Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Mosques and Welcoming LGBT People

Post by Hussein Rashid
Religion Dispatches Online
Copyright, All Rights Reserved

A recent row has erupted over Sojourners’ refusal to air an ad that supports welcoming churches. In this context, a welcoming church is a church that allows anyone to enter to worship, regardless of sexual orientation. To be clear, the ad did not “promote” homosexuality, advocate for churches to perform weddings for gay couples, or endorse any activity that church might find objectionable. The ad, in my reading, says that anyone who believes in God is welcome in a house of worship.

As Muslims living in America, we too will be faced with a similar issue: how welcoming will we be? Like the ad, I am not advocating for a discussion on the theological question of homosexuality or support of same-sex marriage. I am interested in how do we treat people. Amongst immigrants, the first generation was fairly ethnocentric, so Arabs would build one mosque, and South Asians another. If populations were large enough, you could get subdivided further, so that there would be a Lebanese mosque, a Syrian mosque, a Pakistani mosque, and an Indian mosque. In the second generation, those types of divides are disappearing, and many centers are becoming multi-ethnic and include African-Americans.

To me, that says our next great challenge will be how do we deal with Muslims who are out. Will we be welcoming? I fear that will we say that we will accept some behaviors we consider sinful, but not others. We will pride ourselves on having no clergy to get between a believer and God, but start checking on everyone to make sure that they have a “good” relationship with God. We will look at children who have at least one gay parent, and ostracize them from the community.

This is not yet a burning issue for the Muslim-American community, but it will be soon. The work of people like Scott Kugle (a.k.a. Siraj al-Haqq) shows how large the community of gay Muslims is. While they are not out in large numbers yet, they will be. I think we need to start making the decision now, that a Muslim cannot judge another Muslim’s faith. I think we need to start instilling a sense of equality and fairness to all people now. If our mosques will be open and welcoming to non-Muslims, and even atheists, we cannot be anything but welcoming to anyone who identifies as Muslim. I do not want us to be in a reactionary mode, struggling and repeating the battles that other faith communities are going through now. It should be a simple thing for us to say to all who come to pray, “as-salaam alaykum.”

Hussein Rashid is a native New Yorker and Proud Muslim. Currently an instructor at the Center for Spiritual Inquiry at Park Avenue Christian Church and based at Hofstra University, he is deeply committed to interfaith work and is passionate about teaching. He believes we need to start talking more intelligently about Islam specifically, and religion generally.

Obama's Unique Opportunity To Redefine U.S.-Muslim World Relations

Posted: 05/18/11 03:17 PM ET
Huffington Post
John L. Esposito
University Professor of Religion and International Affairs

President Barack Obama's speech on U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa on Thursday, May 19th comes in the midst of a historic transformation in the region with broad implications for U.S.-Muslim world relations. The death of Osama bin Laden and the Arab Spring offer new challenges to the Obama administration and the EU to restore and strengthen U.S.-Muslim world relations. However, it will require an alternative framework for a failed decades-long paradigm. The challenge for American (and European) policymakers will be to move beyond equating protection of national interests with the stability and security of authoritarian regimes to a policy based on the pursuit of our national interests within America's principles of self-determination, democracy and human rights.

Much has changed since the Muslim world responded enthusiastically to Obama's election and Cairo speech. Initially, major polls, like that of Gallup, reported a significant spike in attitudes towards the U.S. However, many soon perceived a gap between Obama's vision and rhetoric vs. the administration's failure to deliver on his New Way Forward. There seemed little difference between Bush and Obama policies on closing Guantanamo and introduction of military courts, the significant increase of troops in Afghanistan, his backtracking and retreat from his firm stand on an end to illegal settlements in Palestine-Israel, and continued support for authoritarian regimes.

As a result, Obama faces a much more skeptical audience this time around that will not be easily wooed simply by better rhetoric. Credibility and respect requires fairness in policies in addition to culturally sensitive language.

Bin Laden's death symbolized the failure of al Qaeda and transnational terrorism to achieve their goals of mobilization and development of a mass movement to topple regimes and fight the Western presence and intervention. The Arab Spring signaled that failure when a diverse broad-based mass movement that did not look to bin Laden's model of violence and terrorism but rather opted for a non-violent populist uprising demanding greater democratization.

In some ways, the Arab Spring symbolizes the failure of both al Qaeda and America. Ironically, both were partially responsible/complicit in creating the conditions for Arab repression: the U.S. either by supporting unpopular authoritarian regimes and al Qaeda by providing them with the fuel to repress their populations through emergency laws and fear. As a result, Arabs looked to neither discredited parties for their freedom. Instead, for the first time in a generation, they looked inward for answers.

The Obama administration, like most experts and Arab governments, were caught off guard by the upheaval and rapid fall of regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. It initially seemed hesitant, trying to determine which way the wind was blowing, to walk both sides of street, expressing support for long time allies but concern about regime violence and human rights. Having now responded more effectively, it is challenged to more clearly and forcefully set out the principles of its policy: (1) that in the popular struggle against autocratic rulers the U.S. will always stand on the side of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Thus, the brutality not only of Bashar Asad and Muammar Gaddafi but also of Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and the Al Khalifa in Bahrain will need to unequivocally be condemned and (2) that the U.S. will respect the will of the people and not interfere in the internal affairs of newly-formed Arab democratic governments. This would include acceptance of mainstream Islamists, like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's Ennahada, participation in elections and in government.

Resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the more difficult and seemingly intractable issue. U.S. policymakers face newly empowered Arab publics (and elected governments) that will be more independent and critical of Israel's policies and the administration's perceived inability to stand up to the Netanyahu government. If, as the administration has indicated, it wishes to re-engage the peace process, it will have to move from a peace "process" to real and substantive action and consequences. Obama will need to return to and fulfill his promises in Cairo regarding illegal Israeli settlements. If Netanyahu remains intransigent and no progress is made by September, Obama needs to fulfill his promise by supporting the UN initiative for a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates has noted, Osama bin Laden's death could be a "game-changer" in Afghanistan. President Obama should take this opportunity to meet his political promise to begin a draw down of troops in July, signaling the beginning of an American withdrawal from Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai and the Pakistan government's recent indication of a willingness to jointly work to bring a negotiated settlement through peace and reconciliation talks with the Taliban should be strongly encouraged by the administration.

President Obama cannot be expected to address all of the above issues in his speech on May 19. But he will need to effectively respond to the question: "Where will the US go from here?" by setting out a new US framework for US-Muslim world relations and announcing specific policies and actions to achieve his administration's goals.

Saudi woman seeks to put women in the driving seat

By Michael Buchanan BBC News, Jeddah
18 May 2011

A Saudi woman has taken to the road in a direct challenge to the country's ban on female drivers. Najla Hariri started driving around Jeddah last week. She is believed to be the only woman regularly driving in a Saudi city.

The 45-year-old says she was inspired by the protests taking place elsewhere in the Middle East. "Enough is enough", she told the BBC as she drove around the city. "I have the right to [drive]."

Ms Hariri holds a driving licence from both Egypt and Lebanon from her time living abroad, and also has an international licence that she uses when she drives in Europe.
Continue reading the main story “In this society I am a little bit brave - I am not scared” Najla Hariri

"There is no law against women driving. It's society's [convention] that says women are not allowed to drive." The mother of five has the support of her husband and says her daughters and their friends are very proud of her.

She knows, however, that she could be stopped at any moment by the police. "In this society I am a little bit brave. I am not scared," she says. Najla Hariri's driving licence Najla Hariri says she was inspired by the Arab Spring protests.

In some desert areas of Saudi Arabia, women are understood to drive occasionally, but it is virtually unheard of for a woman to take to the road in a major city.

Opponents of women driving argue that it's safer for females to have a male in the car with them, and that they are honouring their women by sparing them the strain of driving.

"They are lying to themselves," replies Ms Hariri forcefully. "It is safer for women to drive themselves. We have four million foreign drivers [in the country] and we'd like to get rid of them and drive ourselves."

Ms Hariri admits she did not want to be at the vanguard of efforts to give women more freedoms. She returned to Saudi Arabia two years ago and was tempted to start driving immediately.

She found herself stuck at home with two cars but no driver, as her husband and eldest son were both away. "But I waited for the right time; I waited for other ladies to [go first]," she says.

“We are focusing on spreading the word - women here don't know their rights” Najla Hariri

As no-one stepped forward, she has decided that now is the moment. "Before in Saudi, you never heard about protests," she says.

"[But] after what has happened in the Middle East, we started to accept a group of people going outside and saying what they want in a loud voice, and this has had an impact on me."

Najla Hariri's challenge to Saudi society is part of a wider effort for greater female participation in the whole of society. A Facebook page is encouraging women to come out and drive on 17 June.

Other women are pushing for the right to vote in municipal elections scheduled for September, while there are also calls for women to get permission to sign legal documents.

Aalia, a 19-year-old university student, is co-ordinating some of the online reform efforts.

"We are focusing on spreading the word, raising public awareness," she says. "Women here don't know their rights."

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Why Radical Islam Fears Bollywood Culture

Muslims, Not Islam, Need Reform by Qasim Rashid

Published in the Huffington Post (All rights reserved, Copyright)
In her recent Wall Street Journal opinion-editorial, Irshad Manji claims that not just Muslims, but the Quran and Islam itself needs reformation. In conflating the two, Manji ignores the possibility that the owner's manual might be fine, while the issues lie with the owner. Manji concludes by assuming, again incorrectly, that Muslims are not addressing the Muslim-on-Muslim violence or extremist's "violent ideology."

The Quran commands Muslims to conduct a thorough investigation of its meaning (4:95) and, as Manji rightly noted, to repeatedly reflect (2:220) and meditate (4:83). It warns that those with a perverted heart will ignore the decisive foundational verses of the Quran, and manipulate the interpretive verses to promote discord and incorrect interpretations (3:8). Manji's defeatist approach of "acknowledging and reinterpreting the [Quran's] awkward verses" solves nothing because it does not explain to extremists, or to the world, why the extremist understanding of Islam is wholly incorrect. This is crucial because otherwise, the false allegation that Islam promotes violence goes unanswered. If Manji is correct that bin Laden represents a real interpretation of Islam, then who represents the perverted understanding of which the Quran warns?

According to Manji, it might be moderate Muslims. Though Manji and I agree that the Quran is being manipulated, we strongly disagree on the solution. Manji glazes over the Quranic guidance to investigate, folds her hand to "publically acknowledge awkward verses," and seeks a new interpretation, all the while hoping violent Muslims will simply forget the "awkward" meanings. The real solution, instead, is based on logic and explained in the Quran itself, "And none knows its right interpretation except God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge; they say, 'We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.' -- And none heed except those gifted with understanding" (3:8). Only with a firm foundation in knowledge and a concerted investigation -- not blind avoidance -- can a person properly understand the Quran, including the allegedly awkward verses.

Extremists like bin Laden arrive at their perverted understanding of Islam due to ignorance combined with a lack of sincere investigation. While on the opposite end, self-declared reformists like Manji arrive at their defeatist understanding of Islam for the same reasons. The reformation of those who support violent interpretations of the Quran can never happen with Manji's proposed solution.

Manji describes the backlash she received from the Muslim community due to her "call to reform," as if her call was unprecedented. She should take a page out of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's book, who sounded the call to reform Muslims -- not Islam -- over 120 years ago. Ahmad established the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889 and laid claim to be the long-awaited Messiah, commissioned to re-unite all Muslims through love, logic, and peace. He condemned every type of religious violence as completely un-Islamic and instead championed the Jihad of the Pen. Among his 82 books and thousands of essays he wrote, "that faith which uses the sword to spread itself needs no other proof of its falsification. It slays its own throat before reaching others."

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who Manji-described Muslim leaders consider heretical, was founded on an interpretation of Islam that is practical, peaceful, and wholly ingrained in the whole of the Quran. Ahmadi Muslims champion a complete separation of mosque and state (4:60), condemn any compulsion in religion (2:257), promote universal religious freedom (22:41), believe in spiritual equality and practical equity between the sexes (4:125), preach universal salvation (2:63), and teach that war can only be in self-defense (22:40) and as an absolute last resort (4:98).

Ahmadi Muslims do believe 5:33 establishes that killing one is to kill all mankind, and demonstrate that the Qur'an defines "villainy in the land" not as political warfare, but religious persecution (22:39-40). As the Iraq war is a political war, the Quran provides no "loophole for British [extremists]" as Manji would have us believe.

And to be sure, Ahmadi Muslims are not the only peaceful Muslims in the world. Indeed, the vast majority of the Muslim world is peaceful. I present them as one specific example that the aforementioned practical and peaceful Islam works. Consider that tens of millions of Ahmadi Muslims reside peacefully in nearly 200 nations of the world, face vehement state-sanctioned persecution, but have never once instigated, nor retaliated with, violence. Instead, they publicly decry such violence, (including Muslim-on-Muslim violence) and advocate the Islam of self-restraint that Prophet Muhammad taught. United under a system of Khilafat, Ahmadi Muslims continue to advocate for self-reformation, and Muslim-reformation, as they have successfully for over a century. In doing so, they directly address the allegedly "awkward verses." Thus, unlike defeatists like Manji who accomplish nothing by brushing such verses under the rug, Ahmadi Muslims effectively dismantle extremist's violent ideology and bring true reformation to the Muslim world.

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Dominic Lawson: An 'eye for an eye' is proper justice

The blinding of her tormentor would not have given Bahremi back her eyesight, or her job, but she had a point

Tuesday, 17 May 2011
The Independent Online
Ameneh Bahrami has been waiting a long time for the justice she seeks. In 2004, while she was returning home from work, a man named Majid Movahedi threw a bucketful of acid into her face, leaving her blinded and also horribly disfigured. Bahrami had repeatedly turned down Movahedi's proposals of marriage, which included promises to kill her unless she consented; but instead of carrying out that threat, Movahedi decided that if he couldn't have her, then he would make sure that no other man would desire her.

The Iranian courts determined on a fine and prison sentence for Movahedi, but his victim insisted that she was entitled by law to qisas (retribution) because, in her words, "only this way will he understand my pain". In 2008 she won her case, after which Movahedi's lawyers launched a number of appeals, all of which were unsuccessful.

Thus it was decided that on 14 May 2011 – that is, last Saturday – Bahrami's wish would be carried out. Movahedi was to be taken to Tehran's Judiciary Hospital and there, under full anaesthetic, have a few drops of acid put into each of his eyes, rendering him blind. At this point, the issue suddenly became of more than local concern. Amnesty International declared that such a sentence "amounted to torture"; the British Foreign Office protested, saying (presumably on behalf of the British people) that "we are deeply concerned by reports that Majid Movahedi's sentence of being blinded by having acid dripped into his eyes may be carried out". Surprisingly, given its known contempt for both the British government and Western human rights organisations, the Iranian authorities intervened to block the judicial blinding of Movahedi.

If the Foreign Office intervention truly reflected the view of the nation it represents, then we in Britain would now be heaving a collective sigh of relief that Majid Movahedi has been preserved from his victim's retribution. Yet I can't say that I am greatly relieved; my empathy remains wholly with Ameneh Bahrami, who not only lives with a dreadful unappeased pain, but who is unable, because of her blindness, to work as the engineer she qualified to be.

The blinding of her tormentor would not have given Bahrami back her eyesight or her job; but she had come to regard herself as one who was acting for the benefit of other women in a society where the law seemed to be loaded in favour of violent and abusive men. As she had told a Spanish newspaper: "My intention is to ask for the application of the law not just for revenge but also so that no other woman will have to go through this. It will set an example."

Perhaps it would, and perhaps it wouldn't; but she has a point. Across parts of the Middle East and South Asia, acid-throwing attacks on women are appallingly commonplace, usually as a form of revenge for the spurning of sexual advances, or marriage proposals. Shahnaz Bukhari, who founded the Progressive Women's Association in Rawalpindi to help the victims of this form of violent assault, had, according to a New York Times article two-and-a-half years ago, "documented 7,800 cases of women who had been deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 per cent of those cases was anyone convicted."

Such crimes, and the lack of strong deterrent sentencing, are by no means unknown in this country: a doctor friend of mine told me that although he regarded as "barbaric" the judicial blinding Ms Bahrami sought, he had been no less appalled when a man who had twice thrown acid in the face of a woman patient of his received a sentence of two years (half of which was served). As this doctor observed: "What Ms Bahrami seeks can be described as justice, even if it is also barbaric. What happened to my patient could not be described as justice, except in the technical sense that it was the sentence passed by a judge." He added that while, under legislation enacted by the last Labour government, people are entitled to have read out in court so-called "victim impact statements", judges are obliged by the law to ignore such statements when considering sentence. So this is not justice but mere theatre, which dishonestly portrays the courts as concerned with the views of the victim.

The idea of retributive justice may be sneered at by our own legal establishment; but it has a continuing hold on the sentiments of the public and, to judge by the success of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, that includes the novel-reading public. Stieg Larsson's book, which was originally titled Men Who Hate Women, describes how Lisbeth Salander, who has been raped and tortured by her legal guardian Nils Bjurman, retaliates by – let us skip the details – giving him a taste of his own medicine. She finishes off by tattooing the words "I am a sadistic pig, a pervert and a rapist" on Bjurman's torso. These actions serve only to enhance Salander's heroic status in the eyes of the reader; yet in identifying with her, the public is endorsing retributive punishment of the most brutal sort.

To those brought up under the influence of the New Testament, and the Sermon on the Mount, the concept of justice as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is seen as something very dark and primitive. Yet the Old Testament prophets who set out this doctrine in the book known as Leviticus were actually attempting to assert proportionality in punishment. The lex talionis, as it was known, sought to limit any retribution to something no greater than the crime which had been committed, quite an enlightened thought at the time, when multi-generational feuds were the common response to insult and injury.

The lex talionis, it is true, makes no attempt to deal with notions of forgiveness or rehabilitation, which are the touchstones of more modern systems of justice. Yet the state has no right to forgive an assailant on behalf of the victim – that is uniquely her prerogative; as for rehabilitation, that is a valuable social tool, but it has absolutely nothing to do with justice, commonly understood.

As Professor William Miller of the University of Michigan Law School observed in his 2006 book An Eye For An Eye, underneath our sophisticated modern legal processes "we still harbour talionic beliefs that make us uneasy when wrongdoers don't pay for their crimes in exact proportion to the harm they cause ... that's why we like stories about characters who even up the score with their enemies, not just vigilante action films, but comedies in which ... the bullied nerd triumphs in the end. That's why we're fascinated by revenge."

Against that doctrine, Gandhi's remark is often quoted: "An eye for an eye makes the world blind." It is a resonant and compelling image; but what if "an eye for an eye" acts as a discouragement to the sort of assault that Majid Movahedi inflicted on Ameena Bahrami? What if it meant not that the whole world becomes blind, but that many fewer women in patriarchal societies suffered acid attacks at the hands of vengeful men?

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