Friday, 14 August 2015

Muslims seem happier to identify as Scottish than English

Scottish Muslims

The thistle and the crescent
Printed in The Economist
All Rights Reserved - Copyright 
Aug 15th 2015


WHEN Glasgow Central Mosque was commissioned in the early 1980s, the architect received an important instruction: “Make it Scottish”. It ended up sharing a feature of many Glaswegian public buildings (but not many mosques): large panels of glass, creating long shafts of natural light inside. Now, facing renovation, it will get more Scottish still: there are plans to remodel it in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow’s favourite architect.

Inside, people marry in kilts (the hem let down an inch, in keeping with the dress code for Muslim men) to the sound of bagpipes. Halal haggis is sold nearby, and across the River Clyde is the council office where in 2012 a new tartan was launched: blue for the Saltire, green for Islam.

 The relationship between Scottish nationalism and the Muslim community seems unusually harmonious. Six out of ten Scots believe Muslims are integrated into everyday Scottish life, according to a poll in 2010 by Ipsos Mori. A survey in 2011 by the Scottish government found Muslims in Scotland felt that being Scottish was an important part of their identity, and that for them “community” tended to mean the shop down the road, rather than a local or global network of other Muslims.

 
In last year’s referendum the pro-independence Yes campaign was backed by 64% of Asians, most of them Muslims, according to a poll by Scotland’s main Asian radio station. Mazhar Khan of the Muslim Council of Scotland says that Muslims in Scotland will define themselves as Scottish, while those in England are prepared only to call themselves British. Why?

Scottish Muslims have greater economic power than their English counterparts: many are involved in business, and arrived with the means to set themselves up (a large proportion are from Punjab, a relatively rich Indian state). Most English Muslims hail from poorer bits of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and often went into industries that have since faltered. In Scotland ethnic minorities sometimes benefit from “reverse discrimination”: as the National Health Service was the first employer to send minorities to some of Scotland’s farther-flung areas, it is often assumed that non-whites are doctors. Mohammad Sarwar, a Scot, was Britain’s first Muslim MP.

Theories abound: Scots regard themselves as a minority, persecuted by the English; left-leaning Scottish nationalism is friendlier to minorities than English Conservatism. And Scottish Muslims are few—they make up just 1.5% of the population, compared with 4.5% across Britain—giving them a greater incentive to integrate.

So far, so historical, but recent policy may have something to do with it too. Whereas the government in Westminster makes sweeping criticisms of Muslim extremism (see previous article), its counterpart in Holyrood does not dwell on the subject and therefore, says Mr Kahn, does not wind up local Muslims. Only a tiny minority of the 700 people reported to have left Britain for Syria appear to have come from Scotland. The happy relationship may not be the result of luck alone.

Pakistan’s transgender community rolls out 700-foot national flag for Independence Day 2015 by Zeresh John, DAWN News Pakistan



Pakistan’s transgender community came out to celebrate the county’s 69th Independence Day with a 700-foot long flag that they meticulously stitched together over 12 days.

Organised by the Sindh chapter of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), hundreds of Khawaja Sarras rolled out the gigantic flag at the Bagh-e-Quaid-e-Azam, previously known as the Polo Ground, in Karachi right before the clock struck 12 on August 13.


President of the Sindh chapter of the Gender Interactive Alliance (GIA), Bindiya Rana.

Ecstatic and proud of their accomplishment, they walked across the length of the park holding up the flag, shouting “Pakistan Zinadabad!

As a result, they continue to face discrimination from society. They largely depend on a livelihood of singing and dancing at weddings and birth celebrations. They are also treated as sex objects and often become the victims of violent assault.

Transgenders in Pakistan were awarded the right to register as a third gender on their CNICs in 2012. The Supreme Court had also ordered free education and free health care for the Khawaja Sarra community. However, provincial welfare departments have yet to implement the decision.  

However, yesterday night, the open space at Bagh-e-Quaid-e-Azam rang with profound patriotism, thanks to this same community.

One day, hopefully, they will stop being stigmatised and start to gain social recognition in their own country.

According to the vice president of GIA, Mazhar Anjum the making of the flag cost 100,000 rupees.

“We wish to walk abreast all Pakistanis,” GIA’s vice president Mazhar Anjum said. “All we ask for is some respect,” Rani said.

The flag measures 700 feet in length and 50 feet in breadth.

“We put in a lot of hard over this flag; it is to show our love for Pakistan. We value this country with all our hearts and would not hesitate to die for it,” Sapna said.

 “I’m glad to see that so many people turned up to stand with us here for Pakistan. This is Pakistani unity!” Sheila said.

The Khawaja Sarra community stitched the flag over the course of 12 days.

“I’m here today because I want to spend this independence day with the country’s most tolerant community,” Sadaqat Ali said.





                                                                        

Monday, 10 August 2015

World's Oldest Qur'an

BBC Radio Scotland
Thought for the Day
Monday 10th August 2015
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Islam
University College Cork

The recent discovery of what is said to be the world’s oldest Qur’an at Birmingham University has us asking about how we deal with things that are old.  I’ve been following the different ways this new find has been welcomed.  The views vary.  From those who question whether it is that old by looking at the material, the way it is written, and even the ink that is used.  To the many Muslims around the world who present this as a way of showing the authenticity and ‘proof’ of Islam.

I can’t help but think that we might actually be missing the bigger point as we think about texts, religious or otherwise, and what really matters about them. Is it about how they came to be or if they are authentic or not - or is it more about what they say - how the text impacts on the lives of people who read it and live by it. Texts live through the lives of individuals.  Like Harry Potter, a great story that touched the mind and soul of many kids, and adults, in various ways because it had themes of good, evil, morals and ethics.  These key concepts of creating a good life and society are probably what every author wants their readers to think about.  But even the Qur’an, as we know it, is out of the hands of God and in the hands of every day Muslims. From its earliest time to the current day, it has been interpreted in various ways. 

And so we find that old and new texts can do harm too, especially religious texts that are used to promote only one type of understanding.  As a Muslim, I see first hand how the Qur’an is understood in a variety of ways, from whirling dervishes to terrorists.  Life is given to the text beyond how old or even how authentic it is.  For me, thinking more closely at the various ways to live a text out in a beautiful way is what it is all about. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Kithay Nain Na Jorin - English Translation

 
Ali Sethi - Kithay Nain Na Jorin (Official Video) by Pakistanmusicmind


Don't meet in someone's eyes but mine
Return, whilst I am alive
for the sake of God, turn your horse toward country, your abode

Don't meet in someone's eyes but mine 

This world can't bear to see two in love, together
From this or that, in every say or way, it forever tries to tear apart this love
Don't fall for their words
And break that trust I have in you, for Gods sake
for God's Sake, turn your horse towards country, your abode
Don't meet in someone's eyes but mine
By rendering me infatuated at heart, you moved aside
The days now pass with the support of your memories
 

Don't meet in someone's eyes but mine
for God's Sake , turn your horse toward country, your abode

Translation: Dr. Amanullah De Sondy

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Same-Sex Relationships & the Fluidity of Marriage in Islamic History (by Ali A. Olomi)


--> -->Published at IslamiCommentary - A Forum for Public Scholarship
July 17th 2015

Since the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th 2015, various religious groups have responded to the ruling. Muslim Americans, who themselves are a minority group in the United States, have struggled to find consensus.

Some have openly condemned the ruling. Others have urged a more hesitant acceptance of the court’s decision. Cognizant of the precarious position of minorities in the United States, Imam Suhaib Webb posted an online message where he encouraged a nuanced perspective that respected the ruling and supported it politically, while acknowledging the theological and ethical dilemmas for conservative Muslims. A group of Afghan American thinkers and activists on The Samovar Network took a more accepting stance when they held an online panel (via a Google hangout) and showed support for the ruling and the LGBTQ community as a whole.


Above left: 
-->“Aqa Mirak” – 16th Safavid watercolor by Aqa Mirak depicting two young princes and lovers. (currently located in the Smithsonian) 
 
Author, Reza Aslan and comedian, Hasan Minhaj wrote an open letter, published in Religion Dispatches, to Muslim Americans encouraging acceptance and tolerance, reminding Muslims that they too are a minority in the United States and should stand for the rights of their fellow minorities.
-->
People were surprised by the letter and some have attributed the position of the authors to Western influence. Popular representations in America and Europe, tend to depict Muslims as staunchly against same-sex marriage. But I would point out that positions like Reza’s and others like him actually highlight a forgotten part of Islamic history.


Just as in the case of Christianity, the history on same-sex relationships in Islam is far more complex than some would have you believe.

First, we have to acknowledge that though same-sex relationships are timeless and gay people have existed throughout history, according to theorists, like Michel Foucault, homosexuality as an identity emerged alongside heterosexuality in modernity. Indeed, an argument can be made that homophobia itself is a predominantly modern fear tied to anxieties about masculinity within nationalist contexts. The Qur’an itself does not address homosexuality directly, but refers to specific practices.
 
When it comes to same-sex relationships, Muslims point to the infamous Qur’anic verses on the People of Lot (7:80-84), which some modern scholars — by projecting modern sensibilities on the verse — interpret as being a condemnation of homosexuality. Yet, other scholars point out the context of the verse in the Qisas Al Anbiya, a commentary and history on the lives of the Islamic prophets by Al Kisa’i, that relates the tale of Lot as a condemnation of the corruption festering in the people of Lot, whose bestial carnality led to rape and sodomy; i.e. it’s not a direct condemnation of sodomy.

-->
Above Right: “Haft Awrang”- The Seven Thrones, an illuminated manuscript by 16th Century Jami. Depicts a male youth with his male suitors.

In fact, the Qur’an actually supports diversity of desires when it states that God created various mates for mankind (30:21). Furthermore, the Qur’an uses homoerotic imagery to describe paradise as full of eternally youthful manservants so attractive that “when you see them, you’d think them as beautiful as scattered pearls.” (52: 24, 76: 19).

We must also consider the Prophet Muhammad’s life and how his wife, Umm Salama, had a gay or interest manservant, Hit. In addition to Hit, there was also Tuways and Al Dalal. These individuals, known as mukhanathum, were counted as companions of Muhammad, or disciples and friends. The mukhanathum even served as guardians of Muhammad’s tomb when he died.

Same-sex relationships and romance existed throughout the history of Islamic civilization from the 7th century on. The famed Persian poet Rumi and the father of Classical Islamic poetry, Abu Nawas, wrote verses extolling the beauty of young men. Indeed, in medieval Abbasid, Ottoman, and Safavid empires, the normative standards of beauty in works of poetry and art revolved around the youthful and desirable appearance of young men.

While women were absolutely praised, the normative standard of beauty focused primarily on a concept of youthfulness that was equated to vitality and desire. In many of the poems like those of Abu Nawas and Rumi and many others, this meant young men, but these young men were attributed with feminine qualities, highlighting the fluid nature of masculinity and femininity.

Caliphs like Al Amin in the 8th century Abbasid caliphate engaged in same-sex relationships, and it is written that the warriors of Abu Muslim, who overthrew the Umayyads, lay with their male pages. While periods of oppression certainly existed and scholars anxiously debated whether acts were permissible or prohibited, on the whole, Islamic civilization tended to be not only tolerant, but accepting of same-sex romances.

Textual evidence for same-sex relationship between women were not as widespread in the Arabic and Islamic literary tradition, but there is still ample evidence of the tolerance and even praise of same-sex relationships between women. For example, in the 10th century, Jawami al-Ladhdha or, Encyclopedia of Pleasure by Abul Hasan Ali, he relates a story of love and romance between two women, Hind bint al Nur’man and Al Zarqa.

Some periods of Islamic history were more accepting than others and we should acknowledge that there was regional variation, but the historical arc was significantly towards toleration. When famed 19th century Moroccan scholar, Muhammad al Saffar traveled to Europe he was surprised to find same-sex courtship repugnant to the Europeans in contrast to its acceptance in the Islamic world. Indeed, that acceptance of same-sex courtship and romance was used by European Christian and orientalist writers as a sign of the supposed moral laxity of the “orient.”

Same-sex relationships between men, for example, were depicted in art, including in these images (now in the public domain): 1) “Shah Abbas and Wine Boy”- 17th Century art by Muhammad Qasim depicting Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas with his lover and wine boy; 2) “Haft Awrang”- The Seven Thrones, an illuminated manuscript by 16th Century Jami. Depicts a male youth with his male suitors; 3) “Aqa Mirak” – 16th Safavid watercolor by Aqa Mirak Tabriz depicting two young princes and lovers (currently located in the Smithsonian) and 4) “Sawaqub”– 19th Century Ottoman depiction in Sawaqub al Manaquib depicting sexual relations between a man and his wine servant.

Above Left:  “Shah Abbas and Wine Boy”- 17th Century art by Muhammad Qasim depicting Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas with his lover and wine boy.

These cultural and social realities of same-sex relationships in Islam have been made subterranean in historical reflection. People who wish to push a singular interpretation of religion conveniently ignore these parts of Islamic history in favor of narratives hewn from their prejudices. While the historical existence of relationships between couples of the same sex is an irrefutable fact, these narratives are often swept under the rug and the history of tolerance is forgotten in favor of depictions of Islam as a homophobic and aggressive faith.

Aside from this complex history, in Islam the definition of marriage and permissible relationships has evolved—something that historians of marriage in general often point out.

Most modern Muslims practice traditional marriage as one man and one woman for the purpose of family, yet this definition is quite different than what Qur’an depicts.

While accepting of sexual pleasure, marriage in the Qur’an can be polygamous (4:3). Additionally, as in the Bible, men are allowed to retain female concubines, referred to as ma malakat aymankum, or “those your right hand possesses (4:24, 23:5-6).”

Today, marriage is defined in Islam quite differently and most of its orthodoxy does not actively promote concubinage, nor do the majority of Muslims practice polygamy. Throughout its history, the Islamic interpretation of the concept of marriage has evolved and changed and what we call “traditional marriage” is hardly an immutable institution.

Understanding this history is important and was largely unquestioned up until the emergence of the puritanical literalists, the Salafis, on one side, and Islamophobes on the other. Scripture, arguably, does not change, but the believer’s engagement with scripture is constantly evolving according to the historical conditions that they live in.
It is important that we remember the history of tolerance and acceptance in Islam. Reza and others like him aren’t necessarily “Westernized,” but are also looking at the matter by examining Islam’s own history.

By acknowledging that there are other narratives about marriage and same-sex relationships already embedded in their religious traditions, Muslims and others should shake off the notion of a singular and monolithic concept of “traditional marriage” while celebrating the diversity allowed within their religious scriptures.

Ali A. Olomi is a historian, writer, and Ph.D student at the University of California Irvine where he studies the history of the Middle East and Islam, specializing in topics of religion, gender and sexuality, cultural and intellectual history, and politics. In addition to his academic work, he writes articles putting contemporary politics into historical context. He Tweets at @aaolomi.

- See more at: http://islamicommentary.org/2015/07/same-sex-relationships-the-fluidity-of-marriage-in-islamic-history-by-ali-a-olomi/#sthash.0M9sLib2.dpuf
Since the legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th 2015, various religious groups have responded to the ruling. Muslim Americans, who themselves are a minority group in the United States, have struggled to find consensus.
Some have openly condemned the ruling. Others have urged a more hesitant acceptance of the court’s decision. Cognizant of the precarious position of minorities in the United States, Imam Suhaib Webb posted an online message where he encouraged a nuanced perspective that respected the ruling and supported it politically, while acknowledging the theological and ethical dilemmas for conservative Muslims. A group of Afghan American thinkers and activists on The Samovar Network took a more accepting stance when they held an online panel (via a Google hangout) and showed support for the ruling and the LGBTQ community as a whole.
Author, Reza Aslan and comedian, Hasan Minhaj wrote an open letter, published in Religion Dispatches, to Muslim Americans encouraging acceptance and tolerance, reminding Muslims that they too are a minority in the United States and should stand for the rights of their fellow minorities.
People were surprised by the letter and some have attributed the position of the authors to Western influence. Popular representations in America and Europe, tend to depict Muslims as staunchly against same-sex marriage. But I would point out that positions like Reza’s and others like him actually highlight a forgotten part of Islamic history.
- See more at: http://islamicommentary.org/2015/07/same-sex-relationships-the-fluidity-of-marriage-in-islamic-history-by-ali-a-olomi/#sthash.0M9sLib2.dpuf

Of Dogs, Faith and Imams by Mohammed Hanif

Published in New York Times,  SundayReview | Opinion 
  

KARACHI, Pakistan — When I take my dog for a walk on the beach near my house in Karachi, this is how people react: Mothers tell their kids, look, a dog; kids ask me the dog’s name and if they can touch him; most grown men either recoil or ask me about the price and the breed. Sometimes when I see someone heading to the neighborhood mosque, I cross to the other side of the street. There is a popular belief among the pious that if they come in contact with a dog, they become unclean. You have to take a ritual bath before you can offer your prayers.

Worshipers are usually in a hurry in Karachi. These are perilous times, and I don’t want to come between men of God and God by delaying their prayers. They are, after all, fulfilling their obligation as I am trying to do.

I grew up in a very religious household where dogs weren’t exactly loved, but our faith wasn’t threatened every time a dog appeared on our doorstep. As a teenager in our village in central Punjab, I saw our local imam, who led the prayers, playing with his Russian poodle. His grandsons, who were visiting one summer, brought it and left it behind. I would see the imam with his poodle out on the street, petting her, cuddling her. His long snow-white beard and the poodle’s electric shiny curls sometimes touched. In almost a decade of devoutness that I prayed behind him, I never saw anybody object to his coming into physical contact with a dog. Maybe it was the imam’s authority. Maybe the poodle looked cleaner than some of us peasant worshipers. Maybe people thought a man as old and as pious as he knew what he was doing.

Today, if someone in his position tried to cuddle a dog in public, he would surely lose his status as imam, if not his head. Like Muslims everywhere in the world, we also yearn for more innocent times, when we could stay pure by keeping dogs at bay. There are many more worshipers in the mosques now than there were in my childhood, but there are no imams to tell the religious stories about dog love.

If you go by the fatwas issued by today’s religious scholars, some dogs are allowed in Islam and other dogs are not. At best, they make it sound as if Islam were not the second-largest religion in the world — comprising various cultural histories, ancient myths and thousands of ways of relating to animals — but a posh kennel club.

Sometimes I wish I could ask our neighborhood imam to tell us the story that, as children, we heard in many Friday sermons. It’s an Islamic fable about compassion and forgiveness and dogs. Since most religions use a woman’s virtue to teach us about morality, this one happens to be about a prostitute who had lived all her life in sin. One day she stopped by a well to have a drink of water and spotted a dog, a very thirsty dog panting at the edge of the well. She lowered a shoe into the well to draw water and quenched the dog’s thirst. As a result of this single act of mercy, Allah forgave all her sins. The fable is about sinners getting a chance at redemption, but it’s the image of a thirsty dog panting by a well that stuck with me. In some versions of the story, the dog is so thirsty that he tries to eat mud.

The Quran itself is mostly silent on the subject of dogs. The only real dog that appears in the text is a companion of the People of the Cave, a small group of young men who, threatened by an ancient king after refusing to abandon their faith, hide in a cave and take a 309-year-long nap. During these three centuries of hiding, their dog lay stretched out at the entrance of the cave to keep any intruders at bay. 

The fable evokes not revulsion but time travel and companionship. The Quran’s other significant mention of the dog is in a story about a man in lust with earthly desires, of whom it is said, “If thou attackest him, lolleth out his tongue; and if thou leavest him alone, lolleth out his tongue.”

Most of Muslims’ dog hate comes to us via the Hadith, a collection of sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. There are various, often contradictory hadiths about whether or not you are allowed to keep a dog as a pet. Dogs are allowed for security, says one. Their fur is fine but their saliva is unclean, says another. But if the fur gets wet, it becomes unclean. You can pet dogs, but you may not kiss them. You can keep them if they are not allowed inside the house. You can have them as long as you use them for hunting. What about the saliva they leave on the hunted animals? That’s fine.

A popular hadith about dogs says that angels won’t enter your abode if there is a dog in the house. Apparently, the angels don’t mind if the dog is out on the lawn or playing in the courtyard. Which basically leads you to the conclusion that angels don’t much care for believers living in small apartments or houses without big lawns.


The hadith warning us about the angels’ revulsion for dogs is sometimes said to have been narrated by one of the Prophet Muhammad’s close companions and the most prolific of his scribes. His name was Abu Huraira. He was also the most famous cat lover in Islamic history. In fact, his name means Father of the Cats. Some competing scribes from the era have called him an unreliable narrator, but nobody can call him out on any perceived bias against dogs: He tells the story about the forgiven prostitute.

Many other stories support the fact that caring about dogs doesn’t automatically make you a heathen. In one story, the Prophet Muhammad was leading his army into a battle when he came upon a female dog with a litter of puppies. He posted a companion to protect them. Umar, the second caliph, stated that he would be personally responsible if even a stray dog went to sleep hungry under his administration.

There are lots of people who hate dogs but care about the human condition; they care about children begging on the streets, or transgender people not getting jobs. Like them, I worry if it’s O.K. to care about a mutt when the world around us is falling apart. Then I tell myself it’s exactly when the world is falling apart that you should care about mutts. After all, our prophet cared about the safety of dogs in the middle of a battle.

Our classical poetry, religious and romantic, heretic and Sufi, is full of verses where a lover wants to be a stray dog living on the street corner of his beloved’s home. Sufi poets have held dogs as a symbol of devotion and superhuman dedication. But even when the pious ones are crooning away about their desire to be a dog in the holy city of Medina, they can’t stand a real dog when it happens to pass by.

I have had to drag my dog away from speeches and recitals because he gets excited and starts barking. He probably wants to join in, but poets and protesters — religious or godless — don’t want dogs joining in their celebrations. I am reminded of the Arabic proverb: The dogs bark and the caravan moves on. Sometimes it’s the caravan that barks and the dogs that have to keep moving.

Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.”

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Paradise in the Islamic Tradition

Prof. Christian Lange (professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies) gave his inaugural lecture on paradise in the Islamic tradition, based on a close reading and analysis of how paradise is imagined in the Qur'an. He will pursue a dominant theme of the Qur'an in detail, namely, the spatio-temporal and existential nearness of paradise to this world.



Dr. Amina Wadud - Scholar and Activist on Islamic Gender Jihad


Thursday, 23 July 2015

No, Islam Is Not Inherently Misogynistic. Here's Why. by Bina Shah

Published in Huffington Post, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Posted:

Junaid Jamshed, Pakistani pop singer turned Islamic preacher, landed himself in hot water when he recently made misogynistic remarks on television. Erroneously trying to prove that women do not have an independent status of their own in Islam, he said, "Hazrat Maryam's (Mary's) name has been solely mentioned in the Holy Quran and that too because of Hazrat Isa (Jesus). Other than that, no other woman's name has been quoted in the Holy book. Also, Allah doesn't like it when a woman's name is mentioned in the Quran."

A "Ban Junaid Jamshed" movement sprang into life on social media within hours of the remarks being reported. Angered Pakistani women are urging people to boycott Jamshed's commercial ventures, which include a butcher shop and a clothing line.

Sadly, many people in the Muslim world share Jamshed's attitudes to greater or lesser degrees; literalists and the orthodox everywhere use the Quran and Hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet, to justify their misogyny, interpreting allegorical scripture with malicious literalism. They twist and distort the scripture's meanings, intent and context, until the true meaning of those verses has been obliterated. They disregard the fact that those verses pertaining to men and women were meant to introduce a balance between the sexes in a paganistic Arab society that had no concept of harmony and cooperation between men and women.

Muslim societies have long been the battleground for a conflict between classical patriarchy and the revolutionary spirit of early Islam. The pre-Islamic environment of 7th century Mecca, with its tribalism, lack of law and order and constant warfare, was strongly male-dominated. The advent of Islam challenged the status quo and sought not only to introduce a new kind of social order but to limit the excesses of Meccan society, which directly harmed women and girls -- abolishing the custom of burying baby girls at birth is one of the best examples of this spirit. Early Islam sought to elevate women and define them as independent agents possessed of free will, responsible for their own actions and imbued with certain rights over men (just as men are imbued with complementary rights and privileges over women).
"Early Islam sought to elevate women and define them as independent agents possessed of free will, responsible for their own actions and imbued with certain rights over men."
While it is true that only Mary is named in the Quran, we can count 24 women who appear in the Quran in various forms and purposes. According to Seyyedeh Sahar Kianfar, who writes about women in the Quran for the International Association of Sufism, 18 of those women appear as minor characters in Quranic stories for historical context. The major five -- including Mary mother of Jesus, Bilquis, the Queen of Sheba, Mary's mother Hannah, Hawa (Eve) and Umm Musa, the mother of Moses -- "serve as examples of good character from which the seeker can learn and model oneself."

There is an entire chapter in the Quran entitled "Mary," which tells the story of Mary's life and Jesus's birth. Another chapter called "Women" outlines in great detail the rights and responsibilities of women and the rights and responsibilities of men towards them. This does not sound like a holy book in which the appearance of women is offensive to God.

Jamshed's crude analyses ignores the fact that the Quran was never meant as a "book" designed to satisfy modern intellectual sensibilities. Many detractors of Islam point to inheritance laws, polygamy and certain verses in the Quran that they have interpreted as condoning domestic violence, sex slavery and other travesties of justice and human rights. There are many Islamic feminists, such as Amina Wadud, Kecia Ali, Riffat Hassan and Laleh Bakhtiar, who are actively working to retranslate and reinterpret many of these verses of the Quran. They place the verses of the Quran, as well as many of the Hadiths or sayings of the prophet, within a correct historical context, adding the feminist perspective, which classical male jurists and translators and interpreters have ignored. The result is a scripture that looks very different from the book that Islam's detractors use to point to its "inherent" chauvinism, and that misogynists within Islam use to justify the perpetuation of patriarchal traditions.
"The advent of Islam sought not only to introduce a new kind of social order but to limit the excesses of Meccan society, which directly harmed women and girls."
Misogyny does not appeal to all Muslim men, but all Muslim men in traditional societies have been raised within a cultural context of patriarchy, which operates on strong principles of exclusion and male privilege. Monarchy, colonialism and violent dictatorship, which have affected most Muslim countries at some point in their histories, have served to ingrain those patriarchal principles deep within the psyche of men and women. It could be said that men have internalized the principles of authoritarianism, bolstered by the political systems under which they have lived. In turn, they have sought to rule women in Muslim countries the way those countries were ruled by local autocrats and then colonized by Western powers. It serves to retain a man's sense of personal power when his own political power has been robbed from him.

Lately, Muslim women have been claiming more of their rights within Islam because of a steady increase in women's education and literacy. They are also responding to the growing need for more women in the workforce to strengthen their countries' economies. Development, human rights and democratic movements coming from Western countries sometimes one-sidedly focus on the rights and status of Muslim women both in Muslim and in Western societies as a yardstick for how "oppressed" or "free" a society is. NPR's Senior European correspondent Sylvia Poggioli identified this trend as follows: "In the heated debate on Islam in the West, Muslim women are often the flashpoint -- their dress codes, their rights, their roles in society."

The result: some Muslim men welcome the increased stature of women, while others grow deeply resentful and view "women's rights" as a corrupting foreign influence -- a continuation of the colonialism that humiliated and alienated their parents' generation. The upsetting of the traditional balance which has always suited them, with the push coming both from the Western world and from Muslim women and their male allies, engenders within the misogynist a destructive kind of competitiveness with women. A clampdown on the advances of women and the use of physical and mental violence to restrict women's growing autonomy is the backlash for those men who cannot handle the powerful changes in their societies.
"There are many Islamic feminists who are actively working to reinterpret certain Quran verses from a woman's perspective."
No analysis of misogyny in Muslim societies would be complete without understanding the role of the mother in the Muslim family as an extremely powerful one. Most Muslims can recall growing up in a family where the home was the jurisdiction of the mother, supported by equally strong female figures -- aunts, elder sisters, grandmothers. The mother's authority over a child is complete (and Islam supports this by ensuring a young child stays with its mother even if a divorce takes place), although this runs contrary to the deep-seated patriarchy children observe outside the home.

Entire societies all across the Muslim world can develop and flourish through the advancement of women, and there is nothing in Islamic scripture that contradicts this idea. But misogyny in the Muslim world must be addressed so that we are not constantly playing at snakes and ladders, making gains and then sliding back down again, when it comes to enshrining women's rights in our rapidly-transitioning societies.

Bina Shah is a writer of English fiction and a journalist living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories. She is a regular columnist for the Dawn and the Express Tribune, Pakistan’s major English-language newspapers, and has also contributed to international newspapers The Guardian, The Independent, and the International Herald Tribune and international journals Granta.com, Wasafiri and Critical Muslim. Her latest novel, A Season For Martyrs, was published in Nov. 2014 in the U.S.

Bina was born in Karachi, Pakistan and was raised in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Pakistan. She holds a degree in Psychology from Wellesley College and a Masters in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is a fellow of the University of Iowa, having participated in the International Writers Program in 2011. Her humorous writing, political satire, and clear-eyed view of social issues have earned her critical praise and a devoted following amongst Pakistanis all over the world.