that women activists, Muslims and others, have for long been debating. While not explicitly demanding reforms in the existing Muslim Personal Law, the AIPSLBD is seeking to bring about reforms in order to protect the rights of Shia Muslim wives indirectly – through the model marriage contract or nikahnamah that it has recently come out with and is seeking to popularize among India’s roughly twenty million Shia Muslims.






The nikahnamah is divided into two broad sections, one that outlines the rights and obligations of the bride, the other that of the groom. Both spouses are required to assent to these rules. To protect the rights of the wife, the groom promises not to force her ‘to do anything in violation of the shariah’ or that might cause her ‘embarrassment in society’. He undertakes not to ‘make any allegation’ against the wife without any authentic evidence. He promises never to demand any gifts or money from the wife and/or her family after marriage, while agreeing to provide properly for the maintenance of the wife and their children, if any. He agrees to the stipulation that ‘to fulfill domestic obligations, within the bounds of the shariah’ and to improve the economic situation of the family, if the wife ‘wants to work anywhere’, he shall not stop her from doing so.

On the tricky issue of divorce, a subject of endless controversy in discussions about Muslim Personal Law, the model nikahnamah offers the wife substantial rights. Thus, for instance, if the husband disappears for two consecutive years and fails to provide for his wife, she has the right to delegated divorce. She has the same right if the husband uses physical force against her or mentally tortures her. She also has the right to ask her husband for separate living arrangements if any of his relatives ‘excessively’ troubles her.

The nikahnamah does not go so far as denying the husband’s prerogative of arbitrary divorce that Muslim Personal Law, as it is recognized in India, allows for. At the same time, it seeks to make such divorce more difficult for the husband than is presently the case. It calls for the setting up of an arbitration committee, consisting of five members each from the groom and bride’s side. They could include the witnesses who serve as signatories to the marriage contract plus religious scholars. If, after the marriage, either of the spouses has any complaints against the other, he or she would first approach the arbitration committee, whose task it would be to seek to reconcile the couple. Only if reconciliation fails would it be possible for them to divorce.

Significantly, the nikahnamah guarantees the divorced wife the right to maintenance from her former husband if she has no means of maintaining herself and providing for her necessities. Such maintenance, it lays down, would continue to be paid until such time as she acquires a means of livelihood. The nikahnamah does not limit the maintenance period to simply three menstrual cycles, which is what the majority of the Sunni ulema insist it is to be. In effect, this clause echoes the controversial Supreme Court judgment in the infamous Shah Bano case in the 1980s, which sought to put Muslim women on par with other Indian women by granting them the same maintenance rights. This had provoked the ire of the Muslim clerics, who, accusing the Supreme Court of tampering in the shariah, took to the streets, whipping up Muslim passions, scaring Muslims with cries of Islam being in danger. Faced with such determined opposition, Rajiv Gandhi’s government was forced to back down, and in order to appease the ulema passed the notorious and wholly inaptly named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act that ruled out equal maintenance rights to divorced Muslim women.

Probably sensitive to the possibility of being accused of violating the shariah in this regard, the drafters of the nikahnamah have been careful to add the clause about the duty of a husband to maintain his divorced woman till she is able to maintain herself through other means must not be construed as an ‘interfere[nce] with the provisions of the shariah’. Rather, it adds, ‘this condition is based on humanitarian grounds’. It rightly points out that there is no reason why a woman should not impose this condition on her former husband, ‘whom for a long time she had served as spouse’. It sensibly insists that this is far better than rendering her ‘helpless’, being forced, instead, ‘to beg from strangers’.

The nikahnamah requires the groom to provide additional details about himself that are lacking in most nikahanamahs generally used across India. He must, for instance, declare if he has any other wife (including a ‘temporary’ wife, a provision allowed for in Shia law) and/or children. He must state his monthly income and his educational qualifications, while undertaking to properly maintain his wife. If any of these details are later proven wrong, the wife has the right to delegated divorce, which she can exercise after consulting with a religious scholar.
In short, the AISPLB’s new nikahnamah has numerous clauses that address some of the most glaring shortcomings of Muslim Personal Law as it presently exists in India. However, a crucial clause in the nikahnamah lays down that it is not mandatory for both parties to accept the conditions in the contract – some conditions can be deleted, cancelled or narrowed down. At the same time, new conditions can also be added – and these could well benefit the bride – provided they do not go against the shariah.

The AISPLB’s marriage contract does not, of course, address all the demands of Muslim women’s activists. But that it is a bold attempt to deal with some of the most pressing problems of Muslim women cannot be denied. That the initiative for this sort of effort has come from a section of the ulema, otherwise seen as a bastion of conservatism and patriarchy, is, to say the least, heartening – many other ulema simply do not even acknowledge the existence of the problem, leave alone making any efforts to solve them. Read More...

New Shia Nikahnamah: Reforming Muslim Law through the backdoor

By Yoginder Sikand

Attempts to reform Muslim Personal Law to address some of its provisions that impact particularly harshly on women have inevitably met with stiff resistance from the ulema or Islamic clerics – even though, as some advocates for reform point out, these provisions have no sanction in Islam as they understand it. For its part, Indian political parties, with their eyes on the substantial Muslim vote-bank, are loathe to tamper with Muslim Personal Law for fear of angering the ulema, who project themselves as the authoritative spokesmen of the country’s Muslims. Reform in Muslim Personal Law, it thus appears, is impossible as long as the ulema continue to oppose it.

While the overwhelmingly Sunni All-India Muslim Personal Law Board continues to oppose any significant reforms in Muslim Personal Law, a recent initiative of the little-known All-India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLBD), a group of Shia Muslim clerics set up five years ago, indicates a growing willingness on the part of a section of the Indian ulema to address crucial questions that women activists, Muslims and others, have for long been debating. While not explicitly demanding reforms in the existing Muslim Personal Law, the AIPSLBD is seeking to bring about reforms in order to protect the rights of Shia Muslim wives indirectly – through the model marriage contract or nikahnamah that it has recently come out with and is seeking to popularize among India’s roughly twenty million Shia Muslims.






The nikahnamah is divided into two broad sections, one that outlines the rights and obligations of the bride, the other that of the groom. Both spouses are required to assent to these rules. To protect the rights of the wife, the groom promises not to force her ‘to do anything in violation of the shariah’ or that might cause her ‘embarrassment in society’. He undertakes not to ‘make any allegation’ against the wife without any authentic evidence. He promises never to demand any gifts or money from the wife and/or her family after marriage, while agreeing to provide properly for the maintenance of the wife and their children, if any. He agrees to the stipulation that ‘to fulfill domestic obligations, within the bounds of the shariah’ and to improve the economic situation of the family, if the wife ‘wants to work anywhere’, he shall not stop her from doing so.

On the tricky issue of divorce, a subject of endless controversy in discussions about Muslim Personal Law, the model nikahnamah offers the wife substantial rights. Thus, for instance, if the husband disappears for two consecutive years and fails to provide for his wife, she has the right to delegated divorce. She has the same right if the husband uses physical force against her or mentally tortures her. She also has the right to ask her husband for separate living arrangements if any of his relatives ‘excessively’ troubles her.

The nikahnamah does not go so far as denying the husband’s prerogative of arbitrary divorce that Muslim Personal Law, as it is recognized in India, allows for. At the same time, it seeks to make such divorce more difficult for the husband than is presently the case. It calls for the setting up of an arbitration committee, consisting of five members each from the groom and bride’s side. They could include the witnesses who serve as signatories to the marriage contract plus religious scholars. If, after the marriage, either of the spouses has any complaints against the other, he or she would first approach the arbitration committee, whose task it would be to seek to reconcile the couple. Only if reconciliation fails would it be possible for them to divorce.

Significantly, the nikahnamah guarantees the divorced wife the right to maintenance from her former husband if she has no means of maintaining herself and providing for her necessities. Such maintenance, it lays down, would continue to be paid until such time as she acquires a means of livelihood. The nikahnamah does not limit the maintenance period to simply three menstrual cycles, which is what the majority of the Sunni ulema insist it is to be. In effect, this clause echoes the controversial Supreme Court judgment in the infamous Shah Bano case in the 1980s, which sought to put Muslim women on par with other Indian women by granting them the same maintenance rights. This had provoked the ire of the Muslim clerics, who, accusing the Supreme Court of tampering in the shariah, took to the streets, whipping up Muslim passions, scaring Muslims with cries of Islam being in danger. Faced with such determined opposition, Rajiv Gandhi’s government was forced to back down, and in order to appease the ulema passed the notorious and wholly inaptly named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act that ruled out equal maintenance rights to divorced Muslim women.

Probably sensitive to the possibility of being accused of violating the shariah in this regard, the drafters of the nikahnamah have been careful to add the clause about the duty of a husband to maintain his divorced woman till she is able to maintain herself through other means must not be construed as an ‘interfere[nce] with the provisions of the shariah’. Rather, it adds, ‘this condition is based on humanitarian grounds’. It rightly points out that there is no reason why a woman should not impose this condition on her former husband, ‘whom for a long time she had served as spouse’. It sensibly insists that this is far better than rendering her ‘helpless’, being forced, instead, ‘to beg from strangers’.

The nikahnamah requires the groom to provide additional details about himself that are lacking in most nikahanamahs generally used across India. He must, for instance, declare if he has any other wife (including a ‘temporary’ wife, a provision allowed for in Shia law) and/or children. He must state his monthly income and his educational qualifications, while undertaking to properly maintain his wife. If any of these details are later proven wrong, the wife has the right to delegated divorce, which she can exercise after consulting with a religious scholar.
In short, the AISPLB’s new nikahnamah has numerous clauses that address some of the most glaring shortcomings of Muslim Personal Law as it presently exists in India. However, a crucial clause in the nikahnamah lays down that it is not mandatory for both parties to accept the conditions in the contract – some conditions can be deleted, cancelled or narrowed down. At the same time, new conditions can also be added – and these could well benefit the bride – provided they do not go against the shariah.

The AISPLB’s marriage contract does not, of course, address all the demands of Muslim women’s activists. But that it is a bold attempt to deal with some of the most pressing problems of Muslim women cannot be denied. That the initiative for this sort of effort has come from a section of the ulema, otherwise seen as a bastion of conservatism and patriarchy, is, to say the least, heartening – many other ulema simply do not even acknowledge the existence of the problem, leave alone making any efforts to solve them.

(Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore) Read More...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Challenges and Resposibilities of Muslims

The world has changed now. The one who doesn’t develop himself according to the world would be left behind. Luckily Muslims have a versatile religion that is for all humanity and for all generations of the universe. What we need is to research how to live in the modern world according to the teachings of Islam, learn Quran, follow its instructions and progress in this competitive world.

The world is now full of terror, turmoil, conflicts and confrontations and the victims are the Muslims. Few terrorists and anti-Americans were named as Muslims due to which all Muslims were targeted. Afghanistan and Iraq were attacked in the name of war against terrorism and adding to the miseries of these poor countries, none of the Muslim countries resisted. Mosques, Islamic Schools and innocent people were assaulted for the charge of practicing their religion, offering prayers and being peaceful.

The problem is due to the division of Muslim countries and uneducated environment. Muslims don’t know how to secure their interests. They don’t even know their real enemies. They are getting away from their religion and their values. They forgot to follow the teachings of Qur’an.

What can get Muslims out of these troubles? The answer is so simple yet so difficult to act upon. Muslim countries should reunite themselves against their enemies and educate themselves with religious education as well as modern education. That is how they can stop getting dictations from the others and respect the interest of Muslim countries.

Read More...

Chechen Muslimah Homeschoolers

MashaALLAH, it is so exciting to meet sisters from all over the world who have the common bond of Islam and home education.

Check out sister Iman's blog - she has some great resources, MashaALLAH:

Musulmanka Read More...

Another Thrift Find

Salaam Umm Tafari,

I found this at the thrift shop and thought of you. ;)


Read More...

Thrift Store Finds

My daughter had three chapter books left so we visited the local thrift shop last weekend. I found a lot of good books and even managed to find this National Geographic out of a stack of hundreds!



She can finish a chapter book in about two days, mashaALLAH. She reads on her own time and prefers it to video games, so I hope that she rubs off on her brother, lol.




To make it a bit more challenging, I have added book report/review pages to her language arts binder, so that she can fill them in as she reads a book.



They are pretty simple for now, but next year, she will be required to write her own, InshaALLAH.

She is also using Spelling Grade 3 from www.Currclick.com. She had been floating between second and third grade work for a while and her reading skills are more like fifth or sixth grade, so we really need to focus on writing, InshaALLAH, including cursive.


This is from www.donnayoung.org.


I'm starting to incorporate different activities into our regular math program (Singapore) so that my daughter can really grasp the concepts, InshaALLAH. We have a math binder with dividers for each focus of math, (addition, subtraction, etc) and currently, we are focusing on adding money and making change. A book that I found a couple of years ago at the thrift shop is Slugger's Car Wash. This book is perfect for learning to make change and counting money, AlhamduLILLAH.









Next, InshaALLAH, we conquer fractions! (Math resources found here by the way.)



If you want to read about math notebooking, Jimmie talks about it in her squidoo lens. Read More...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Shia Nikahnamah: Reforming Muslim Law Through the Backdoor

Yoginder Sikand



Attempts to reform Muslim Personal Law to address some of its provisions that impact particularly harshly on women have inevitably met with stiff resistance from the ulema or Islamic clerics—even though, as some advocates for reform point out, these provisions have no sanction in Islam as they understand it. For its part, Indian political parties, with their eyes on the substantial Muslim vote-bank, are loathe to tamper with Muslim Personal Law for fear of angering the ulema, who project themselves as the authoritative spokesmen of the country’s Muslims. Reform in Muslim Personal Law, it thus appears, is impossible as long as the ulema continue to oppose it.

While the overwhelmingly Sunni All-India Muslim Personal Law Board continues to any oppose significant reforms in Muslim Personal Law, a recent initiative of the little-known All-India Shia Personal Law Board (AISPLBD), a group of Shia Muslim clerics set up five years ago, indicates a growing willingness on the part of a section of the Indian ulema to address crucial questions that women activists, Muslims and others, have for long been debating. While not explicitly demanding reforms in the existing Muslim Personal Law, the AIPSLBD is seeking to bring about reforms in order to protect the rights of Shia Muslim wives indirectly—through the model marriage contract or nikahnamah that it has recently come out with and is seeking to popularize among India’s roughly twenty million Shia Muslims.

The nikahnamah is divided into two broad sections, one that outlines the rights and obligations of the bride, the other that of the groom. Both spouses are required to assent to these rules. To protect the rights of the wife, the groom is promises not to force her ‘to do anything in violation of the shariah’ or that might cause her ‘embarrassment in society’. He undertakes not to ‘make any allegation’ against the wife without any authentic evidence. He promises never to demand any gifts or money from the wife and/or her family after marriage, while agreeing to provide properly for the maintenance of the wife and their children, if any. He agrees to the stipulation that ‘to fulfill domestic obligations, within the bounds of the shariah’ and to improve the economic situation of the family, if the wife ‘wants to work anywhere’, he shall not stop her from doing so.

On the tricky issue of divorce, a subject of endless controversy in discussions about Muslim Personal Law, the model nikahnamah offers the wife substantial rights. Thus, for instance, if the husband disappears for two consecutive years and fails to provide for his wife, she has the right to delegated divorce. She has the same right if the husband uses physical force against her or mentally tortures her. She also has the right to ask her husband for separate living arrangements if any of his relatives ‘excessively’ troubles her.



The nikahnamah does not go so far as denying the husband’s prerogative of arbitrary divorce that Muslim Personal Law, as it is recognized in India, allows for. At the same time, it seeks to make such divorce more difficult for the husband than is presently the case. It calls for the setting up of an arbitration committee, consisting of five members each from the groom and bride’s side. They could include the witnesses who serve as signatories to the marriage contract plus religious scholars. If, after the marriage, either of the spouses has any complaints against the other, he or she would first approach the arbitration committee, whose task it would be to seek to reconcile the couple. Only if reconciliation fails would it be possible for them to divorce.

Significantly, the nikahnamah guarantees the divorced wife the right to maintenance from her former husband if she has no means of maintaining herself and providing for her necessities. Such maintenance, it lays down, would continue to be paid until such time as she acquires a means of livelihood. The nikahnamah does not limit the maintenance period to simply three menstrual cycles, which is what the majority of the Sunni ulema insist it is to be. In effect, this clause echoes the controversial Supreme Court judgment in the infamous Shah Bano case in the 1980s, which sought to put Muslim women on par with other Indian women by granting them the same maintenance rights. This had provoked the ire of the Muslim clerics, who, accusing the Supreme Court of tampering in the shariah, took to the streets, whipping up Muslim passions, scaring Muslims with cries of Islam being in danger. Faced with such determined opposition, Rajiv Gandhi’s government was forced to back down, and in order to appease the ulema passed the notorious and wholly inaptly named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act that ruled out equal maintenance rights to divorced Muslim women.

Probably sensitive to the possibility of being accused of violating the shariah in this regard, the drafters of the nikahnamah have been careful to add the clause about the duty of a husband to maintain his divorced woman till she is able to maintain herself through other means must not be construed as an ‘interfere[nce] with the provisions of the shariah’. Rather, it adds, ‘this condition is based on humanitarian grounds’. It rightly points out that there is no reason why a woman should not impose this condition on her former husband, ‘whom for a long time she had served as spouse’. It sensibly insists that this is far better than rendering her ‘helpless’, being forced, instead, ‘to beg from strangers’.

The nikahnamah requires the groom to provide additional details about himself that are lacking in most nikahanamahs generally used across India. He must, for instance, declare if he has any other wife (including a ‘temporary’ wife, a provision allowed for in Shia law) and/or children. He must state his monthly income and his educational qualifications, while undertaking to properly maintain his wife. If any of these details are later proven wrong, the wife has the right to delegated divorce, which she can exercise after consulting with a religious scholar.

In short, the AISPLB’s new nikahnamah has numerous clauses that address some of the most glaring shortcomings of Muslim Personal Law as it presently exists in India. However, a crucial clause in the nikahnamah lays down that it is not mandatory for both parties to accept the conditions in the contract—some conditions can be deleted, cancelled or narrowed down. At the same time, new conditions can also be added—and these could well benefit the bride—provided they do not go against the shariah.

The AISPLB’s marriage contract does not, of course, address all the demands of Muslim women’s activists. But it that it is a bold attempt to deal with some of the most pressing problems of Muslim women cannot be denied. That the initiative for this sort of effort has come from a section of the ulema, otherwise seen as a bastion of conservatism and patriarchy, is, to say the least, heartening—many other ulema simply do not even acknowledge the existence of the problem, leave alone making any efforts to solve them. Read More...

Interview: Chandra Muzaffar on the 'Allah' Controversy in Malaysia

Chandra Muzaffar is Malaysia’s best-known public intellectual. A professor at the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, he recently assumed the position of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of 1 Malaysia, a foundation set up by some concerned citizens to promote harmony between Malaysia’s various ethnic and religious communities.



In this interview with Yoginder Sikand, he talks about the ongoing controversy in Malaysia in the wake of a recent court ruling permitting the country’s Christians (and other non-Muslims) to use the term ‘Allah’, which many Malaysian Muslims fiercely oppose.






Q: Why do you think many Malaysian Muslims are so opposed to the use of the term ‘Allah’ by Christians?

A: I think among many Malaysian Muslims there is a certain degree of apprehension about Christians using the term because they feel that it is somehow exclusive to them. They also fear that some Christian groups deliberately want to use the term in order to mislead Muslims and gradually convert them to Christianity. Supporting these fears is the general Muslim mindset that sees Islam as special, as an exclusive claim to truth. Now, since Allah is the basis of Muslim doctrine, they feel that the term ‘Allah’ must be a Muslim monopoly.



Personally, I do not agree with this thinking, but you have to understand the general Malaysian Muslim response in the wider political context, in the context of how the Malays, who form the vast majority of Malaysia’s Muslims, feel about their position in Malaysia. This is linked to the perception that, historically, Malaysia was a Malay land and that, in the presence of large numbers of non-Malays who now live in Malaysia, and who are still economically strong, Malay identity needs to be protected and promoted. Islam is one of the major pillars of Malay identity, the other two being the Malay language and the Malay Sultans. Islam can be said to be an even more powerful pillar of Malay identity than the other two, the essence of which is the concept of Allah.



I think we need to deal with these fears about identity, and be careful not to dismiss them out of hand. We need to empathetically understand how many Malays feel about having once been a nation, living in a Malay land, and, then, with the advent of colonialism, being turned into an economically subordinate community in their own country. I think non-Muslims must appreciate these fears and concerns of many Malays.



On the other hand, we also need to educate the Malaysian Muslims, to convince them that there is nothing in Islam that forbids non-Muslims from using the term ‘Allah’. Unfortunately, that sort of public education has not been undertaken at all. We need to reach out to people and tell that that the Quran does not prohibit people of other faiths from referring to God as Allah. We need to explain to Malaysian Muslims that, historically, many non-Muslims have used the term ‘Allah’ to refer to the Divine, and that, in fact, the term Allah actually precedes the Quranic revelation. Even prior to the Prophet Muhammad there were a large number of Christian Arabs, and they, too, used the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. And when Islam began spreading across the Arab world, the Muslims never forbade the Arab Christians from using the word ‘Allah’, although, of course, Muslims and Arabic-speaking Christians understood the word in different ways. Yet, it never became a theological problem. True, there were conflicts between Arab Christians and Muslims over many issues, but the use of the word ‘Allah’ by the former was never a problem or a cause of any conflict. I think Malaysian Muslims need to be educated about this.



Then, again, we need to educate Malaysian Muslims that the Christians of Sabah and Sarawak, in East Malaysia have been using the term Allah to refer to God for over a hundred years. They have all along been using the Indonesian translation of the Bible, which uses the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. Of course, it is true that this translation, first made by Dutch Christian missionaries in what is now Indonesia, aimed at converting Muslims to Christianity, and so deliberately used the term ‘Allah’ instead of the Malay term Tuhan to refer to God. But, still, we cannot now tell the Christians of Sabah and Sarawak to stop using the word ‘Allah’. Their using that word has never caused any communal problem—in fact, in those parts of Malaysia there are numerous families that have both Christians and Muslim members, and relations between them have all along been fairly harmonious.



We also need to educate the Muslims of our country to understand that even other communities that live in Malaysia, such as Sikhs and some Hindus, also use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God, in addition to other names. The word ‘Allah’ occurs 46 times in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs.



Q: But non-Arab Christians generally do not use the word ‘Allah’, so why are some Christians in Malaysia making such a hue and cry about the reaction of Malaysian Muslims to the court ruling?

A: It may be that some of these Christian groups are indeed missionary in orientation and that they actually want to spread Christianity among the Muslims. I think we really must ask the question as to why, if the vast majority of Christians worldwide do not use the word ‘Allah’, these groups are insisting that they must have the right to do so in Malaysia.



Frankly, as I see it, the issue is not strictly religious. In fact, the controversy has become an ethnic one, and so you have many Hindus and Buddhists—people who generally do not use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to the Divine—taking a position against the Muslims.



Q: What is your own personal position with regard to the controversy?

A: I think religious bigots and exclusivists who insist that only Muslims can use the word ‘Allah’ themselves pose a grave danger to Islam. They have absolutely no justification for their claim from the Quran. In fact, the Quran very explicitly mentions, without any disapproval whatsoever, non-Muslims also referring to God as Allah. Thus, in the Surah Hajj (22:40) God says:



Those who were unjustly expelled from their homes just because they said, "Allah is Our Lord"; and had Allah not repelled some men by means of other men, the abbeys, churches, synagogues and mosques - in which the name of Allah is profusely mentioned - would definitely be demolished; and indeed Allah will assist the one who helps His religion; indeed surely Allah is Almighty, Dominant.





God certainly does not prohibit people from calling Him by any decent term, including ‘Allah’, so, as far as I am concerned, I think everyone—Muslim or other—has the right to call God by that name. But what I object to is the misuse of the term in the public domain, because then it becomes a problem. You cannot stop anyone from referring to God as Allah, but his or her misuse of the term in the public domain can be made punishable.



Q: And how would define ‘misuse’ in this context?

A: Although the term ‘Allah’ predates the Quran, it is a fact that the concept of Allah that we are familiar with has been shaped through the last fourteen hundred years by the Quran and the Islamic tradition. So, if the term ‘Allah’ is sought to be given an interpretation that goes against this concept, and if that interpretation is sought to be articulated publicly—as opposed to privately—then surely that could be controlled.



To come back to my own position, I have been pushing for the setting up of a National Consultative Council for Religious Harmony, as an official body or mechanism to promote dialogue between the different religious communities in Malaysia. Such a council can deal with issues like this ongoing controversy. While some inter-faith dialogue initiatives do exist in civil society, there is nothing of the sort at the government level, although it is extremely crucial. Lamentably, the muftis of the different states in Malaysia have consistently opposed the setting up such a council, on the specious grounds that it would mean Islam being treated at par with the other religions although Islam is the religion of the Malaysian Constitution. Their argument is actually quite fallacious, because I have stressed that the proposed council would naturally operate within the ambit of the Malaysian Constitution, which reserves a special place for Islam.





Q: What do you think of the way the Malaysian Government has handled the controversy?

A: I think the police have acted admirably. When some non-Muslim places were attacked, they rushed to the scene. So did the Prime Minister, who roundly denounced the attacks. In some other multi-ethnic and multi-religious country such attacks might have led to rioting, and so I think it is to the credit of the Malaysian government and the police that nothing of that sort happened.



The Government has taken a largely law-and-order approach to the issue. But, I do not think this law-and-order approach is enough. The government has not dealt with the theological issues involved, and, as a result, it is the Islamic muftis associated with the ruling establishment that are now setting the tone. Sadly, they have all adopted a very conservative, bigoted and exclusivist position—to the effect that the term ‘Allah’ is a Muslim monopoly. Very cleverly, they have resorted to the Sultans, who have the last say on Islamic matters, and who have largely endorsed their stance. It is a pity that the muftis are reflecting such a superficial, shallow understanding of the Quran. Their understanding of the Quran appears to be very shallow and superficial, and even worse.



I think the Prime Minister may be more inclined to our own position, the 1Malaysia position—which is that we cannot prohibit non-Muslims to use the term ‘Allah’ but that we should prevent its misuse—but I guess he cannot say so openly because the vast majority of Malaysian Muslims do not agree. The issue is a veritable political minefield, and so I think the government is simply trying to delay taking any decision.



I must add here that a number of Malaysian Muslims strongly condemned the attacks on the churches and a Sikh gurdwara that took place in the wake of the court ruling. Some Muslim NGOs also set up voluntary squads to guard non-Muslim places of worship in some parts of the country. So, I think, there is ample good sense among ordinary Muslims, who, like ordinary non-Muslims in this country, want and value inter-communal peace. There is always this great fear in Malaysia of an ‘ethnicquake’—inter-community violence—and I think ordinary Malaysians, Muslims and others, know that this is something that we just can’t afford.



Q: The way the Western media reported the controversy, it was as if Malaysia was on the verge of civil war in the wake of the violence following the court ruling. How do you see the way the Western media handled the issue?



A: I think their projection was wide off the mark. They made it out to be as if Malaysia was on the verge of destruction. They seemed to relish the thought of that actually happening. I think this has much to do with the way the West wants to see itself—as supposedly ‘civilized’, compared to the non-Western world, particularly Muslims, who are depicted as the mirror opposite, as intolerant, violent, barbaric, primitive, fanatic and so on. I think, therefore, that the Western media’s reporting was really most unfortunate, although not entirely unexpected.





Chandra Muzaffar can be contacted on cmuzaffar@gmail.com
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Friday, February 19, 2010

Keep Making Du'a

[Summarized from Al Jumuah magazine, vol 19, issue 7]


Imam Ahmed (Rahimahullah), may Allah be pleased with him, once was traveling and needed to stay somewhere overnight. When he went to the masjid, the guard (not recognizing Imam Ahmed) denied him entrance. Imam Ahmed tried numerous times, but the guard did not accept his requests. Frustrated, Imam Ahmed resolved to spend the night in the masjid yard.

The guard became furious and dragged him away, despite the old age and frailty of Imam Ahmed. A baker, whose shop was nearby, watched this scene and took pity on Imam Ahmed. He invited the Imam to stay with him for the night.

While there, Imam Ahmed noticed that the baker continually made istighfar (asking for Allah's forgiveness) while working, and in the morning, the Imam eagerly asked his host about the latter's continual seeking of forgiveness. The baker said it had become like second nature, and Imam Ahmed then asked whether the man had experienced any reward from this practice.

The baker answered, "By Allah! No duaa (supplication to God) I made except that it was answered but one." "And what is that duaa?" asked Imam Ahmed.

"To be able to see the famed Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal!"

Imam Ahmed interjected, "I am Ahmed ibn Hanbal! By Allah! I was dragged to your place so that you can have your duaa come true." Read More...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ology

Have you been to Ology? It's from the Museum Of American Natural History. Read More...

Mammals

We are still moving along, even though I seem to be running out of steam, (mostly on the blogging side). For science, the focus is still animal classification. We are trying to use various resources just to keep it interesting. We added these pages to the science binder recently. Most of the photos are from the Toronto Zoo newsletter and a few were found online.





I might also invest in Anna Botsford Comstock's Handbook of Nature Study. It corresponds to the activities found on the Handbook of Nature study blog.





My daughter also added a page on bats:


She loves to read and loathes writing, so this is a fun (and sneaky) way of getting her to write! Read More...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interview: Parveen Abidi, Muslim Women's Personal Law Board

Lucknow-based Parveen Abidi heads the All-India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board (AIMWPLB), an organization of Indian Muslim women set up in 2005 as a reaction to what these women perceived to be the anti-women stance and unwarranted patriarchal interpretations of Islam of the almost wholly male All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). The AIMWPLB may not be very visible, and its achievements might still be somewhat modest, but its founding marked the beginnings of an autonomous Muslim women’s movement in India to argue for gender justice using Islamic arguments, often against the claims of the patriarchal maulvis, as Abidi tells Yoginder Sikand in this interview.


Q: What made you set up a separate Muslim women’s personal law board, a decision that was met with much scorn and derision by many maulvis as well as other Muslim men?
A: The women who set up the Board were all very upset with the stance of the AIMPLB. They were shocked with how many of the maulvis on the Board were so vociferously opposed to gender justice, and even to the rights given to Muslim women by Islam. We felt that the AIMPLB was pronouncing on all sorts of issues related to Muslim women, generally in a manner very detrimental to us, but yet we, who were most immediately affected by their pronouncements, had no voice or forum of our own.
The AIMPLB was, and still is, almost wholly blind to the concerns of oppressed Muslim women. It wrongly interpreted the shariah to equate it, for all practical purposes, with male privilege and women’s subordination. The few women members of the Board are just figureheads and have no effective voice of their own. They simply cannot dare dissent from the opinion of the maulvis. That is why we felt the need for a separate Muslim women’s personal law board, where we Muslim women could represent ourselves.
The AIMWPLB was formally established in January 2005, when a group of women from different parts of India had got together—incidentally, for a wedding in our family in Lucknow. Some of our husbands—and other men, of course—were not quite happy with the name we had given our organization. They thought we were being deliberately provocative, trying to challenge the authority of the maulvis of the AIMPLB. But, still, we insisted on keeping the name.
Q: But do you think it is right to generalize about the maulvis like this? Surely, at least some of them must be sensitive to the problems of Muslim women?
A: Of course, one cannot generalize about any group of people. We have some women ulema—or alimas—in our organization, who have received a traditional Islamic education. One of them is a graduate of the girls’ wing of the Nadwat ul-Ulema, in Lucknow. Another is a Shia woman scholar. Our organization is open to all—we have both Shia and Sunni members. Within the Shias, we have Imamis, Bohras and even a Khojah. Some of our Sunnis members are from Barelvi families, others are Deobandis. We also work with women’s activists from Hindu and other backgrounds.
Q: What sort of work is the AIMWPLB engaged in?
A: Our work is, by and large, informal—it’s more like a loose network of Muslim women activists in different parts of India. One of our notable achievements was a model nikahnamah that we drafted which seeks to protect Muslim women, particularly with regard to divorce and polygamy.
Some of our members organize legal awareness camps in Muslim slums for poor Muslim women. We try and tell them that to meekly accept the beatings by their husbands is not, contrary to what they have been reared to believe, something that they should passively accept in the name of Islam. We tell them that if their husbands divorce them at will, such an action is not at all Islamically acceptable, no matter how vociferously the mullahs back the men. We tell them that if a man neglects providing for his wife and children, it is un-Islamic. And so on. This sensitization and awareness-building at the ‘grassroots’ is something really crucial. A lot more needs to be done in this regard, of course.

We also seek to present Muslim women’s voices and concerns and what we regard as the authentic Islamic position on a host of controversial fatwas and judgments on issues related to Muslim personal law that directly impinge on the lives of Muslim women. This is very important, for if we don’t speak out, the conservative, patriarchal maulvis will continue to misinterpret Islam to reinforce women’s subordination. Much of their posturing is hypocritical and self-serving. So, for instance, when Fatima Jinnah, sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, contested elections in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e Islami enthusiastically backed her, but now, in India, some mullahs have passed a fatwa claiming that Islam forbids women from standing for elections! One can cite so many more such contradictory and patently unjust fatwas if one wanted to.
The point is that the maulvis, by and large, want to keep Muslim women subordinated. If Muslim women become aware, then, they fear, whom can they rule over?
Q: But, to come back to a point I made earlier, surely not all the maulvis are the same in this regard?
A: No, I did not mean to suggest that, but I think the vast majority are not quite enthusiastic about women becoming aware of their rights. In this regard, I must cite a singular exception—Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, the noted Shia scholar from Lucknow, who has consistently and wholeheartedly supported our work. But, in contrast, I know of some mullahs who condemn us as deviant and accuse us of seeking to lead Muslim women astray. Our activists meet with Muslim women in the slums, whose lives are taken up only with producing and rearing babies. We tell them that Islam does, in fact, allow for certain forms of family planning, but the mullahs quickly brand us ‘agents of enemies of Islam’—of the government or even the RSS—for our views. Some of our opponents have even gone so far as to equate us with the exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, threatening that we would be made to face the same fate as her.

Q: The AIMPLB has appealed to Muslims to try to settle their personal law-related disputes through the chain of shariah courts or dar ul-qazas that—or so it claims—it has set up across the country. How do you view this suggestion?
A: I don’t see why we should do this. We must use the state courts, because in the dar ul-qazas women are bound to meet with the same sort of judgments that weigh so heavily against them because the men who staff them—maulvis from the madrasas—are themselves so heavily patriarchal.
Q: But the maulvis are supposed to be—or so they claim— authoritative spokesmen of Islam, isn’t it?
A: They might claim to be to be so, but, as a believing Muslim woman, I refuse to accept their claim. From the fatwas and writings of many of them anyone would easily get the impression that Islam simply teaches women to shut up and meekly accept male domination. But that is not what I believe to be Islam. Islam, as I understand it, does not stand in the way of justice and equality for women, unlike what many of the maulvis claim. Islam does not preach hatred and enmity, unlike what the radical Islamists, men like the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, insist. So, as far as I am concerned, if some mullah interprets Islam in a manner that violates human rights, I cannot accept his interpretation as authentically Islamic at all. It is really as simple as that.
To challenge and combat their misogynist interpretations of Islam—which, as I said, I do not believe to be genuinely Islamic at all—it is really very crucial that Muslim women acquire knowledge of Islam and begin to interpret and speak about it for themselves.

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore Read More...

If You Have A Kindle....

I don't know if this works for Kindle for PC, which is what I have, but you can try it, InshaALLAH.

I've been thinking about getting an ebook reader of some sort, simply because I want to cut down on the amount of books that we have. They are all over the house, I literally have them stacked on the floor in a corner near my desk and we don't have the space for more shelves.

I read a lot and so do the children so I haven't decided yet. Do any of you have one? I think that they are way on the expensive side so I am waiting to see a huge price drop before I even seriously consider it.

My husband was downtown so I made him go to the Sony store at the mall (we were on the phone, lol) and he checked out their ebook readers. He didn't like them at all but that's because he's missing the point of a gadget that is just for books (you can download books from the library on the Sony). He's more impressed by the Apple iPad, but it doesn't have the proper screen for reading. Lol, we are gadget geeks over here so if you don't care, just ignore me.

Anyway, here is the link: British library to offer free ebook downloads. Read More...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sacrifices Of Parents And Their Honor In Islam

There is no religion of this world that shows the parents a material love and dishonor them. Every religion of the world has respect for parents. Even if we see this relation in our daily lives; we know that our mothers are the ones who have gone through pain while we were in our womb. Because of her suffering and pain we are in this world. Then she took care of us when we were infants without even caring for day of night. She is the one who brought us up. Then our fathers took care of our social needs as well as personal needs. They educated us, gave us moral values, spiritually crafting us and even gave us religious knowledge by their collecting efforts. If we learn Quran we would find out what is the place of parents in the eyes of ALLAH.

In Islamic school of thought the Muslims have rights and duties towards the parents. These are discussed in detail in the Quran. As said by Allah in Quran:

"And We have enjoined on man (to be good) to his parents. In travail upon travail did his mother bear him, and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to thy parents; to Me is thy final goal." (Chapter31: verse14)

Then again said in Quran by Allah:

"Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or more attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say, "my Lord! bestow on them Thy Mercy, even as they cherished me in childhood." (17: 23,24)

"We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents; in pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth." (46:15)

Make your children read Quran online so that they can come to know about honor and place of parents in the eyes of Allah.

Read More...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Latest Book: On Jihad, Peace, and Inter-Community Relations in Islam



JIHAD, PEACE AND INTER-COMMUNITY RELATIONS IN ISLAM: Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Edited and Translated by Yoginder Sikand

Category: Religion and Sociology

Number of pages: 121



Published in: 01/01/2010

ISBN_HB: 9788129115850

Price: Rs. 295

Publisher: Rupa & Co, New Delhi



http://www.rupapublications.com/client/Book/JIHAD-PEACE-AND-INTER-COMMUNITY-RELATIONS-IN-ISLAM.aspx



Jihad, Peace, and Inter-Community Relations in Islam is a translation of the key writings by the noted New Delhi-based Islamic scholar, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. Originally written in Urdu, these essays seek to explore the issues of jihad, peace and relations between Muslims and others through an Islamic perspective.




About the Editor/Translator:



Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore. He has worked on issues related to Muslims and Islam in South Asia, and has written over a dozen books on the subject. Read More...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Understanding Islamic Feminism: Interview with Ziba Mir-Hosseini

Born in Iran and now based in London, Ziba Mir Hosseini, an anthropologist by training, is one of the most well-known scholars of Islamic Feminism. She is the author of numerous books on the subject, including Marriage on Trial: A Study of Family Law in Iran and Morrocco (l.B.Tauris, 1993) and Islam and Gender, the Religious Debate in Contemporary Islam (Princeton, 1999). She is presently associated with the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
In this interview with Yoginder Sikand she talks about the origins and prospects of Islamic feminism as an emancipatory project for Muslim women and as a new, contextually-relevant way of understanding Islam.

Q: In recent years, a number of Muslim women’s groups have emerged across the world, struggling for gender equality and justice using Islamic arguments. Most of them are led by women who come from elitist or, at least middle class, backgrounds. Many of them seem to lack a strong popular base. How do you account for this?
A: I think the majority of the women who are writing and publishing about what is popularly called ‘Islamic feminism’ are definitely from the elite or the middle class. But then, globally speaking, feminism has always had to do with the middle class, at least in terms of its key articulators and leaders. I believe that Islamic feminism is, in a sense, the unwanted child of ‘political Islam’. It was ‘political Islam’ that actually politicized the whole issue of gender and Muslim women’s rights. The slogan ‘back to the shariah’ so forcefully pressed by advocates of ‘political Islam’ in practice meant seeking to return to the classical texts on fiqh or Muslim jurisprudence and doing away with various laws advantageous to women that had no sanction in the Islamists’ literalist understanding of Islam. Translated into practice, law and public policy, this meant going back to pre-modern interpretations of shariah, with all their restrictive laws about and for women. It was this that led, as a reaction, to the emergence of Islamic feminism, critiquing the Islamists for conflating Islam and the shariah with undistilled patriarchy and for claiming that patriarchal rule was divinely mandated. These Muslim women were confronted with horrific laws that Islamists sought to impose in the name of Islam, and so began asking where in all of this was the justice and equality that their own understanding of the Quran led them to believe was central to Islam. These gender activists, using Islamic arguments to critique and challenge the Islamists, brought classical fiqh and tafsir texts to public scrutiny and made them a subject of public debate and discussion, articulating alternative, gender-friendly understandings, indeed visions, of Islam. That marked the broadening, in terms of class, of the fledgling Islamic feminist movement.
But, that said, I am not sure how far the Islamist feminist discourse has been able to effectively reach out to and influence the so-called ‘grassroots’. One heartening development, however, is the emergence of a number of NGOs working with Muslim women who are using this discourse and relaying it further, using Islamic and human rights frameworks to stress the need for gender equality and justice in Muslim communities.
Q: Surely it isn’t possible to bracket all Islamists together. There is a large diversity of opinion, including about women, even among Islamists, isn’t it? Some of them do at least sound less regressive than others on women’s rights.
A: That’s true, of course. But, for all Islamists the gender issue is of paramount significance. One of their main claims to legitimacy, which they all seem to share, is their critique of the West, a central plank of which is a moral vision that rests on strengthening the family. They don’t say that women have no rights—after all, the language of ‘political Islam’ is also one of rights. Rather, they claim that Islam gives women all the rights they need, though, what this actually means for women is, for all practical purposes, the same patriarchy.
That said, I would say that the tension between Islamic feminists and patriarchal Islamists is as acute as that between the former and many fellow feminists, who believe that Islamic feminism is an oxymoron and that , in fact, it will only strengthen the Islamists in the long-run with its use of Islamic, instead of secular, human rights, arguments.
I must also add here that just as Islamists are not a monolith, there is also considerable diversity among those who could be referred to as Islamic feminists. Many of them would even refuse to be called feminists or even Islamic feminists for that matter. But one common concern that brings them together is their demand for gender equality and justice, which they claim using various Islamic arguments. Even here, however, there may be differences in the way they conceive equality and justice.
Q; You mentioned fiqh and you also spoke about the shariah. How would you distinguish the two?
A: The shariah denotes what Muslims believe to be the divine path, while fiqh represents the historical tradition of human attempts to discern the mandate of the shariah in different situations. Now, while the two are very distinct, the former is considered to be divine and, hence, unchangeable, the latter being historically created or determined, and hence not sacrosanct and, therefore, amenable to change. However, very often both traditionalist Muslim scholars or ulema as well as Islamist ideologues conflate the two, taking fiqh, a human product, to represent or to appear as synonymous with the shariah. Therein lies the major problem that Muslim women continue to be faced with in terms of a whole slew of regressive laws that, deriving from the fiqh tradition, are wrongly presented as mandated by the shariah.
Personally, I think it makes more sense, when discussing the issue of legal reforms, to speak about the ‘Muslim legal tradition’ rather than the shariah, which remains a nebulous, furiously contested terrain. This tradition, one must recognize, is a human and historical creation and is immensely diverse. That is why there have been, and still are, so many fiqh schools which often proffer conflicting opinions on a vast range of issues, including those relating to women. Recognising this opens up the possibilities of substantial reform for it effectively highlights the separation between the sacred and the legal. This crucial distinction was widely recognized in the past, when no faqih or Muslim jurist of note would ever claim that his fiqh position was absolute and final. He would offer his own views, of course, but at the end would invariably add the phrase ‘And God knows best’, indicating that he recognized that he might well be wrong. Today, however, this practice is rare and so you have people who, completely lacking this humility, would insist that their own opinion is absolute truth, the sole or the correct shariah opinion on any matter.
In this regard I think it is crucial to always foreground the fact that what we understand of Islam—or any religion for that matter—is always just that—simply one understanding out of many, which is heavily influenced by our own personal and social location.
Q: A number of NGOs working with Muslim women, including some prominent ones that are engaged in articulating what could be called an Islamic feminist discourse, rely heavily on Western funding. Doesn’t this further open them to the accusation of being ‘tools’ in the hands of what are branded as ‘enemies of Islam’?
A: It certainly leaves them open to that oft-hurled charge, but then anyone who works for gender justice, even if she doesn’t depend on foreign money, is quickly branded with the same label! So, what other option do they have? The fact of the matter is that many Muslim women live in undemocratic contexts that lack strong civil society institutions that can support the sort of work they are engaged in. This forces many NGOs working with Muslim women to fall back on Western funding agencies. After all, the oil-rich Saudi Wahhabis are certainly not going to fund NGOs working for justice and equality for Muslim women, even if these are articulated in an Islamic paradigm. But that said, those women’s groups who, for lack of any other alternative, are forced to depend on Western funds, must be clear that they don’t become their puppets.
Q: Islam has often been critiqued for allegedly denying women their rights. The Islamists’ claim that Islam provides all the rights that women need can possibly be seen as a defensive or apologetic response to that critique. Do you think Islamic feminists are also engaged in the same sort of apologetic defense vis-à-vis critics of Islam?
A: There is undoubtedly an element of apologetics involved here, and Islamic feminism is certainly reacting to critiques and circulating discourses about Islam. It is crucial to examine the forces which the emerging Islamic feminism is facing and reacting to. These include ‘political Islam’ or what is loosely called ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ that advocates a return to the patriarchal texts and advocates what it calls an ‘Islamic state’; ‘Islamic traditionalism’, which is not necessarily political, in the conventional sense of the term, but sees the fiqh tradition as almost sacrosanct and divine; ‘secular fundamentalism’ that regards religion as, by definition, unjust and rules out the very possibility of any progressive or feminist interpretation of religion; and, of course, Western, including Orientalist, critiques of Islam. What is common to all these different sets of discourses to which Islamic feminism is reacting is a very essentialised, non-historical understanding of Islam, one that refuses to recognize the diverse, alternative understandings of Islam that have always existed. Islamic feminism is also reacting to dominant Western feminist trends, according to which to be a feminist you have to be secular and must work within a secular framework, an understanding that is something heavily influenced by white, middle-class Western women’s experiences and cannot be said to be universal at all.
Islamic feminism is thus reacting to these discourses all at the same time. So, in a sense, it is an apologetic or reactive discourse, directed against those who claim that Islam does not countenance gender justice and equality.
Q: For some Islamic feminists, their use of Islamic arguments for gender equality may indeed be a serious expression of closely-held religious convictions. However, one gets the feeling, although this is just speculation, that for some others employing Islamic arguments for gender justice might simply be an instrumental use of alternate understandings of Islam in order to counter Islamists and traditionalists on their own turf or simply because operating in a Muslim context necessarily demands the use of Islamic arguments in order to gain a hearing. Do you agree?
A: It is impossible to generalize, of course, but I think there is an element of both—of sincere faith as well as, in some cases, a tactical use of Islamic arguments to reach the same conclusions and make the same demands as secular feminists would in a non-Muslim context. Public space in Muslim communities is heavily defined or influenced by Islam, and so many women’s groups believe that without using Islamic counter-arguments to press the claim for equality they would hardly get any hearing at all. Since political discourse in Muslim countries is so heavily influenced by appeals to Islam, especially with the global rise of ‘Islamism’, whether or not gender activists in Muslim contexts are believers they have been forced to engage with Islam. Since a whole range of regressive laws, as far as women are concerned, are sought to be imposed in the name of Islam, these activists, irrespective of their own personal religious beliefs, have been compelled to seek to articulate alternative Islamic interpretations to counter them.
A: With just a few notable exceptions, the key articulators of Islamic feminist discourse are all non-Arab Muslims. Does that strike you as strange, given the marked tendency among many Arabs (and many non-Arab Muslims as well) to see the Arab world as the ‘heartland’ of Islam?
A: Yes, most of the cutting-edge writing and publishing on Islamic feminism is happening at the so-called ‘periphery’ of the Muslim world, outside the Arab belt—in countries like Iran, Indonesia, and, of course, among Muslims in the West. Interestingly, much of this publishing work is happening not in Arabic, but in languages such as English, Persian and Bahasa Indonesia. I think political conditions in the Arab world are simply not conducive for such discourses to be publicly articulated. Doing this could well cost you your life. You could easily be branded as an apostate and killed.
Q: Recent years have witnessed the mushrooming of girls’ madrasas or Islamic seminaries in various parts of the world. Do you think these institutions could help galvanise and popularize Islamic feminist tendencies while empowering their graduates to become women religious authorities in their own right?
A: Frankly, I do not think so. At least, this is not happening now, though I don’t know how the future will unfold. The girls studying in most such madrasas are trained in the same traditional way. They are not allowed to question things, leave alone criticise received views. They are not encouraged to ask any questions—if they do they are made to feel as if they are questioning Islam itself. They are reared on the patriarchal fiqh tradition, which, although a human product, is treated as almost as sacrosanct as the Quran itself. In such a situation, how can one hope for Islamic feminist stirrings to emerge from these madrasas?
Q: Not all the ulema of the madrasas are horribly misogynist, unlike what is sometimes made out. I know a few younger Indian madrasa graduates who are quite receptive to the sort of arguments that Islamic feminists are making. Don’t you feel it is crucial to identify and work with such ulema, rather than to brand all ulema as irredeemably sexist or misogynist?
A: I agree with you entirely, but the problem is that most Muslim societies are characterized by a yawning educational, indeed epistemological, dualism so that there is now little or no contact between the ulema of the madrasas and ‘secular’ or ‘modern’ educated Muslims, who also include key Islamic feminists. This dualism marks a major departure from the classical past, where knowledge of the times was an integral component of education in the madrasas where the ulema were trained. Colonialism pushed aside Islamic Studies from the educational ‘mainstream’, a process that continued in the post-colonial period in Muslim countries. So, now, the ulema—or at least the vast majority of them—have no idea of contemporary sociology, economics, political science and so on. They are wholly incapable of dealing with the new and myriad challenges of modernity. That, incidentally, is something that makes them so defensive. It is also a class issue. Modernity came to Muslim countries on the back of colonialism, and so it is mainly the poor who now inhabit the madrasas. Their economic location and the overall culture of the madrasas, which cannot be seen apart from this economic issue, further inhibits their receptivity to the ideas being generated by Islamic feminists.
Q: You have worked extensively on Islamic feminist articulations in Shia-dominated Iran. Do you think that the Shia version of Islam, because it allows for continuous ijtihad or independent interpretation of the sources of Islamic tradition, might be more progressive, as far as women’s issues are concerned, than the Sunni version?
A: Frankly, despite ijtihad I do not think that with regard to women’s rights the Shia ulema are any different from their Sunni counterparts. Of course, the possibility of ijtihad in the Shia tradition is a good thing, but we need to go beyond theory and see how the religious tradition plays itself out in the real world, in its interaction with the state, the wider society and the international context. What is really key here is the presence or absence of political will for reform. So, for instance, in Sunni Morocco, because the King was heavily in favour of women’s rights, and because the palace, the parliament and women’s groups were able to come together on this issue, the country now has a reformed personal law wherein women and men have almost the same rights. Now, despite the presence of ijtihad in the Shia tradition, the Iranian ulema have, by and large, displayed no such enthusiasm for legal reform for promoting women’s rights in Iran.
Q: The focus of many key Islamic feminist NGOs is the reform of personal laws in Muslim contexts that militate against women’s equality. Do you see this as a somewhat narrow focus? After all, personal law is not the only problem that many Muslim women face? For many of them, grueling poverty, for instance, might be an even more pressing concern.
A: I think the issue of gender relations within the family—which is what personal laws are all about—actually relates to the core of power in society at a broader level. Since the family is the basic unit of society, only if there is justice and democracy within the family can you possibly have justice and democracy in the wider society. In other words, the key to democratizing the whole society is to democratize its basic unit, the family, and for this legal reform is crucial.
Q: By exploring and articulating gender-friendly fiqh prescriptions, do you feel that, somehow, many Islamic feminist scholars are unwittingly further legitimizing and strengthening the fiqh tradition that, on the whole, is solidly patriarchal? Why not circumvent the fiqh tradition altogether and articulate an Islamic feminist understanding based simply on what could be called core Quranic values, such as justice, kindness, mercy and equality? Wouldn’t that make the whole effort much simpler?
A: Fiqh as a legal tradition with centuries’-old roots in Muslim societies cannot simply be wished away even if you wanted to! Ignoring fiqh won’t make it disappear! But Islamic feminist scholars and activists are not just articulating alternate fiqh prescriptions to counter blatantly patriarchal ones. Many of them are engaging with several paradigms at the same time—progressive fiqh and tafsir or Quranic interpretation, human rights arguments, international instruments, laws and treaties, and, above all, the lived realities of Muslim women. This is something that the book I am presently working on seeks to grapple with—exploring questions of Islamic feminist constructions of family law or, even, feminist family law, looking at the writings of new reform-minded Muslim scholar-activists with a focus on issues related to gender. In a sense it is a modest attempt to go beyond the two major blind spots that we have for so long been faced with—the blindness of Islamic Studies as an academic discipline to gender issues, and the blindness, indeed, aversion of the secular feminist ‘mainstream’ towards religion, its language, categories and frameworks.

Q: Are Islamic feminists simply arguing for the same ends as secular feminists but by using Islamic arguments? In other words, is it a case of the ends being the same but only the means being different? Or is it that Islamic feminists (or, some of them, at any rate) might be offering something in their vision of gender and womanhood that the secular feminist project lacks?

A: For me feminism is both a consciousness that women suffer discrimination at home, at work and in society and in life because of their gender, as well as action to do something about this. So it is a striving for justice and equality for women in a just world; it is a frame of mind and a way of life, a kind of path that can be followed by everyone – regardless of gender, sex, race, faith and other differences among us. But justice and equality are contested and relative concepts, in the sense that they mean different things to different people in different contexts. There is also an epistemological side to feminism, it is also a knowledge project; in the sense that it tell us how we know what we know. Feminist scholarship in Islam as in any other religious tradition has a lot to offer to both the understanding of religion and the search for justice. But feminism, as an ideology, as a movement, as well as a knowledge project, in order to grow and not to become dogmatic, needs to have a critique from within. In the 1970s and 1980s, Black and ‘Third World’ feminists provided that critique; for instance, Audre Lorde’s criticism of mainstream feminist literature of the 1960s for its focus on the experiences of white, middle-class women and their values; Chandra Mohanty, with her seminal article “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse”, offered a potent critique of the complicity of feminism and colonialism. Such criticism helped feminism to grow theoretically and become more inclusive.

In my view, what Islamic feminists have to offer now is to help ‘mainstream’ feminism to look at its own troubled relation with religion and to re-examine some its dogmas – now that religion has come out into public space, and that the whole thesis that modernization will bring the decline or privatization of religion is now seriously questioned. Feminists need to reconsider why, in the course of the 20th century, was it necessary for them to be secular? And what does being ‘secular’ and what does being ‘religious’ mean in today’s context?


Q. What could secular feminists learn from Islamic feminists? Do you personally agree with the overall secular feminist critique of the notion of the complimentarity of the sex roles that underlies general Muslim understandings? Might there not be some merit in this notion, which Western and Western-influenced secular Muslim feminists in general do not (or refuse to) acknowledge because of their particular way of conceiving gender equality as sameness?

A. I would certainly insist that we all can learn from each other. As for the notion of ‘complementarity of sex roles’, I passionately disagree with the way it has been conceived and articulated by dominant Muslim discourses. It is simply a new and ‘modern’ way of justifying inequality and discrimination, but expressed in a language that can fool women and Muslims. If one probes deeply in the literature and engages with those who argue for complementarity – as I have done in my work – one finds that in fact they accept the premises of classical fiqh and its conceptions of gender – for instance, men’s right to polygamy and unilateral divorce – but they either try to modify its harsh edges or provide new justifications for it. I must say that I have become allergic to the terms ‘equity’ and ‘complementarity’, because they have come to mean inequality and discrimination. The fact is that both polygamy and men’s right to talaq are basically unjust in our context and in our time; and they are at the very root of suffering for the vast majority of Muslim women. There is no way that one can rationalize and justify them in the name of Islam and shariah – these rights were not given to men by the Qur’an, but by classical jurists; the way the jurists originally formulated these rights did provide women with a measure of protection in a culture and society in which patriarchy and slavery were part of the fabric of life. In other words, they are juristic constructions that no longer reflect contemporary notions of justice.

But, then, there can be a good side to ‘complementarity’, in the sense that feminist theory has now come to appreciate that the kind of equality that basically entails a purely legal or formal reversibility of roles does not bring women real equality. Women do not start from the same starting point in life as men, and they are not on a level playing field, so we need a new concept of equality that takes into account difference. The fact is that neither are all women exposed to discrimination nor do they experience it in the same way; race, class, education, ethnicity, being part of the ‘third’ or ‘first’ world – all these factors matter. Men are as oppressed as women in many situations, and are sometimes are dominated by them. There has been a shift in feminist theory from formal models of equality to what is now called substantive equality – there is now a big debate going on, and Muslims need to take part in this debate. We need to rethink old dogmas, both religious and feminist, and this is where we can learn from each other.

Zia Mir-Hosseini can be contacted on zm4@soas.ac.uk Read More...

Observing ALLAH's Creation






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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Try It - It's Easy!




I used oil pastels from Dollarama and a sheet of computer paper. Read More...