Friday, 21 September 2012

Are Muslims Allowed To Dance? Depends Who You Ask

Published at Huffington Post, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Religion News Service  |  By Posted:

(RNS) The Taliban in Afghanistan shocked the world this week (Aug. 27) when they beheaded 17 people, allegedly for the crime of dancing at a mixed-gender gathering.

Which prompts the question: Does Islam forbid dancing? While Islamic scholars are divided on the answer, it's easy to find Muslims in America and abroad who love to boogie down.
"Even though there are scholars who forbid dancing, there is a long tradition of dancing in Muslim cultures," said Vernon Schubel, a Muslim and professor of religious studies at Kenyon College in Ohio.

There is no mention of dancing in the Quran, which serves as Muslims' primary source of guidance. There is a story about dancing in the hadith, or collected stories about Islam's Prophet Muhammad, which are the second-most important source of guidance for Muslims.

The story, which can be found in the hadith collection of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, a 9th-century Islamic scholar, said that one day Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisha saw a group of Abyssinian Christians performing a modest dance inside a mosque, and watched without objection.
A majority of scholars who cite that hadith say it permits dancing under certain conditions: no alcohol, no gender mixing, no effeminate moves, and don't do it excessively.

"As long as these four conditions are met, then dancing is permissible," said Imam Omar Shahin, secretary of the North American Imams Federation and an Islamic law lecturer at the Graduate Theological Foundation in Indiana.

Yet even within the imams' umbrella group, opinions are split. Imam Ashrafuz Zaman Khan, the group's president and also head of the New York chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America, said dancing is prohibited because Muhammad never danced, and therefore Muslims should never dance.
"Many people think if it's not mentioned in the Quran, it's OK. No. You follow Allah and you follow his messenger. If he didn't do something, you don't do it. If he did something, you do it," Khan said.

Other scholars said dancing is forbidden only if it leads to indecent touching or movements.
"It's not dancing that's unacceptable, it's the way of dancing," said Imam Talal Eid, the Islamic chaplain at Brandeis University near Boston and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Within the Sufi order of Islam (representing about 5 percent of Muslims), some schools believe dancing is an integral expression of devotion and a way to connect with God. The most famous group of dancing Sufis are the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.

Dance has long been integral to many Muslim societies, including the Filipino Muslim dances of Singkil and Pangalay; belly dancing in the Middle East; and the long dance parties that precede Muslim weddings in South Asia.

Aasif Qureshy, a computer engineer in San Jose, Calif., grew up in northern India and recalled going to many weddings as a youth and seeing men and women boogieing to modern Bollywood pop music.

"Nobody felt it was wrong. We were aware that there were mullahs who objected, but nobody listened to them or took them seriously," said Qureshy.

Muslim immigrants brought these dance traditions to America, where their children have kept them alive while also getting into American dance. Dr. Sofia Shakir, a pediatrician in suburban Chicago and observant Muslim, has enrolled her children in ballet, hip-hop and dance classes.
"Humans have a need to move," said Shakir. "Dance fulfills this desire for self-expression."
Khadija Anderson, a dancer for 35 years, learned about Islam through a Senegalese dance class she took in Seattle, and converted to Islam in 1993. Believing it violated her new faith, Anderson gave up performing for 10 years but continued taking classes.

She gradually became less conservative and in 2003 took up Butoh, a Japanese dance form that she said conformed to her Islamic values because it is not about attractive body movements but activism. On Aug. 9, for example, she performed a Butoh dance to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack on Nagasaki.

"For Muslims, intention is everything," Anderson, who now lives in Los Angeles, said. "I use the art of dance for social protest. I'm not out there to show off my body and say look at me."

A famous Pakistani song and dance steeped in Islamic traditions.  The battle between the song and dance of Islam continues... 

Monday, 17 September 2012

I tell fellow Egyptians and fellow Americans it's about us, not about them After this week's Middle East protests we must move beyond the deceptive simplicity of the question: 'Why do they hate us?'

By Mona ElTahawy
Published in The Guardian, All Rights Reserved, Copyright
Friday 14th September 2012

When my father came home from Friday prayers, I was eager to know what the sermon had been about. We'd all been following three days of protests outside the US embassy in Cairo, ostensibly over a film deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad that was posted on YouTube. More protests were expected in several countries after Friday prayers.

"The regular imam wasn't there, so the muezzin stepped in and told us the best way to honour the prophet was to live by his teachings," my dad said. I carry that breathtaking simplicity in my emotional suitcase with me when I travel back and forth between the US, where I've lived for the past 12 years, and Egypt, the country of my birth, to which I'm returning to fight for the social and cultural revolution we desperately need in order for our political revolution to succeed.

When my fellow Americans ask me that tired question, "Why do they hate us?", my initial response is usually: "It's not about you." When a fellow Egyptian wants to talk about hating the US, I flip that response on its head and tell her: "It's not about America – it's about you." The truth is somewhere in the middle, but too many people are willing to use it as a football in an endless match of political manipulation.

For a slightly subtler response, I tell my fellow Americans that "they" don't hate them for their freedom but, rather, because successive US governments all too willingly and knowingly supported dictators who denied their populations any kind of freedom. As a US citizen, I cherish the first amendment. It's what I whipped out as I stood alongside Muslims and non-Muslims in Lower Manhattan in 2010 to defend the right of an Islamic community centre to open close to Ground Zero. We told those who opposed the centre that that first amendment was what gave them the right to protest and at the same time guaranteed freedom to worship right there on that spot.

How could a country that cherishes such freedom be so willing to support dictators all too eager to deny that same freedom to their people? Even President Barack Obama, who spoke so eloquently about dignity and freedom in his 2009 Cairo speech, disappointingly dragged his feet when it was time to decide between Mubarak and the people rising up for that very same freedom and dignity.

Anti-US sentiment has been born out of many grievances – support and weapons for such dictators as Mubarak, unquestionable support for Israel in its occupation of Palestine, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen that kill more civilians than intended targets.
And, paradoxically – or perhaps fittingly – that anti-US sentiment was played on dictators such as Mubarak, who was happy to pocket US aid in return for maintaining Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and buying US weapons, and yet used the state-controlled media to fan hatred of the US. Mubarak was adept, as were many other US-backed dictators, at playing the sane middle to the "lunatics with beards" he so often used as bogeymen to guarantee the support of foreign allies.

Mubarak is gone, and Egypt's president is from the Muslim Brotherhood movement – long vilified as the "lunatics with beards". It is at this point that I tell fellow Egyptians it's about them, and not about America.

That YouTube film – not made or distributed by the US government – was posted at least two months before ultra-conservative Salafists called for protests at the US embassy. Why? Understanding that the president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, must now occupy that same middle ground as Mubarak did, the Salafists are all too happy to flex rightwing political muscle. Why else did they call their protest in Cairo on the anniversary of the attacks on 11 September 2001?
Morsi, not wanting to concede the moral high ground, remained silent for too long, stuck between his memory of being the opposition and an awareness that he's now the president.

That's what I mean when I tell fellow Egyptians that it's about us, not America.

Mubarak could and did ban films. That's why many genuinely offended Muslims in Egypt and other countries so quickly ask why the American government can't do the same. Of course, he also gave the green light to messages of antisemitism and hatred against Egypt's Christians.

As an Egyptian-American, I want both sides of that hyphen to enjoy the forms of freedom guaranteed by the first amendment, as I want both sides of that hyphen to move beyond the deceptive simplicity of the question, "Why do they hate us?"

The truth about Muhammad and Aisha Innocence of Muslims repeated the claim Muhammad was a paedophile, but the story is more complex and interesting than that

                                       By Myriam Francois-Cerrah
Published in The Guardian (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)
Monday 17th September 2012


Writing about Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, the Orientalist scholar W Montgomery Watt wrote: "Of all the world's great men, none has been so much maligned as Muhammad." His quote seems all the more poignant in light of the Islamophobic film Innocence of Muslims, which has sparked riots from Yemen to Libya and which, among other slanders, depicts Muhammad as a paedophile.

This claim is a recurring one among critics of Islam, so its foundation deserves close scrutiny.

Critics allege that Aisha was just six years old when she was betrothed to Muhammad, himself in his 50s, and only nine when the marriage was consummated. They base this on a saying attributed to Aisha herself (Sahih Bukhari volume 5, book 58, number 234), and the debate on this issue is further complicated by the fact that some Muslims believe this to be a historically accurate account. Although most Muslims would not consider marrying off their nine-year-old daughters, those who accept this saying argue that since the Qur'an states that marriage is void unless entered into by consenting adults, Aisha must have entered puberty early.

They point out that, in seventh-century Arabia, adulthood was defined as the onset of puberty. (This much is true, and was also the case in Europe: five centuries after Muhammad's marriage to Aisha, 33-year-old King John of England married 12-year-old Isabella of Angoulême.) Interestingly, of the many criticisms of Muhammad made at the time by his opponents, none focused on Aisha's age at marriage.

According to this perspective, Aisha may have been young, but she was not younger than was the norm at the time. Other Muslims doubt the very idea that Aisha was six at the time of marriage, referring to historians who have questioned the reliability of Aisha's age as given in the saying. In a society without a birth registry and where people did not celebrate birthdays, most people estimated their own age and that of others. Aisha would have been no different. What's more, Aisha had already been engaged to someone else before she married Muhammad, suggesting she had already been mature enough by the standards of her society to consider marriage for a while. It seems difficult to reconcile this with her being six.

In addition, some modern Muslim scholars have more recently cast doubt on the veracity of the saying, or hadith, used to assert Aisha's young age. In Islam, the hadith literature (sayings of the prophet) is considered secondary to the Qur'an. While the Qur'an is considered to be the verbatim word of God, the hadiths were transmitted over time through a rigorous but not infallible methodology. Taking all known accounts and records of Aisha's age at marriage, estimates of her age range from nine to 19.

Because of this, it is impossible to know with any certainty how old Aisha was. What we do know is what the Qur'an says about marriage: that it is valid only between consenting adults, and that a woman has the right to choose her own spouse. As the living embodiment of Islam, Muhammad's actions reflect the Qur'an's teachings on marriage, even if the actions of some Muslim regimes and individuals do not.

Sadly, in many countries, the imperatives motivating the marriage of young girls are typically economic. In others, they are political. The fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia have both sought to use the saying concerning Aisha's age as a justification for lowering the legal age of marriage tells us a great deal about the patriarchal and oppressive nature of those regimes, and nothing about Muhammad, or the essential nature of Islam. The stridency of those who lend credence to these literalist interpretations by concurring with their warped view of Islam does not help those Muslims who seek to challenge these aberrations.

The Islamophobic depiction of Muhammad's marriage to Aisha as motivated by misplaced desire fits within a broader Orientalist depiction of Muhammad as a philanderer. This idea dates back to the crusades. According to the academic Kecia Ali: "Accusations of lust and sensuality were a regular feature of medieval attacks on the prophet's character and, by extension, on the authenticity of Islam."
Since the early Christians heralded Christ as a model of celibate virtue, Muhammad – who had married several times – was deemed to be driven by sinful lust. This portrayal ignored the fact that before his marriage to Aisha, Muhammad had been married to Khadija, a powerful businesswoman 15 years his senior, for 25 years. When she died, he was devastated and friends encouraged him to remarry. A female acquaintance suggested Aisha, a bright and vivacious character.

Aisha's union would also have cemented Muhammad's longstanding friendship with her father, Abu Bakr. As was the tradition in Arabia (and still is in some parts of the world today), marriage typically served a social and political function – a way of uniting tribes, resolving feuds, caring for widows and orphans, and generally strengthening bonds in a highly unstable and changing political environment. Of the women Muhammad married, the majority were widows. To consider the marriages of the prophet outside of these calculations is profoundly ahistorical.

What the records are clear on is that Muhammad and Aisha had a loving and egalitarian relationship, which set the standard for reciprocity, tenderness and respect enjoined by the Qur'an. Insights into their relationship, such as the fact they liked to drink out of the same cup or race one another, are indicative of a deep connection which belies any misrepresentation of their relationship.

To paint Aisha as a victim is completely at odds with her persona. She was certainly no wallflower. During a controversial battle in Muslim history, she emerged riding a camel to lead the troops. She was known for her assertive temperament and mischievous sense of humour – with Muhammad sometimes bearing the brunt of the jokes. During his lifetime, he established her authority by telling Muslims to consult her in his absence; after his death, she went to be become one of the most prolific and distinguished scholars of her time.

A stateswoman, scholar, mufti, and judge, Aisha combined spirituality, activism and knowledge and remains a role model for many Muslim women today. The gulf between her true legacy and her depiction in Islamophobic materials is not merely historically inaccurate, it is an insult to the memory of a pioneering woman.

Those who manipulate her story to justify the abuse of young girls, and those who manipulate it in order to depict Islam as a religion that legitimises such abuse have more in common than they think. Both demonstrate a disregard for what we know about the times in which Muhammad lived, and for the affirmation of female autonomy which her story illustrates.

• This article was amended on 17 September 2012. It originally stated that King John was 44 when he married Isabella of Angoul√™me. This has been corrected.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Scottish National Portrait Gallery - Migration Stories - Pakistan

Just a few observations on the National Galleries of Scotland's Migration Stories from Pakistan.  As history informs us, the vast majority of Pakistanis who came to Scotland (UK generally) came from extremely poor backgrounds.  They came to earn their living and look after their, often, large families.

I wonder how many of these families that are being showcased at our National Galleries have this story to tell?  How many of them came from affluent families in Pakistan?  How many of these families are from the small percentage of Pakistani Scots who are millionaires?  And why is this exhibition promoting a by and large neat and tidy heteronormative family structure?

If Scotland wants to be at the forefront as a progressive nation then we must present the bigger picture.