Saturday, 18 October 2008

"It's Muslim Men we Must Modernise" by Kia Abdullah

Kia Abdullah's article appeared in the Guardian on Friday 17th October 2008

Having grown up in a patriarchal community, I revel in strong displays of female power. Imagine my delight then to discover the prospect of history being made as Professor Amina Wadud becomes the first woman to lead a mixed-gender congregation in the UK. Wadud, who led a mixed Friday prayer in New York three years ago, performed the service at a conference on Islam and feminism held at Oxford's Wolfson College today.

Of course, not all Muslims will greet the news with delight. Controversy is brewing among traditionalists with some claiming that the service flouted the laws of Islam.

Mokhtar Badri, vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain, is quoted by the BBC as saying:

"With all respect to sister Amina, prayer is something we perform in accordance to the teachings of our Lord… Women can lead prayers before other women but for this very specific point, in this situation before a congregation of men and women, a man must lead."

Like many things in Islam, the "ruling" is merely an interpretation made by men, which has no real backing in the Qur'an. IslamOnline, which runs an "Ask a scholar" service, states that "There is a consensus among Muslim jurists that a woman is not allowed to lead men in a mosque or congregation." However, it fails to cite a specific ruling directly supporting its claim, and even admits that the Prophet Muhammad asked a woman to lead her family in prayer.

The international support network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, explores the matter in more depth and concludes that women are indeed permitted to lead mixed-gender prayer. A sensible and objective person would reach the same conclusion having examined the evidence, so why is there so much resistance?

It boils down to the fact that many Muslim men are sexist. Some argue that Islam lends credence to sexism, but I believe Islam can indeed coexist with a society based on equality. We cannot change the words of the Qur'an, but we can change the men who follow those words.

Instead of tempering the verses of the Qur'an with good judgment, some men use them as a vehicle for controlling women. The fact that Islam allows room for this type of behaviour is a problem, yes, but rampant sexism is more a product of patriarchal ideology than religion itself. Men can practice Islam and treat women as equals – the two are not mutually exclusive.

Women like Wadud challenge the status quo. They force Muslims to question their actions and examine the evidence upon which they base their beliefs.

It could be argued that Wadud's actions are divisive. Libyan leader Muammar Gadafy has said that challenging male authority in this way "creates millions of bin Ladens".

I will concede that smaller, practical, changes like the new marriage contract may be more effective in cementing reform, but we do need women like Wadud who are willing to take dramatic action and face protest in order to change established practices.

Dr Taj Hargey, chair of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and one of the organisers of the mixed-gender service, points out that "People thought it was a bad idea to give women the vote. When Emmeline Pankhurst chained herself to the railings in protest there was uproar, but things move on."

Maybe Islam is stuck in the past, but if we can't modernise the religion, we must modernise its men. And women like Wadud who deal in deeds, not words, can do exactly that.

Amina Wadud's Book, 'Inside the Gender Jihad', is a must read for all those who want to truly understand the vision of Professor Wadud.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Omar Bin Laden: On his Father and Terrorism

An interesting news piece that highlights the important fact that the fundamentalist impulse needs to be quashed through a religious corrective.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Iqbal Bano: Intoxicated in God

Another delightful ghazal sung by Iqbal bano which talks about intoxication and God. The depth of this ghazal clearly shows that this intoxication is in God. Numerous ways of interpreting this one. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed translating it. The picture shows the Mughal Emporer Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal (trans. 'Jewel of the Palace').

Kya jaane kahayga kya akur
Hai daur yaha pemanay ka

I wonder what He will say when He arrives
For it is the custom to have an intermediary today

Allah karay va’iz ko bhi
Rusta na milay mekhanay ka

God willing (or wills) that even the able/commendable
Do not find the way to the tavern

Jannut mein pee’ay ga tu qu kur
Eh shaikh agur ya mushk na ki

You will be intoxicated in heaven, so why the questions now?
Oh Shaikh (learned man) if you do not smell it now

Ub manay na manay teri kushi
Hai kam mera sumjanay ka

If you agree or disagree this is your happiness
It is my job just to explain

Hai chand teray mehkush saki
Jo pur kay namaz atay hai

You have a select few who are self intoxicated cup-bearers
Who come after their prayers

Ya Sheikh ki tawba tawba dekh
Ya waqt badal mehkhanay ka

Either look to the repentance of the Shaikh (learned one)
Or change the timing of the tavern of intoxication

Tu aadmi bun kur beth yaha
Yeh mekhana hai shawq sey pie

Be a man and sit right here
This is the tavern, drink to your hearts content

Hai wa’iz yeh firdaws nahi
Shaitan nahi behkanay qa

Oh commendable one, this is not Paradise
Satan is unable to tempt you here

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Vincent Van Gogh: Time for God

I was at Saint Augustine's Episcopalian Church in Dumbarton this morning. A beautiful sermon preached by Rev. Kenny Macaulay about 'time'. Time being something that we all disguise issues between, "I cannot do that because I have no time..." For me as a Muslim time is a great gift from God, the beauty is in the way we accept it.

I found this piece in the liturgy material thought provoking...

"Vincent Van Gogh lived a poor and simple life.
In order to buy materials for painting
he often went without food.

He once wrote:
"My anxiety is how I can be of use in the world
But one feels a terrible discouragement,
one feels an emptiness where there might be friendship
and one exclaims..."How long, my God?"

There may be a great fire in my soul,
but no one ever comes to warm himself at it,
and the passers-by sees only a little wisp of smoke
coming through the chimney,
and pass on their way.

So what must one do?
One must go on tending the inner fire
and wait patiently for the hour
when somebody will come
and sit down near it to stay there maybe.

Let those who believe in God wait for that hour,
for it will come sooner or later."