“We need to reclaim the narrative.”
Lesley Hazleton is an Agnostic Jew but is thoroughly fascinated by Islam. She wrote a biography of the Prophet Muhammad because of that fascination, and also because she sees Islam and the polemics around Islam as simply extremism and non-extremism. (To be fair, her assessment of extremism includes the Pamela Gellers of the world and their awful racist subdway ads.) For Hazleton, this dichotomy of extremist attitude affects the daily life of non-extremists. Her insistence upon this point is to wear the hijab in front of the liberal-minded Ted audience in order to see their reaction. The hijab is no more than a piece of cloth! We who see more in it have been affected by extremist attitudes.
She states that she wished to write the book “in good faith”, which I suppose means with some sort of sympathy for Muslims worldwide. What I don’t think she understands that we don’t need good faith to represent Muhammad as historically a good man. We don’t need sympathy in order to find goodness in our religious tradition. Just like every other faith, we have the right to find beauty in it.
Thus, what Hazleton turns into is a new Karen Armstrong: to be critical of Islam is simply to be Orientalist. To be sympathetic towards it means progress. I wonder when non-Muslims would just try being honest? This honesty means they would have examine their own hand in the picture painted of Islam. To be honest would mean to realize the hand that the West played in turning Islam into something ugly, backward, and unnatural.
My only real question emerging from viewing this Ted talk was simply: Why aren’t Muslims allowed to go to Ted and do this? If it had been someone like me, a brown woman? If it had been a friend of mine, one of many who wear the hijab for real? If they were to do this talk, it would not be seen as a comprehensive representation of the Prophet. It would simply be a Muslim’s misguided attempt to convince the audience that we, too, are good people. We, too, deserve your respect. (“We are not backward or ugly. Look at Rumi! Look at Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan! We can be just as awesome as you.”)
When Hazleton then has the audacity to state that we must reclaim the narrative, I wonder who is the we in her sentence. Certainly that we is not the Muslims whose narratives have been stripped away from them? No, it is again the same who had for so long “orientalized” our tradition. The tradition does not belong to you - the narrative does not belong to you. It is ours to do what we will with it. To paint it black or paint it white. Ah yes, the trend has become to paint it white. It was not the first goal, but it is their only solution now.
On Sunday evening, watching the Golden Globes at my cousin’s house, I retweeted, “ANNE BLERGHAWAY.” After a few more attempts at moderately humorous jabs at celebrities, I considered tweeting this: “Is someone going to point out that Homeland and ZD30 are racist?” Instead I tweeted, “I have no interest in seeing Zero Dark Thirty or Homeland.”
I have had no less than five people ask me what I thought of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie. I told a few that I’m happy that a woman is being awarded for her film-making. Those are the few that I know for certain would not be able to handle the truth of their own privilege.
When I watched The Hurt Locker, all I could think about was the land they were standing on. It was brown, sandy, dry. I thought about the man who set up the bombs they were dismantling. I thought about everything Bigelow never showed us on screen. I thought about all of the truths she refused to acknowledge. That maybe other people have different truths that Americans never recognize - I felt like no one else was talking about that but me.
We watched the movie 300 in a large movie theater in Chicago when it first came out. After watching it, I told my friends that they may have come from the Greeks, but I came from those Persians. We are the bad guys. We are always the bad guys.
At dinner on Tuesday, a friend asked me if I would reconsider watching Homeland if I knew how complex the characters were. Yes, there is still terrorism, but these are not flat representations of Muslims anymore. I told him that until I see a story about terrorism that doesn’t involve Muslims or I see a story about Muslims that doesn’t involve terrorism, I won’t watch it. I’ve seen Syriana. That was already too much.
I’ve read the tweets. I’ve read the critique. Actually, I cannot stop reading it. As much as I don’t think I could stomach Zero Dark Thirty - specifically because it takes place in Pakistan, specifically because the night Osama Bin Laden was killed I felt sick to stomach, specifically because the next day at work was my worst day of work because of the incident, specifically because the college students who cheered his death scared me to my very bones, specifically because I cannot hear the “USA” chant without wondering what people’s motives are - I cannot stop being engrossed by it. As much as it scares me, I cannot keep away from it.
When the movie was mentioned to me again last night, someone said, “Oh I heard that was a good movie.” I almost snapped.
I have opinions/thoughts/ideas on things besides terrorism. I am not an entry point into the world of Islam for you. I am not an expert on terrorism/counter-terrorism/the Middle East/politics. I am neither Middle Eastern nor Persian. I cannot tell you how a terrorist thinks. I cannot tell you how to stop terrorism from happening. I cannot tell you why all Muslims hate America. (Yes, someone has asked me that.)
Now I will give people this when they ask me what I thought of Zero Dark Thirty.
Each community has its own direction to which it turns: race to do good deeds and wherever you are, God will bring you together. God has power to do everything.
The Qur’an [2:148]
Hmm, yes. But what is God?
Is there really any place for gender justice within a theology rooted in a seemingly ahistorical and stable text such as the Qur’an, which is inescapably patriarchal, coming from a Deity that, however that Deity may defy ultimate description, nevertheless employs the male form of the personal pronoun in reference to ‘Himself’?
Farid Esack (via azhar11ali)
Sometimes I have to stop asking myself what Amina Wadud would say, and start thinking about what I would say. I am so confused by this notion. Is Islam inherently patriarchal? Can it be liberational? Can it be both at once? If so, what is justice, then? What is it ultimately?
The text is patriarchal, yes, but is it so because of the context in which it was revealed? (Was it even revealed? Dangerous question, I know.)
These are my midnight thoughts. Witching hour is over. It is time for bed.
My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?
Honestly, I wish I had her strength and patience. I would have felt angry and hurt, but she utilized those feelings to be informative.
I tweeted that this is “what being strong and faithful looks like”. In a weird way, she makes me want to represent progressive Islam better.
Today in class, we talked about homosexuality for a little while. The other students, far more conservative than me, stated the usual: “Muslims can’t be gay”, or “we should show them the right path”. The usual. For some reason, I held my tongue. These people are new to me, and I didn’t want to scare them or make them think I was too progressive. Now I’m regretting not saying anything. I should have said it. I shouldn’t hide what I believe anymore - I’ve done that for too long.
Dr. Bilal Philips, an influential Islamic scholar, will be speaking at the Canada Day long weekend conference hosted by the Muslim Council of Calgary. He is wellnoted for his literalist approach in prescribing thedeath penalty for “homosexuals” under Sharia law. However, he is neither God’s spokesperson, nor does he speak for all Muslims.
Early in May, the Islamic Circle of North America, a conservative Muslim organization, expressing fear on the destruction of family, released a press statement against President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage. Around the same time,Muslims for Progressive Values, a dissenting grassroots organization, citing the Islamic emphasis on justice, welcomed the President’s courageous statement. Like dissenting denominations in Judaism and Christianity, Islam is not a monolith.
Conservative Muslims argue that by using variants of the phrase “you approach men lustfully instead of women” in verses 7:81, 26:165-166 and 27:55, the Qur’an condemns same-sex relationships as a transgression. However, dissenting Muslims argue that such a reading fails to appreciate context and linguistics. They also mention how extreme fanatics have bastardized the sacred texts by quoting verses stripped of their context.
Based on a contextual analysis, it becomes clear that the Qur’an is portraying a picture of coercion, exploitation and inhospitality. Specifically, verse 29:29 alludes to highway robbery and verse15:70 refers to Lot’s people prohibiting him from entertaining guests. Secondary Muslim texts, including “The History of Al-Tabari” and “Tales of the Prophets” further elaborate on this context.
Based on a linguistic analysis, Alabama based Dr. Hussein Abdul Latif indicates that the Qur’anic words for male and female connote non-receptive and receptive entities respectively. As such, the prohibitive phrase can be construed as approaching an unwilling partner rather than a willing partner. Thus, even the stand-alone phrase appears to connote exploitation.
Furthermore, based on past authorities, both Dr. Hussein Abdul Latif and Dr. Scott Kugle at Emory University have argued against the authenticity of texts attributed to the Prophet on this issue. This only substantiates how conservative Muslims mask their prejudice behind dubious texts.
Conservative Muslims, however, have tradition by their side. They can easily refer to countless manuals of jurisprudence that did not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual homosexual conduct defined specifically as “male anal intercourse.” However, it is important to understand the context in which the classical jurists formulated their opinions.
Based on texts from 1500 - 1800 CE, Harvard based Dr. Khaled El-Rouayheb, has stated that homosexual expression in the Arab-Muslim world predominately occurred in the context of pederasty or power imbalanced relationships. The active-passive dichotomy wherein the passive partner, usually a beardless boy or a male slave, is a far outcry from contemporary same-sex relationships based on mutual love and respect.
It should, therefore, not surprise us that Muslim jurists, maintained a prohibitive stand on homosexual relationships based on the coercion depicted in the Qur’anic verses and the exploitation inherent in the overwhelming majority of homosexual expressions of their time. Contemporary examples of such conduct include the sexual coercion of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison and the exploitation of the dancing boys of Afghanistan.
In the Classical Muslim period from the 9th to the 12th century, jurists operated in an environment where the influential polymath Ibn Sina set the tone for medical opinion that treated “passive homosexuality” as a nasty psychological phenomenon worthy of punishment. It seems that Ibn Sina’s opinion eclipsed that of Al Razi, another polymath, that “passive homosexuality” resulted from the female sperm overpowering the male sperm during conception.
Rather than accepting sexual orientation, many contemporary conservative Muslim clergy either equate homosexuality with alcoholism or view it as a choice of sexual misconduct. However, Dr. Hashim Kamali, a renowned scholar at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, has stated that both science and Islamic jurisprudence confirm that sexual orientation is inherent.
Factoring changed social milieu and advanced knowledge of human sexuality, it seems that a renewed Islamic perspective on the issue of same-sex unions is warranted today. Several scholars like the 13th century jurist Imam Qarafi harrowingly critiqued the failure to account for differing conditions and special circumstances in legal rulings.
Conservative Muslims, like their Jewish and Christian counterparts, unwittingly condemn their gay sons and daughters to the closet or cloister. In the false dichotomy between God’s law and human reason, their choice is clear. However, disregarding the need for faith to be reasonable and life-affirming, any religious viewpoint is futile.
American Rabbi Harold Schulweis has clearly stated that he cannot condemn innocent people to a life of misery, pain, torture and anguish. U.S.-based Conservative Judaism and several Christian denominations bless same-sex marriages. Likewise, based on the Prophet’s teachings, progressive Muslims, allude to a higher ethic to support loving same-sex unions.
The Prophet’s teachings paraphrased as “do not harm and accept no harm’, ‘wish for your brother what you wish for yourself” and “facilitate, do not cause difficulties or cause people to detest the law” evoke radical love and are as relevant today as they were 1400 years ago.
I want you to know that you are not alone. There are so many people out there who are gay or bi or whatever and Muslim. They pray beside you. They go to the same mosque. Some of them have beards and the others headscarves.
I know our community tells us we are “unnatural” or that we should get…
This is beautiful.
A very interesting conversation about homosexuality and Islam happening on a friend’s FB wall. She posted an article about an imam marrying a gay couple (one of whom has AIDS) and asked for people’s thoughts. I have to say I was surprised how quick people were to say they were against it. For example this dude:
And he got 9 likes! The conversation made me angry, obviously, so I couldn’t stop myself from posting something:
And then this is the response I got, almost immediately I might add.
“Whether we agree or not, God agrees with me, so you are wrong.”
I know you have to pick your battles. And I know this is what is coming for me when I one day perform gay and lesbian marriages for Muslims, but man, it just makes me so angry.
Article here, by the way.
At this point, I felt so sorry for Brian. Was it possible that he really did not know that I was the Muslim girl? That I could not spend time with a boy at all, let alone go to a movie with one on the weekend? I felt sorry, because I assumed Brian was clueless, not infatuated. And then I felt embarrassed, because he was a delinquent and I was a teacher’s pet.
—Unavailable: How I Had To Let A Boy Down Gently
This is a piece of mine featured on a blog run by Wajahat Ali and Aman Ali, two great American Muslim writers. So honored to have my piece chosen!