Saturday, 27 June 2015

10 Totally Badass Female Muslim Politicians You Should Know

This article originally appeared on Brown Girl Magazine.
Posted: Updated:

Given the rise of hate crimes and misunderstandings that the general public has towards Muslims, it is important to take a moment to reflect on the mammoth diversity contained within the term “Muslim.” While the fascination towards Muslim women has taken on a life of its own in recent years, portrayals of us have ranged from “oppressed lady” to “even more oppressed lady.”

The truth is, there are some Muslim women, just like any religion, who may fit into these stereotypes. But what may come as a surprise is that every once in a while, Muslim females take a break from being “oppressed and/or more oppressed” to rule a country or two.

One of the most recent Muslims to join this roster is Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, who became the president of Mauritius this month.

In honor of her recent election, here’s a list of 10 badass female Muslim leaders you should know.
  • 1. Benazir Bhutto
    SAEED KHAN via Getty Images
    Bhutto was the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was the first and only female to hold such a powerful and and prominent office in Pakistan thus far, serving two non-consecutive terms as head of government in 1988–90 and then in 1993–96.
  • 2. Megawati Sukarnoputri
    Sukarnoputri was the president of Indonesia from 2001 to 2004.
  • 3. Sheikh Hasina
    Sheikh Hasina is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She has been in office since January 2009. She also served as Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001.
  • 4. Khaleda Zia
    She was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006. She was the first woman in Bangladesh’s history and second in the Muslim world (after Benazir Bhutto) to head a democratic government.
  • 5. Atifete Jahjaga
    Not only is she the current President of Kosovo, she is also the first female President, the first female head of state in the modern Balkans and the youngest to be elected to the office.
  • 6. Tansu Çiller
    Turkey’s first and only female prime minister to date, this academician and economist served as the Prime Minister of Turkey from 1993 to 1996.
  • 7. Mame Madior Boye
    SEYLLOU via Getty Images
    She was the Prime Minister of Senegal from 2001 to 2002.
  • 8. Aminata Touré
    SEYLLOU via Getty Images
    Following Boye, Aminata Touré was yet another female to occupy the Prime Minister’s seat of Senegal from 2013 to 2014.
  • Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé
    Daniel Berehulak via Getty Images
    A professor-turned-politician, Sidibé was the Prime Minister of Mali from 2011 to 2012, the first woman to be appointed to the position in the country’s history.
  • 10. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
    The recently appointed president of Mauritius. She is the Head of State and Commander in Chief as well.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan's head of state. She was head of government.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Thoughts for life March 9, 2015 by Jackie Kemp

Sexual desire, the search for happiness, dealing with death and living as a member of a minority are just some of the topics Muslim theologian Mona Siddiqui discusses in her new book – part handbook to life, part autobiography: My Way, which she will discuss at Glasgow’s Aye Write festival this April.

Siddiqui, known to many as a lively contributor to Radio Four’s Thought for the Day, is more interested in engaging with the big questions of existence than in explaining radical Islam to journalists, although recently that is what she has been asked to do most often.

My tea grew cold as I scribbled down her fascinating conversation when we met in a cafe close to where she teaches, at Edinburgh University’s School of Divinity in the old Assembly Hall on the Mound. The views of the New Town were spectacular, even as a grey winter’s afternoon faded into evening. Siddiqui, who lives in the west of Scotland, is Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies. She teaches here rather than in an Islamic studies department because she is engaged with questions of faith rather than history or culture.

Her book reads like a massively expanded “thought for the day”, almost a “thought for life”: “People never stop asking the big questions: about happiness, about death, about aging, about love.”

About the book, she says: “I have lived like this. It’s not about issues, it’s more about marriage, children, happiness. I look at these things the way my tradition looks at these things.”

The book is “almost the way I teach.” She teaches about her own way of life “but I’m not teaching in a confessional manner, of calling people to the faith; I’m an academic.”

She has few Muslim students and is rarely invited to speak to Muslim organisations. In the book, she recalls: “During one of only a handful of invitations from a Muslim organisation, I was asked to address the topic of gender and Islam. The topic of hijab came up and I spoke about the scholarly debates over female covering. The whole session provoked angry responses from some women who exclaimed ‘Why is she here? All she has done is confuse us.’ I smiled and replied:  ‘if you are confused then my job as an academic is done.’

For her Edinburgh University divinity students, she says: “They learn that there is not just one way of thinking. It makes them much better at thinking about Islam.”

An endless fragility


Perhaps one of the surprises of My Way is its frank discussion of sex and sexuality:“Quite simply, Islam views human sexuality and desire, erotic love as intrinsic to the fullness of human experience. Sexual desire compels us to reflect upon life and our deepest vulnerabilities … there is no shame in sex, there is no shame in desire and both men and women have rights over one another. Romantic love and sex may not be the same thing but marriage should have both. When sexual desire is realised in marriage, one is acting according to a traditional Islamic understanding of how eros finds its place in human life.”

She considers also that the uncoupling of sex and love is “a monumental change which defines our liquid societies” and quotes therapist Volkmar Sigusch: “All forms of intimate relationships currently in vogue bear the same mask of false happiness worn by material and later free love … As we took a closer look and pulled away the mask we found unfulfilled yearnings, ragged nerves, disappointed love, hurts, fears, loneliness, hypocrisy, egotism and reparations compulsion.”
Siddiqui writes that: “Love holds an endless fragility yet it is at the same time about holding onto the heavy, the difficult, knowing that two people are unfolding their worlds within themselves and for one another. Love demands both courage and humility and you have to listen well, to understand what someone else wants, not what you think they want.”

A marriage can’t survive without forgiveness: ”It is in these moments of forgiveness, whether we are close or distant, that we grow as people and learn how to love.”

Sexual culture and behaviour, Siddiqui points out, are major issues for all the worlds’ thought systems and religions, particularly perhaps for the Roman Catholic Church. “It is all to do with sexuality and sexual conduct and this isn’t going to go away.”

Islam has it own issues, as she sees it, to do with over-emphasis on apparent conformity. In her book she quotes a friend used to dealing with young Muslim women at a British university who wear the Niqab as a veil to cover double lives.

“ ‘So many come to my office and do you know what they ask for? They ask for the morning after pill’ ..It was not as if many of the young women felt liberated and empowered through their sexual experiences; they were simply lost or lonely and their faith could not provide any answers.’ “

Sexuality and desire, she argues, are part of the search for happiness. “This is perhaps the most important fact of all: love, sex, desire, wanting to be wanted. Happiness matters. I talk to my children a lot about happiness and what they want. We don’t know how to talk about happiness. Real happiness is probably quite difficult to find but it’s what we are looking for. Maybe we find lots of things to fill our lives with.”

In the book, Siddiqui recalls how being able to be there for her mother when her father was taken ill brought her happiness.

She explains that in Islamic thought, there is less emphasis than there may be in contemporary thought on abstract concepts like romantic love which relationships then have to measure up to. There is more emphasis on working within real world relationships. “In Islamic thought the meaning of life is found in relationships. I think that’s true.”

Identity? What’s that?


In her own life, Siddiqui manages to marry contradictions which have become faultlines for others; she is a Muslim who is deeply loyal to European values of freedom of expression and religion; she is happy in her arranged marriage but will allow her children to pick their own; and she sees faith in God and the pursuit of happiness as connected parts of the same journey.

However she is reluctant to discuss identity. She doesn’t find the notion helpful. “I don’t even think about identity. I never talk about identity. This is very modern stuff: what identity you have, for me, it’s more about how do I live.

“When I was raising my children, I never thought ‘what’s my identity?’ I thought more about loyalty to certain principles. I’m not even sure what identity really means. In terms of living my life as a British person, it’s just a big buzzword.”

She says she has always believed that “Pluralism is how we live our life. We have freedom and we have to give other people freedom, so we can have all space to be who we want to be.”
After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Siddiqui has felt called upon to explain what happened.”People ask me to speak about it not because I have done any research but because I’m Muslim and a public figure.”

For her: “It was seen as an issue about cartoons but it wasn’t about cartoons. It was really about values and the values that Europe stands for. If you don’t abide by those values, the values that Europe stands for, where do you fit in in Europe? Where is your loyalty?”
She added: “These things test our  own resolve, how we are coping as a society.”

But she was concerned by the growth of a notion of “them” and “us”, which she felt was toxic. “Most European Muslims have loyalty to the values of Europe: freedom of religion, freedom of expression. But there is a minority of Muslims have no loyalty to the values of Europe. This is something I am called upon to explain.”

For Siddiqui: “It’s not really about the Muslim community it’s about where we are going in terms of differentiating the us and the them. The sense that there is an us and them, with the ‘them’ being Muslims, makes politics even more toxic.”

In the book Siddiqui quotes someone who asked her: “ ‘What would you say to white middle-class families who talk of Muslims as a problem at their fancy dinner parties?’ I couldn’t stop anyone from thinking and saying what they felt about the Muslim presence but as a British citizen I could try to make my own positive contribution to society in some small way.”

A mono-cultural failure?


She adds: “The responsibility to think and act is real and urgent because in the end, when politicians and think tanks claim that multiculturalism has failed, they are really only referring to one minority and one failure – Muslims.”

For Siddiqui, it’s vital that more people understand that Islam is not a monolithic community or an identity. For her, it’s a religion she practises in the private sphere.

But the threat from extremism is real and it’s one that affects us all equally. “The peace and security we enjoy in Europe should never be taken for granted.”

She feels that the young Muslim extremists who head to Syria may be responding to a feeling in some families that “we live here but we don’t belong here.” Partly too, they may be rebelling against privilege, heading for something they feel is more exciting and dangerous. “If the whole world was full of pleasure, we would rail against that.”

Siddiqui, who recalls in the book suffering from incidents of playground racism, feels young people need to be encouraged to maintain a robust self-esteem.
They may feel that they don’t belong, they may get called names. We as parents have to say ‘people get called all kinds of names for all sorts of reasons but you have to find a way through this without becoming completely alienated’.
It’s very sad if a child feels so much on their own, that when someone calls them a name they become completely alienated.

They can indulge themselves in that way. People do have to feel that they belong somewhere but even though part of our society may not suit them that’s life. We have to keep on moving forwards.
In Britain, she says, children tend to be cut loose too young. Even older teenagers and young adults need lots of support and attention from the adults in their lives. “I think our children are grown up too quickly. Even as young adults they still need a lot of support, a lot of talking. Young people need respect to be able to talk.”

She said it is sad for her that in the current context, too often talking about Islam becomes talking about terrorism.

But in her tour of British book festivals in the last few months, she remarks that she is often surprised by her audiences who are so self-critical about the West. “There can be this self-flagellation, people say ‘Oh it’s all us, the West has done everything wrong. I say, ‘We live here. It’s still a good country.’”

Mona Siddiqui will be speaking about her book on March  14 at the Words by the Water Literary Festival, Kendall; March 25,  How To Read series, Conde Nast College, London; March 26,  Oxford Literary Festival; April 20, Ayewrite Festival, Glasgow;  April 25: Hexham Book Festival.

(re-posted from 

“The object of my worship lies beyond perceptions reach; For those who see, the Ka'ba is a compass, nothing more.”

― Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

What Is Whiteness?

SundayReview | Opinion 

The New York Times - Copyright, All Rights Reserved

THE terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., an atrocity like so many other shameful episodes in American history, has overshadowed the drama of Rachel A. Dolezal’s yearslong passing for black. And for good reason: Hateful mass murder is, of course, more consequential than one woman’s fiction. But the two are connected in a way that is relevant to many Americans.

An essential problem here is the inadequacy of white identity. Everyone loves to talk about blackness, a fascinating thing. But bring up whiteness and fewer people want to talk about it. Whiteness is on a toggle switch between “bland nothingness” and “racist hatred.”

On one side is Dylann Storm Roof, the 21-year-old charged with murdering nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday. He’s part of a very old racist tradition, stretching from the anti-black violence following the Civil War, through the 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation,” to today’s white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and gun-toting, apocalyptically minded Obama-haters. And now a mass murderer in a church.

On the other side is Ms. Dolezal, the former leader of the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., who, it seems, mistakenly believed that she could not be both anti-racist and white. Faced with her assumed choice between a blank identity or a malevolent one, she opted out of whiteness altogether. Notwithstanding the confusion and anger she has stirred, she continues to say that she identifies as black. Fine. But why, we wonder, did she pretend to be black?

Our search for understanding in matters of race automatically inclines us toward blackness, although that is not where these answers lie. It has become a common observation that blackness, and race more generally, is a social construct. But examining whiteness as a social construct offers more answers. The essential problem is the inadequacy of white identity.

We don’t know the history of whiteness, and therefore are ignorant of the many ways it has changed over the years. If you investigate that history, you’ll see that white identity has been no more stable than black identity. While we recognize the evolution of “negro” to “colored” to “Negro” to “Afro-American” to “African-American,” we draw a blank when it comes to whiteness. To the contrary, whiteness has a history of multiplicity.

Constructions of whiteness have changed over time, shifting to accommodate the demands of social change. Before the mid-19th century, the existence of more than one white race was commonly accepted, in popular culture and scholarship. Indeed, there were several. Many people in the United States were seen as white — and could vote (if they were adult white men) — but were nonetheless classified as inferior (or superior) white races. Irish-Americans present one example.

In the mid- to late-19th century, the existence of several white races was widely assumed: notably, the superior Saxons and the inferior Celts. Each race — and they were called races — had its characteristic racial temperament. “Temperament” has been and still is a crucial facet of racial classification since its 18th-century Linnaean origins. Color has always been only one part of it (as the case of Ms. Dolezal shows).

In the 19th century, the Saxon race was said to be intelligent, energetic, sober, Protestant and beautiful. Celts, in contrast, were said to be stupid, impulsive, drunken, Catholic and ugly.
The mass immigration that followed the Irish famine of the 1840s inflamed nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that flourished through the end of the century. Then new waves of poor Eastern and Southern European immigrants arrived, inspiring new racial classifications: the “Northern Italian” race, the “Southern Italian” race, the “Eastern European Hebrew” race, and so on. Their heads were measured and I.Q.s assessed to quantify (and, later, to deny) racial difference. They were all white, members of white races. But, like the Irish before them, the Italians and Jews and Greeks were classified as inferior white races.

By the early 20th century, the descendants of the earlier Irish immigrants had successfully elevated Celts into the superior realm of northern Europeans.

Meanwhile, World War I dampened Americans’ ardor for “Saxon” — given its German associations — and increased the popularity of a new term liberated from Germanic associations. The new name was “Nordic.” Many German-Americans even altered their surnames during and after the war, but the notion of plural white races held on until World War II.

By the 1940s anthropologists announced that they had a new classification: white, Asian and black were the only real races. Each was unitary — no sub-races existed within each group. There was one Negroid race, one Mongoloid race, one Caucasoid race. Everyone considered white was the same as everyone else considered white. No Saxons. No Celts. No Southern Italians. No Eastern European Hebrews. This classification — however tattered — lives on, with mild alterations, even today.

The useful part of white identity’s vagueness is that whites don’t have to shoulder the burden of race in America, which, at the least, is utterly exhausting. A neutral racial identity is blandly uninteresting. In the 1970s, long after they had been accepted as “white,” Italians, Irish, Greeks, Jews and others proclaimed themselves “ethnic” Americans in order to forge a positive identity, at a time of “black is beautiful.” But this ethnic self-discovery did not alter the fact that whiteness continued to be defined, as before, primarily by what it isn’t: blackness.

Ms. Dolezal seems to have believed that the choice to devote one’s life to fighting racism meant choosing black or white, Negroid or Caucasoid. Black was clearly more captivating than a whiteness characterized by hate.

We lack more meaningful senses of white identity, even though some whites, throughout history, have been committed to fighting racism and advocating for social justice. In the 19th century, abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and John Brown helped end slavery. In the early 20th century, Mary White Ovington helped found the N.A.A.C.P. Lillian Smith depicted the South’s nexus of “sin, sex, segregation” in her writings. White Communists, priests and rabbis stood beside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement. Where would America be without these white allies of black freedom fighters?

Given that the monolithic definition of whiteness is antithetical to social justice, perhaps we should encourage a rebellion against it. Just as blacks and whites joined together as “abolitionists” to bring down American slavery in the 19th century, anti-racist whites in the 1990s called themselves “race traitors,” believing that social justice for all demands treason against white supremacy.

Eliminating the binary definition of whiteness — the toggle between nothingness and awfulness — is essential for a new racial vision that ethical people can share across the color line. Just as race has been reinvented over the centuries, let’s repurpose the term “abolitionist” as more than just a hashtag. The “abolition” of white privilege can be an additional component of identity (not a replacement for it), one that embeds social justice in its meaning. Even more, it unifies people of many races.

Nell Irvin Painter is a professor emerita of history at Princeton University and the author of “The History of White People.”

India remembers Karachi’s wild child Sabeen Mahmud on her Birthday

On a day when I would have been wishing her the best of health and success, I am instead writing on her birth anniversary. It can’t feel anymore unreal than this….

Remembering Karachi’s Wild Child Sabeen Mahmud on her Birthday When Sabeen was shot down on 24th April, 2015, it was the rudest shock. How could an eventful life with so much purpose be silenced so brutally and abruptly?

And ironically, it is only after she passed away, the global outpour of emotion made me realize how she managed to touch peoples’ lives. In my mind, she was a friend doing some interesting work in Karachi through her café called T2F (The 2nd Floor) which came to be known as a platform for the intelligentsia, artists, singers, stand-up comedians and anyone else with something to say through their respective talents over cups of coffee.

Sabeen Mahmud addressing a crowd. (Photo Courtesy: Sahar Zaman)
Sabeen Mahmud addressing a crowd. (Photo Courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

Sabeen, the Friend

Since childhood, my trips to Karachi have been about meeting family and friends. In more recent years, speaking at T2F about my work was something I always looked forward to. Irrespective of how busy her place was, Sabeen made sure that I got an evening with her visitors, however last minute my request.

She was a silent presence in my life. A friend who stepped in when required. I had once written for a newspaper in Pakistan on special request. When they put out the article in print, my byline was miss-spelt. I was infuriated. But Sabeen, without even me asking, had sent me a message saying that she had called up their head office to correct my name in the online version. This certainly is a very small example of how she looked out for her friends and never expected a favour in return.

Sabeen Mahmud with friends. (Photo Courtesy: Sahar Zaman)

Memorials Across the Globe

Sabeen Mahmud with friends. (Photo Courtesy: Sahar Zaman)The shock on her murder was followed by memorials for her across the world. This included London, New York, Tunis, Singapore, Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Hyderabad (Sindh), San Francisco, Bay Area, Toronto, Massachussetts and Mumbai. I, along with a few common friends, organized one in Delhi.

My friends who had never met Sabeen or never known about her were writing to me shocked and distressed. Her story has now become a story of steely courage and inspiration.