Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Honey Maid: Love

Mona Siddiqui will give a series of lectures and participate in a concluding symposium. This third lecture is From the Feminine to Feminism: Women in Islamic Thought and Literature.

Conversations about women and gender related issues have become mainly about rights and justice. Diverse feminist perspectives highlight the reality of women's lives in many parts of the Islamic world and either critique patriarchal structures or explain Qur'anic verses according to 7th century contexts. Yet, this socio-historical emphasis has almost eclipsed the variety of images of the feminine which are also to be found in Islamic thought, literature and poetry. Is the reality of women's lives somewhere between both struggle and ideals, the feminine and the feminist?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Rumee Ahmed - "Finding the Ethical in Islamic Law"

Rumee Ahmed - "Finding the Ethical in Islamic Law" from Ali Vural Ak Center for Global I on Vimeo.

Islamic legal ethics are found in complex relationships between the Muslim community and Islamic source texts, theology, exegesis, jurisprudence, and legal theory. Legal ethics cannot be divorced from these interconnected relationships, so that proposing a change in law requires corresponding changes in multiple related Islamic sciences. Without these corresponding changes, a new law cannot be deemed 'ethical'. Through a case-study of prisoners of war, this presentation will explain the way in which Islamic legal ethics are conceived and how legal change occurs in the Muslim community so that it is both 'religious' and 'ethical'.

Rumee Ahmed (PhD, University of Virginia) is Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of British Columbia, in the Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies. His research interests include Islamic law, exegesis, and theology, and is heavily-engaged in text-study across traditions. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Islamic Law (Oxford University Press), and the author of Narratives of Islamic Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 2012), which explores the ways in which Muslim jurists use the genre of legal theory and the language of law to argue for competing grand narratives about how the God-human relationship ought to function in society.

Recorded on March 21, 2013

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Times Higher Education Review: March 20th 2014

Julia Droeber praises an interrogation of the image of the Muslim man

Masculinity, so they say, is in crisis. The notion of a crisis in (Western) masculinity appeared in the 1990s, positing that because of the impact of feminism, old certainties about masculinity had become obsolete and men no longer knew what a “real man” should be like. This argument has been the subject of scholarly critique since then, but it continues to have currency in everyday discourse.

The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities takes up this idea, arguing that masculinity in the Muslim world is also in crisis. This crisis is the result of the existence of multiple masculinities in Muslim societies on the one hand, and of an influential discourse about a singular kind of masculinity on the other.

Amanullah De Sondy, an Islamic studies scholar based in the US, argues that today many Muslim men struggle with the perceived gap between what is considered the ideal “Islamic man” and the lived experiences of being “Muslim men”.

Here, De Sondy explores the heterogeneous nature of Islamic and Muslim masculinities, beginning with what can be termed the dominant or “hegemonic” masculinity reflected in religious, political and everyday discourses across the contemporary Muslim world. He traces it in the works of Syed Abul A’la Mawdudi, an influential 20th-century Pakistani theologian. Mawdudi’s construct is the archetype of man the breadwinner and woman the housewife, with the family as the only basis of social structure, built around sex segregation and traditional gender relations. This notion has been emphasised and disseminated by members of the Islamist current that has a presence in all Muslim societies to a greater or lesser extent. Living in a Muslim majority society, and as coordinator of my university’s women’s studies programme, I am confronted with this worldview on a daily basis. It is alive and well.

De Sondy interrogates this image of the Muslim man on various fronts. He explores what Muslim feminists have to say about it and argues that while they reaffirm the importance of the family, they try to dismantle gender hierarchies through exegesis of the Koran and people’s experiences. Indeed, even in the Koran, we find that there is no one single masculinity.

Sociologist R. W. Connell’s full hierarchy of masculinities (hegemonic, subordinate, marginalised and complicit) can be found in the lives of the most important prophets who appear in the Koran. De Sondy’s example of the 19th-century Mughal poet Mirza Ghalib is instructive, and shows how his hedonism did not interfere with his religious beliefs even though it caused him serious troubles with co-religionists who considered him un-Islamic. In fact, De Sondy argues that this is the situation many Muslim men find themselves in today, being forced to consider themselves secular because their understanding and lived experience of masculinity does not coincide with the dominant discourse. Sufism provides further grounds for questioning a single Islamic masculinity, as it often defies socio-cultural conventions and ideals, such as the family, and emphasises the relationship with God above all else.

The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities shows how any notion of Muslim or Islamic masculinity is always constructed against a number of “others” – women, the West and God. In a sense, the discursive ideal of an Islamic masculinity that predominates in many parts of the Muslim world today is largely constructed against the frameworks of stereotyped Western masculinities on the one hand and femininity on the other. Criticism of this concept frequently invokes the relationship between humans and God, in which there is no place for gendered hierarchies.

This is an important work for those interested in gender relations in Muslim societies. I only wish that my students could read English because this work would help them to explore a broader range of gender constructions without the (fully justifiable) fear of being labelled un-Islamic.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

International Women's Day --- A Muslim Woman's quest for good

People saw Rabia running through the streets of Basra one day with a torch in one hand and pitcher of water in the other. A woman pulled her aside and said, "Dearest Rabia, our teacher, what are you doing?" Rabia replied, "I want to put out the fires of Hell, and burn down the pleasures of Paradise. Because of them people only worship God out of fear of punishment or hope for reward when they could be worshipping God for love alone! 
(as re-told by Dr. Laury Silvers, University of Toronto)

Friday, 7 March 2014

My book, The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities, will be out in paperback later this year, & here's the brand new cover! Published by Bloomsbury Academic. More details to follow and hopefully a book launch in my beloved Scotland!.

About The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities

Rigid notions of masculinity are causing crisis in the global Islamic community. These are articulated from the Qur’an, its commentary, historical precedents and societal, religious and familial obligations. Some Muslims who don't agree with narrow constructs of manliness feel forced to consider themselves secular and therefore outside the religious community.

In order to evaluate whether there really is only one valid, ideal Islamic masculinity, The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities explores key figures of the Qur’an and Indian-Pakistani Islamic history, and exposes the precariousness of tight constraints on Islamic manhood. By examining Qur’anic arguments and the strict social responsibilities advocated along with narrow Islamic masculinities, Amanullah De Sondy shows that God and women (to whom Muslim men relate but are different from) often act as foils for the construction of masculinity. He argues the constrainers of masculinity have used God and women to think with and to dominate through and that rigid gender roles are the product of a misguided enterprise: the highly personal relationship between humans and God does not lend itself to the organization of society, because that relationship cannot be typified and replicated.

Discussions and debates surrounding Islamic masculinities are quickly finding their place in the study of Islam and Muslims, and The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities makes a vital contribution to this emerging field.

Table Of Contents

Introduction\1.The Knot Mawdudi Tied\2. Feminists’ Nonothering Hermeneutics\3. The Failed Search for a Single Qur’anic Masculinity\4. Mirza Ghalib’s Hedonistic Challenge\5.Sufism’s Beloved Subversion\Conclusion\Bibliography


“De Sondy makes an original and rich contribution to the burgeoning literature on Islamic masculinities while engaging productively with Muslim feminist thought.” –  Kecia Ali, Associate Professor of Religion, Boston University, USA.

“The study of Muslim masculinities is in its infancy, and The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities easily succeeds in laying a secure foundation for this highly significant but neglected field - a major step forward.” –  Ahmet T. Karamustafa, Professor of History, University of Maryland, USA.

“This book opens the way to rethinking what it means to be a man in the Islamic tradition, showing the intricate ways in which constructions of femininity and masculinity are intertwined. It is a must-read for those wishing to understand the Islamists' obsession with sexuality, their rejection of gender equality, and their invocation of religious dogma as the basis for gender rights.” –  Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, SOAS, UK.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Muslim Men: Please Shut Up About Women!

By Amanullah De Sondy
Published at Sacred Matters blog
Wednesday 26th February 2013

A recent Pew Research Center study indicated how “people” in various Muslim countries “prefer” Muslim women to dress. The results are varied from fully veiled dress to no veil at all.  There seems to be no turning away from public interest in Muslim women and the flurry of commentaries from public intellectuals has begun. Beyond the polemics of discussions on Muslim women, I’m interested to interrogate the notion of “preference” in this matter and ask, “Who are these ‘people’?”
Issues of women and veiling may seem simple at face value but in fact, they are complex and require interrogating a variety of themes and concerns in Islamic cultures and societies.

The way in which anyone covers his or her body is bound to considerations of gender, culture and politics. I guess in some way, no one is independent regarding what they can and cannot wear; we are still restricted on how we dress ourselves, which leads some individuals to attempt to impose clothing ideals on to others. I can’t help but think back to the images of the formally clothed, white colonial male anthropologist who sits beside the unclothed black woman’s body. Without a word being spoken, a thousand statements are made. Clothing and veiling equally play a central role in Muslim societies, where citizens return to concepts and constructions of what godly modesty means in Qur’anic terms, the inimitable words of God that, in my view, have always left room for personal interpretation.

I’ve been asked about Muslim women for various reasons and in various situations. So, let me just place my cards on the table about who I am. As a man, I hold the privilege of being asked these questions. As an academic, I hold this privilege. As a Scottish born Pakistani, I hold this privilege. But at the end of the day, I’m not a woman. Yet not being a woman has never stopped Muslim men from commenting on women’s affairs. For too long, Muslim men have commented on Muslim women. There is also a history of Islamic patriarchy within certain aspects of Muslim culture and society. So while it is not surprising that I often receive invitations from news media to comment on Muslim women, the conversation ends quite quickly. This is because I made a decision several years ago that I would not comment on the lives of women in general and Muslim women in particular. I cannot and will not speak for women, in a similar way that I cannot and will not speak for men. I continually question my role and authority in such matters.

We may think some gender issues have moved on in the twenty-first century, but we still live in a world where Muslim men have become spokesmen, in its most literal sense, for all matters on Muslims. Some Muslim men speak for both themselves and women, while Muslim women are often expected to speak only on matters of Muslim women.
 Allahım bunu istediği için by (¯`·.¸¸.¤*¨¨*¤.๑۩۩۩๑Zeyneeep! via Flickr
Allahım bunu istediği için by (¯`·.¸¸.¤*¨¨*¤.๑۩۩۩๑Zeyneeep! via Flickr

In terms of veiling and clothing, both men and women are quick to judge individuals on how they dress. For example, when a fully veiled women stands next to a woman who does not choose to veil herself, the viewer will immediately connect some past understanding or visual of the two. Yet, when we place the two women in conversation with a voice, without the commentary of men, the dialog might surprise us.

With this in mind, change has recently begun. The rich diversity of men and women’s voices is now being highlighted in various ways. A variety of Muslim men and women are speaking out and commenting on range of issues in the community. But let us not become complacent with this fact because Muslim men are still deemed more authoritative in some way. It is for this reason that when I teach my introduction to Islam course, I always show many documentaries and films that demonstrate the variety of Muslim women’s voices. It is imperative for one to see and hear from Muslims in all parts of the world from those who veil, don’t veil or are indifferent. I laughed the other day when I read an opinion piece about how Muslim men were now openly speaking about love, sex and intimacy, in a recent book and that “things were changing.” Well, I hate to break it to the commentator but things have always been changing. Since the very beginning of Islam, Muslims have lived varied lives but only now are we beginning to read more about the varied, gendered and sexual lives, of Muslim men and women.

More than just commenting on clothing, there may well be a deeper issue at stake: authority.  Issues of gender and sexuality are inextricably bound to power and these issues within religious communities and societies are bound to authority. I think in some way, the presentation of monolithic, static constructions of Muslim men and women helped to control and retain power in Islamic societies. Yet now, more than ever before, this romantic notion of an “ideal” Islamic state, with its closely linked to ideas about maleness and femaleness, is diminishing. So who holds the authority now? This very question is allowing Muslim individuals to find their own voices.

Globally, Muslim communities are now debating whether Muslim women can lead a Mosque. Muslim communities are now debating responses to the numerous categories of Muslim sexualities. Muslim communities are now debating who has the right to confer and deem something “Islamic” or not. These core issues of contention are without a doubt bound to Islamic masculinity and femininity.

Reminder by A Davey via Flickr
Reminder by A Davey via Flickr

I have spoken to Muslims across the spectrum: from a Muslim woman in Scotland who wants live a life free from the Mosque yet clearly has a central place for God in her life, to a Muslim woman in Pakistan who wants to live under stricter traditional, law abiding tenets. Interestingly, both of these women wanted me to tell them if what they were doing was “right.” I laughed. The important point I wanted both of them to note was that piety is a personal matter and no one, especially a man, has a right to tell a woman how to live in a particular way. The umbrella of “Islam” has the capability to sustain every variety of Muslim. The paths of both of these women are within what Islamic traditions tell us is the “right path.”

Just the other day I made comments about this topic on the “Wall” of a Facebook friend. I was immediately told to re-evaluate my comments because the prophet Muhammad wrote about Muslim women. This may well be true, but the prophet Muhammad, or any other prophet, is not God and the Islamic message of God that leads to gendered acts of piety, belief and submission, are indeed individual acts. Islamic prophets within the traditions are messengers to announce the existence of a god. This should come as no surprise given that even Qur’an commentators and Islamic jurists were the first to declare that their opinions were exactly that: options. They said it was up to Muslim men and women to accept or reject their opinions and “God knows best.”

Because an unseen god presented an ambiguous message, maybe the “existence” of “God” helps one to unshackle his or herself from the restrictions posed by a fellow human beings. Taking restrictions out of this world creates a recipe for gendered and sexual liberation. The inevitability of diversity in faith was something that even prophets could not restrain.

Don’t get me wrong on this one- I’m not advocating silencing anyone but what I do think will be a step forward is for Muslim men to shut up on issues around Muslim women. The so-called “Islamic reform” that the world seeks has been happening since the beginning of time but to really appreciate it, one must read between the silences and not accept the voices of the loudest, most often men.

Amanullah De Sondy is Assistant Professor in Islamic Studies at the University of Miami and the author of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Poetry and Candles

This year a very special gift was given to me, a personalised poem and some candles.  Margot (pictured below with her Grandson, Marcus) has been a great friend to me over the years and her insight in poetry and all things Scottish have always been an inspiration.    I hope you enjoy it.  Thank you, Margot, for writing this poem for me.

by Margot Rhead (Scottish)

                                            Bit by bit, pomelo wax melts above a low flame.
The aroma of Mandarin Cranberry
rises, hovers, warms, lingers;
drifts into unexpected corners.
I breathe it in; savour, for a while
those Christmas Memories.
Without warning, the small tea light
shudders, wavers, darkens, dies.
The burner cools; the wax hardens.
The burst of citrus redolence subsides.

Time and again, the same. 
Remove the debris, replace the wax;
relight the flame.  Then wait.
The continuity of … what?
Habit?  Persistence? Uncertainty? Pleasure?
I reach for the balm of Christmas Rose ...
but choose, instead, the very last Mango Peach  Salsa,
and strike the match. The fragrance comes and goes.
Then, jeopardized by draughts, it shivers, fades.
Pockets of spice refuse to leave.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Stupid Questions: Jews and Muslims Unite

Young MALAC ( and Eastside Jews ( come together to present Stupid Questions in the outdoor gardens of Mexican/Indian Restaurant Cowboys and Turbans located in Los Angeles, CA. Comedians Max Amini and Moshe Kasher were joined by Rabbi Mordecai Finley and Professor Najeeba Syeed-Miller. Attendees wrote anonymous questions, and the comedians attempted to answer, with help from the experts.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Thought for the Day

January 3rd 2014
BBC Radio Scotland
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy
University of Miami, FL.
A new year, a new beginning, a clean slate.  These are just some of the sentiments that I’ve heard or read over the last few days.  Leaving the past year or years behind seems to offer hope to some of us.  I have heard more than once from people that they want this year to be, a sort of, brand new beginning.  But can this actually happen.  I can see that there are some memories that we would all rather forget but should they be completely forgotten?  If the past linger on in our lives does it strengthen our understanding of self, our living?  My thoughts also turn to some of the most horrific events in history that we might all wish had never happened or attempt to forget but the reminder and memory of these do infact play a role in how we shape ourselves and the society that surrounds us.
As a Muslim, I have found it helpful in lingering in the past where often I have found that our current hot potato issues have a history.  Take for example some of the most contentious issues facing Muslims today, such as gender and sexuality.  If the slate is wiped clean they become ‘new issues’ but I’ve found that the murkiness of the old slate (and possibly upsetting past) actually helps to understand where we are today.  I believe that there is much danger in ‘living in the past’ or even ‘life in the now’, the two should always meet, in some way. 
Maybe our very own, Robert Burns, was pushing us all to connect the past as we move forward when he wrote, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind ? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne”.  Happy new year.   

Monday, 30 December 2013

Top 5 Religion Stories... Of All Time! by Gary Laderman Chair of the Department of Religion, Emory University and Editor of Sacred Matters Magazine

Published in Huffington Post
All Rights Reserved, Copyright 

We are in the season of lists that look back on the year and designate best books, blogs, films, music, and other items. This is a ritually consoling way of taking stock of the previous 12 months, highlighting those events and stories and products that stood out as special or unique, and reminding folks that as one year passes, another is about to begin.

Religion lists are especially prominent this year, with authors claiming the obvious about what stood out in the world: a new Pope; disappearing Jews; gay marriage; Muslim violence; the death of Mandela, and so on. It's an easy and fun task to pull up these stories, rank them, and say a few words about each to remind readers of the incessant, often easily forgotten, news cycle of current events that fade from view almost as quickly as they emerge in public consciousness.

The real story about religion is that it won't go away, and whatever blips and blasts make it to CNN or Fox or The Huffington Post will inevitably be pushed aside by new stories that fleetingly capture the imagination. Perhaps this year we can look at religion and identify some stories that never die, that are not simply events that happened over the course of 12 months but are, in a sense, eternally returning and deeply rooted in human cultures and consciousness.

So with that in mind, let's dig beneath the surface of things and dredge up some religion stories that are thousands of years old. Here are the top 5 religion stories of all time:

5. The sacred is elementary. The sacred is always present in societies, a basic elemental way of thinking about the world, identifying what is of greatest importance, and unifying groups of people together. Totems, taboos, territories, time, and so on are all tied in to what counts as sacred and how that is differentiated from the profane. Nothing is more important to social identities and solidarity than the sacred -- it is both the glue that binds individuals together and the source for profound and meaningful religious experiences that shape cultural values and ideals. Gods and spirits, texts and flags, animals and landscapes are only a few examples of sacred phenomena found throughout human history.

4. Religious conflict is inevitable. While the sacred can unite groups around shared values and common rituals, unfortunately it can also divide people against each other and justify competition, conflicts, and killing. The engines of human history are fueled by contestations over the sacred; because we can't agree about this elemental fact of social life and so much is at stake in protecting the sacred from threats and profanations, it has been a perennial force in establishing enemies and ensuring warfare. The sad truth about religion through history is its centrality as a source for violence and bloodshed and hatred. History proves this point without a doubt, and anyone informed about current global conflicts knows this fact continues to be so.

3. Religion is inspirational and can transform humans and societies. On the other hand, religion is not all bad and can, at times, bring out the best in people as a force for social justice, individual transformation, and cultural regeneration. The sacred has long been a constant and powerful source in human societies that can heal and restore those who are sick and suffering; inspire leaders and artists to create new ways of seeing the world and its mysteries; and rally individuals to unite and overcome obstacles that threaten the social order. Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day and the Buddha, Muhammad and Black Elk are just a few names that come to mind in this regard.

2. The monotheists can't figure out human sexuality. Monotheists have had a lot of problems through history with their one God, but perhaps the most vexing and longstanding has to do with human sexuality. Of course not all Jews agree with each other; no do all Christians; nor do all Muslims, yet even with a variety of perspectives within these monotheistic religious cultures, sexuality remains a heated, contentious, and confounding human reality that leads to contradictions, confusions, and ambivalence. Is procreation the sole purpose of sex? Are gender roles fixed and certain? Can sexual transgressions lead to damnation and divine retribution? Take a gander through the sacred texts and the theologies interpreting them through time to get a sense of the ongoing and vital preoccupation with these questions, and how much is at stake in how they are answered.

1. We all die. Ok, a little depressing for all the holiday cheer, but as the great ESPN sports segment exclaims: "C'mon man!" What would you expect for the number one spot on this list of top religion stories of all time? Death, like sexuality, is a universal reality for all humans. What fuels the fires of the religious imagination and instigates the necessity of religious ritual like death? Mortality is what shapes morals and meaning, challenges the nature and substance of identity, and forces humans to confront and transcend that most sacred of objects, the corpse. Death is at the heart of religion, and how societies have responded to death--how they dispose of the dead, glorify them, keep them at bay, and live with the unavoidable reality of one's own death--is a never-ending collective task that is both compelling and fascinating.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Female carpenter carves new role for women in Jordan

Carpentry is a profession which has long been associated more with men than women.  But Aida Al Qurna is a Jordanian woman who decided to break that mould by becoming her country's first professional female carpenter.  She hopes to inspire women to reshape gender roles by taking on more traditionally male-dominated jobs in her country.

Rafid Jabbouri reports.

Vegetarian Muslim: Turning Away From a Meat-Based Diet

My reasons for moving towards a plant-based diet didn't happen overnight as some people I know. As I gained awareness of the different issues involved in getting that piece of steak on my plate my dietary choices slowly changed. First went the red meat then dairy, chicken, fish and finally eggs.

My first glimpse into the slaughterhouse industry came when I read Fast Food Nation and discovered how animals where treated in factory farms. I was horrified to say the least. Prior to that point in time I was shamefully clueless.

Part of my ignorance may have been due to a romanticized notion I had about how my government would protect farm animals who are used for food. I could understand the abuse of animals and the environment in the U.S., but surely we Canadians were different. Right?

The reality is there is virtually no legislation in Canada to protect farm animals in factory farms from abusive practices. Animals can be beaten, mutilated and cramped together in nightmarish conditions for their short existence. What standards the Canadian Food Inspection Agency expects slaughterhouses to adhere to are often lost in the rush to produce more meat. The little legislative protection that remains is even now being eroded as our government reduces slaughterhouse regulations. The reality is factory farms in Canada, as in other areas around the world, are linked to a host of serious environmental, health, animal welfare issues and rural community sustainability.

As information about the practices of factory farming, its impact on our environment and related issues to human health and animal welfare has made its way to the public, there has been a steady movement of individuals, including Muslims, who have been opting for a plant-based diet.

Is Being a Vegan or Vegetarian at Odds with Being Muslim?

Interestingly enough, the idea of Muslims being vegetarian or vegans has prompted some debate. Islamic scholars such as the late Egyptian scholar Gamal al-Banna agree that Muslims who choose vegetarianism/veganism can do so for a number of reasons including a personal expression of faith or spirituality.

Al-Banna has stated "When someone becomes vegetarian they do so for a number of reasons: compassion, environment and health reasons. As a Muslim, I believe that the Prophet (Muhammad) would want followers to be healthy, compassionate and not destroy our environment. If someone believes not eating meat is that way, it is not like they are going to go to hell for it. It may be the right thing to do."

Hamza Yusuf Hason, a popular American Muslim scholar has been warning against the ethical and environmental dangers of the factory farming industry and the health related issues of over consumption of meat (at 35 min mark).

Yusuf believes the fallout of industrialized meat production -- the abuse of animals, the detrimental impact to the environment and human health, the link of such a system to the exasperation of global hunger -- is at odds with his understanding of Islamic ethics. In his view animal rights and protection of the environment are not foreign concepts to Islam but a divine mandate. And his research indicates that the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and most early Muslims were semi-vegetarians, consuming meat on occasion.

Vegetarianism is not a new concept for some adherents of Sufism. Such as Chishti Inayat Khan, who introduced Sufi principals to the west. The late Sufi Shaykh Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, who did not permit any animal products at his fellowship. Rabia of Basra, one of the most revered female Sufi saints.

The Environment, Animals and Islam 

On the other spectrum there are scholars, such as one at the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments who believe "Animals are slaves for human purposes. They were put here for us to eat, so talk of vegetarianism is un-Islamic."

This unfortunate view of animals, as things to be used and consumed by humans, exists within many cultures. I believe this idea may exist among some Muslims as a direct result of the misinterpretation of the concept of Khalifa in the Quran.

"And lo! Your Sustainer said to the angels: Behold, I am about to establish upon earth a khalifa." (Quran verse 2:30)

"And it is He (God) who has made you successors (khalifa) upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful." (Quran verse 6:165)

A quick reading of these verse may lead to the conclusion that humans are somehow superior to other forms of creations. Hence, have the right to use the earth's resources and it's non-human animals at their discretion.

Israeli and Palestinian Women Crossing the Divide by Diana Bletter Writer, Author, 'The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle'

Published at Huffington Post
All Rights Reserved, Copyright

Against the backdrop of the Boston Marathon bombings, the spiraling violence in Syria and the continuing conflict along the Israel-Palestine fault line, a group of 28 women (mostly Christian with a scattering of Muslims) from Bethlehem, Palestine, made a pilgrimage on April 23 to meet with a group of Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Druze Israeli women in the city of Acco during a four-day visit in northern Israel.

"I was surprised," said Huda Salem, a Muslim social worker from Bethlehem in a telephone interview after her visit. "We always think that Jews think we're only terrorists, but they think differently than what we see on TV."

The women's visit -- a combination of hopeful interchanges and seemingly intractable differences -- was sponsored by the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center in Haifa. Since 1995, the Center has welcomed more than 1,000 Palestinian women to meet with their Israeli counterparts for what the Center's leaders describe as "intensive days of debate, discussion, soul-searching and friendship forging."

"The women don't have to agree," said Bracha Steiner, the Social and Cultural Coordinator at the Center. "But there is a willingness to do things together."

At the Community Center in Acco, funded in part by the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), the Bethlehem contingent met with Dr. Janan Faraj-Falah, an effervescently optimistic Druze woman who is a professor of Gender Studies at Haifa Teachers' College and leader of a volunteer women's group in Acco that includes Christian, Muslim, Jewish women and Druze women. The 30 or so members of Faraj-Falah's Acco Vision work together to forge connections among the 40,000 residents of the coastal city. The group has held city-wide student writing contests in Arabic and Hebrew, festivals for Jewish and Arab artists and has even built a peace playground in the city.
"I'm very satisfied with this visit," said Faraj-Falah. "If not, I wouldn't spend so much time organizing these events."

The women, coming from in and around Bethlehem, were pulled together by a one-woman powerhouse, Antoinette Knesevitch, a 78-year-old Christian and resident of Bethlehem who remains tireless in her efforts to have women in Israel and Palestine connect with one another. The distance between Bethlehem and Acco is about 113 miles, yet most of the women have never had the chance to meet one another. "Women can change the idea that we can't live together," said Knesevitch. "Because we can."

In Acco, after the obligatory Middle East welcome of fresh loquats, oranges, pastries and drinks, the women divided into small groups to bring the discussion about peace down to a common denominator. Sort of like macro-economics crunched into micro, the women were asked to look at violence in their daily lives. What do they do to stop violence among children, neighbors, spouses and friends?

The atmosphere was friendly and cordial with occasional tense drifts into politics.

During one small group's discussion, for example, a Palestinian woman said that she wants to help people who still carry keys to their houses in Israel -- which they left during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 -- and "they're waiting to go back to them."

"If you're waiting to take back your houses then your goal isn't peace," countered a Jewish woman. "My family was thrown out of Egypt in 1948. They can't go back to their houses there, either."
The inevitable impasse.

The women's words hung in the air until the group moderator moved the discussion to safer ground: violence between husbands and wives. That was one subject about which all the women could agree. Huda Salem, the social worker from Bethlehem, deals with domestic violence in her work in a Palestinian refugee camp outside of Bethelem. "We counsel men that it's better to talk to their wives than to hit them," Salem said.

While the women's encounters have not yet changed governmental policies or even activities on the ground, and some might argue that rubbing shoulders and making nice to one another does not accomplish much, both guests and hosts seemed outwardly content in one another's company, even if it was only to make small talk about children, husbands and family.

"One part of me says that these kind of meetings don't accomplish anything," said Yael Goldenberg, a Jewish participant who lives near Acco. "But then again, it's better to do something than nothing at all."