Thursday 29 August 2013

Female Leadership and Diversity – Interview with Dr Ingrid Mattson

 Alhamdulilah I really admire this sister :)

Professor Dr Ingrid Mattson presently serves as Chair of the Islamic Studies Program at the Huron University College of The University of Western Ontario. She was previously the Director of the Macdonald Centre for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, where she was the founder of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program – the only accredited program to train Muslim chaplains in the United States. From 2006 to 2010 she served as the President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), after serving two terms as Vice President – being the first woman elected to either position. Dr Mattson was born in Canada and earned her PhD in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago in 1999.
Dr Mattson spoke to Al Nisa during the Symposium ‘Kent U Mij?’ (Do you know me?) in the Theater de Meervaart in Amsterdam on 22 September 2012, in between her keynote speech on conformity and diversity among Muslim women, and an open question-and-answer session with the audience.
What makes a good Muslim leader?
There’s leadership in so many different sectors. The first thing is that leaders have this inability to just let problems remain; they see a need and they need to respond to it, and so they do something. A good leader has the ability to analyse a situation, understand it, assess what resources are available, and then come up with a practical solution.
A good leader is also looking to make him or herself replaceable, firstly by working on strengthening the institution in which he or she works (to extent that it’s appropriate and possible) and second, mentoring other people into leadership. Making sure that you have a strong organisation that could continue on without you, or that at least has the mechanisms for replacing you, and then personally mentoring or nurturing leaders.
Do you think there’s a gender difference when it comes to leadership?
There are generalisations, and they are not true in all situations. But I do think that women tend to be more consultative. They tend to try to convince people before going ahead, rather than simply making a decision and expecting everyone to go along. And that’s usually good. Although sometimes you do have to be decisive and you need to go ahead even if there isn’t buy-in.
Part of leadership is knowing when to go ahead with a decision that’s within your authority because you’re really convinced it’s the right thing, even if other people don’t understand it at that point. Between that and taking the time to really get buy-in from others, there’s a balance. I think men tend to be more of one style and women the other, and you don’t want an imbalance between those two.
While you were in ISNA, in which situations did you find yourself having more legitimacy or authority to speak on certain issues?
I think a lot of people felt that the fact that I was in a position to speak for at least my organization ISNA, if not little more broadly for the American Muslim community. I think a lot of people found that beneficial after September 11th, because there was a great need to be able to explain Islam to Americans in terms that they understood. The fact that that’s my environment – I am Western and I’m Muslim – helped me to understand the concerns that were being raised. This helped with communication, which is natural, but it’s simply accidental that I was born in that environment.
However, there is one disturbing aspect to it, because sometimes there is an implied racism. A friend of mine who’s a rabbi and a really a good friend of the Muslim community once said, ‘Ingrid, it was very good that you were the leader of ISNA when you were, because you’re this small white woman so you’re not frightening in a way that maybe your predecessors were.’ My predecessor and my successor were both dark-skinned Sudanese men.
Is a man scarier than a woman? Is a dark-skinned person scarier than a white-skinned person? If you ask any of my students, they will tell you I’m much scarier than either of those two people. I thought that was really terrible; just seeing my face made people comfortable. I think Muslim men of colour are the most despised people now, as their faces are associated with intimidation or violence. That is really, really sad.
How can female scholars achieve the legitimacy that male scholars do, even though they may have studied in the same places?
That’s unfortunate. I think that kind of ignorance about women scholars in our still needs to be corrected. People tend to want to make sure that what they’re getting is authentic. I think the more we learn about our tradition, the more this kind of reaction will be avoided. There’s a lot of information certainly available now about women in the isnad, like Dr. Akram Nadwi’s book Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam.
But there’s knowledge, and then there’s authority or influence. We have many women who have knowledge but if they’re not recognised by the community or given a position, then people may think that maybe they’re not really that qualified.
I once talked with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani of Seeker’s Guidance from Canada. In his organisation there are many women who have studied in Jordan and have ijazah in different fields of Islamic studies. He was frustrated because not much was being done with the knowledge that these women have. I told him the reality is that until the mosque establishes official positions (whether paid or not) recognising her as a shaykha or as a religious teacher in the community, people won’t be going to her. Why would they recognise them as authoritative if the leadership of the community doesn’t?
I think these two things are important: knowing our history to break up our inherited assumptions about religious authority, and establishing positions for these women.
So it’s important for knowledgeable women to be affiliated to an organisation. But if the current leadership is dominantly male, how does a woman negotiate that?
You have to find advocates. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an that the believing men and women are awliya’ or partners of one another (9:71). Nothing can really happen in the community without partnership. Women need to call on their teachers, or those in positions of leadership who can advocate with them. It can’t always seem like only women are asking about this; this is about building the community together.
There’s always going to be some people who resist it though. Either because they sincerely believe that men should be in authority, or, like all human beings, they don’t like to concede or share power with others. Or they’re just ignorant. But I’m sure there are some men who think this is wrong. You need to work in partnership with some men to change this.
Some people can be worked on and others will remain intransigent. Sometimes you can work within the system and sometimes you need to build your own thing while your community lends legitimacy and support.
Speaking of your own thing, I read that you have a dog. There are diverse opinions about it, so how do you deal with holding a minority opinion on an issue?
Well, my opinion comes from one of the fiqh (legal jurisprudence) positions. The majority of fiqh positions consider the saliva of all dogs to be impure, but the Maliki school considers only the saliva of wild dogs to be impure. The Maliki position does not consider domestic dogs to be najis (impurity). There’s strong justification for it in the Maliki school from the argument that the Qur’an allows us to use hunting dogs, and even eating animals caught in their mouths, for example.
So if you’re a Shafi’i or a Hanafi then you’re not going to be able to have a dog, and I’m not going to force anyone else to have one.  But certainly, I very deliberately wrote about the Maliki position to raise the issue of the problem of making a religious issue of purity into a taboo, and then even a phobia.
We have a big problem in North America, where we have many Muslim taxi drivers and are also blind and disabled people who use service dogs. These dogs help disabled people to move around in public spaces, but we Muslim cab drivers say things like ‘Dogs are haram’ and they will refuse to accept them disabled people with service dogs in their cab.
This is just pure ignorance, because it’s not that dogs are haram, there’s nothing about putting a dog in a car. You’re not required to hate dogs. Your children leave najasa (impurity) all over, you’re not supposed to hate them right? I think it’s particular to Muslims in the West, although the widespread abuse of animals in Muslim countries is also haram. We really have to break this overreaction and confusion among Muslims.
Like the issue of dogs, do you think there are other issues that Muslims tend to fixate upon and leaving more urgent issues undebated?
Yes, very clearly. A former student of mine once told me how frustrating it was for her when she was homeless with three children. She was going to the mosque and even though people knew she was homeless, they were not coming to her – she had to come and ask for support. People would say ‘Well, we don’t have money for that’, yet money was being spent on all sorts of other things – fundraising for Muslims in other countries, or for certain improvements to the new building – when you have a homeless woman in the mosque.
I’m sure there will be people who will come after us and say that we were blind to certain needs. It’s not that any of us are beyond that. We’re all human and we all have limited perspectives, but this is why you need to have wide consultation and a mechanism to include as many voices as possible. The more people you include in the decision-making process, the better chance you have of avoiding at least a gross error in neglecting a true need in the community.
Are you working on any projects right now?
I’m working on a book that’s going to be called, tentatively, The Ethical Muslim. It gives tools for ethical thinking in Islam and provides case studies. I also have a new position in Canada as the new London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. Like how I built that chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary, I’m going to be looking to see what kind of religious leadership program would be suitable for Canadian Muslims in that environment, inshallah.
That sounds exciting. Finally, any advice for Muslim women who work in the public sphere but who are not visibly Muslim?
Wearing the hijab is just one part of being Muslim. More important is, are you bringing the character, behaviour, values and ethics of a Muslim to your workplace? Every Muslim should know the ethics of their field. If you are doing things correctly according to Islam and the civil law to the best that you can, you could even have an impact on your field, depending on how much authority you have. If you go to work and you’re doing things that contradict Islamic ethics or you don’t even know what the ethics of your field are – that’s problematic.
It can be a touchy subject – you don’t want to make it seem like you’re bringing religion into the workplace, but you should have an attitude of responsiveness. That if people sincerely want information, that you are available to them. It may seem burdensome – why do you have to explain your religion when others don’t – but that’s the world we live in.
Other minority groups have similar problems, so look at it as an opportunity. How many Muslims in the world have no chance to say anything? We are the elite in the Muslim world when it comes to educational opportunity and political freedom, so what kind of responsibilities do we have towards others? I don’t think you can just say you want to be a normal person. There are a lot of normal people (laughs).
That’s all, thank you for your time Dr. Mattson.
Thank you for having me, it was a pleasure.

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Maldives rape victim spared the lash after global anger

So pleased the sentence was overturned but truly horrified at the stats in this article :(.
Alaphia Zoyab, who has led the campaign on behalf of Avaaz, said last night: “This is great news that her flogging sentence has been overturned and that she no longer faces house arrest. The reason this is a big deal is we are talking about a 15-year-old child. She is a child. A lot of people have said she knew what she was doing, but she is a child.
“It is still just a one-off case, however. I strongly believe the overturning of the sentence is down to the spotlight being put on this case. But wider systemic problems remain – the courts can continue to hand down sharia sentences of flogging. Flogging can change to stoning. Sharia law is not codified in the Maldives, so it is still down to the courts to decide. So this is a great victory, but it is a one-off.
“We want to see a moratorium on flogging. We want the Maldives to live up to its international obligations. We are waiting and watching to see what happens in the elections, and which government we can engage with.”

A survey by Avaaz found that 92 per cent of Maldivians want a reform of national laws to protect women from sexual assault, while 73 per cent are opposed to punishments for women for “sexual crimes”. One in three women between the ages of 15 and 49 has suffered either physical or sexual abuse over the past five years. Nine out of 10 sentences for flogging in the Maldives in 2011 were given to women, while no one has been convicted of rape in the past three years.

Full article:

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Female students in Indonesia may be forced to undergo 'virginity tests'

What a disgrace!! I will never understand this obsession so many men have with viginity, its truly disgusting!

Education chief Muhammad Rasyid, of Prabumulih district in south Sumatra put forward the idea, describing it as "an accurate way to protect children from prostitution and free sex". He said he would use the city budget to begin tests early next year if MPs approved the proposal.
"This is for their own good," Rasyid said. "Every woman has the right to virginity … we expect students not to commit negative acts."
The test would require female senior school students aged 16 to 19 to have their hymen examined every year until graduation. Boys, however, would undergo no investigation into whether they had had sex.
The plan has met with some support from local politicians, who said the test would help cut down on "rampant" promiscuity in the district.
"Virginity is sacred, thus it's a disgrace for a [female] student to lose her virginity before getting married," Hasrul Azwar of the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) told the Jakarta Post.
The proposal seems to be in response to increasing cases of premarital sex, local website Kompas reported, including the recent arrest of six senior high school students for alleged prostitution.
It is the third plan of its kind in Muslim-majority Indonesia, where similar drafts were proposed in West Java in 2007, and again in Sumatra in 2010, but dropped after a public outcry.
Local and national MPs, activists, rights groups and even the local Islamic advisory council have all denounced Rasyid's plan as potentially denying female students the universal right to education, in addition to targeting girls for an act that may not have even been consensual, such as sexual assault.

Monday 26 August 2013

Islam's ability to empower is a magnet to black British youths

A seminar was hosted last month by Christians Together in England toconsider ways to "stem the flight of black British youths to Islam and radicalisation". In an unprecedented move, Muslims were invited to attend – and they did. Together, both faith groups discussed the reasons why a growing number of young black people are choosing Islam in preference to Christianity. According to this morning's BBC Radio 4's Today programme, one in nine black Christian men are converting to Islam.
Following in my father's footsteps, I was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended Sunday mass regularly as a child. I also attended a Roman Catholic secondary school – initially a cultural shock as I found myself the only black student among a predominantly white class. The religious focus of the school was, however, a refreshing contrast to my urban, street background. Teachers and students were more serious about God than at my previous schools. A student was not considered "nerdy" or "odd" due to their religiosity. I was therefore able to excel in religious studies and was successful in my final O-level exam.
During these lessons, the more we learned about religion, the more we questioned and challenged particular concepts, particularly relating to Christianity. Questions about the concept of the trinity – the Godhead being three in one – caused many debates as some of us; myself and others did not find this logical or feasible. Our religious studies teacher became exasperated by persistent questions on this topic, and arranged for the local priest to attend and address the question. His explanations did little to remove our doubts in this very fundamental and important area of faith.
I recall one particular lesson where we were doing Bible studies and I queried why we, as Christians, failed to prostrate in the same manner that Jesus had in the garden of Gethsemane prior to his arrest. I was unable to identify any relationship between Jesus's prayer and ours as his Christian followers. However, the Muslim prayer most closely resembled Jesus's.
After leaving school, I lost contact with most of my school friends. I also abandoned many aspects of Christianity and instead submerged myself into the urban street culture of my local friends and community – we would make our own religion based on the ethics and beliefs that made sense to us.
The passivity that Christianity promotes is perceived as alien and disconnected to black youths growing up in often violent and challenging urban environments in Britain today. "Turning the other cheek" invites potential ridicule and abuse whereas resilience, strength and self-dignity evokes respect and, in some cases, fear from unwanted attention.
I converted to Islam after learning about the religion's monotheistic foundation; there being only one God – Allah who does not share his divinity with anything. This made sense and was easy to comprehend. My conversion was further strengthened by learning that Islam recognised and revered the prophets mentioned in Judaism and Christianity. My new faith was, as its holy book the Qur'an declares, a natural and final progression of these earlier religions. Additionally, with my newfound faith, there existed religious guidelines that provided spiritual and behavioural codes of conduct. Role models such as Malcolm X only helped to reinforce the perception that Islam enabled the empowerment of one's masculinity coupled with righteous and virtuous conduct as a strength, not a weakness.
My personal experiences are supported by academic research on the same topic: Richard Reddie, who is himself a Christian, conductedresearch on black British converts to Islam. My own studies revealed that the majority of young people I interviewed converted from Christianity to Islam for similar reasons to me.
Islam's way of life and sense of brotherhood were attractive to 50% of interviewees, whereas another 30% and 10% respectively converted because of the religion's monotheistic foundations and the fact that, holistically, the religion "made sense" and there were "no contradictions".
My research examined whether such converts were more susceptible to violent radicalisation or more effective at countering it. The overwhelming conclusion points to the latter – provided there are avenues to channel these individuals' newly discovered sense of empowerment and identity towards constructive participation in society, as opposed to a destructive insularity which can be exploited by extremists.
Many Muslim converts – not just black British ones – will confirm the sense of empowerment Islam provides, both spiritually and mentally. It also provides a context within which such individuals are able to rise above the social, cultural and often economic challenges that tend to thwart their progress in today's society. Turning the other cheek therefore is never an option.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Thursday 15 August 2013

Hijab is not to protect men, but to honor women

“Oh man, these girls are a fitnah!”
“If a guy looks at you more than once, you aren’t covering properly.”
“If a guy likes you, then you are a fitnah in the community.”
“If you’re causing fitnah at school, it is better for you to leave the school.”
“Cover properly, so that you aren’t a trial for the guys!”
Such comments strike at the insecurities, religious aspirations, and self-esteem of our sisters in a way Islam never ever meant. This environment can only result in a few endings. One, a person will decide that she wants nothing to do with a practicing version of Islam and will leave practicing circles, deciding to strike her own path. Why would anyone want to be in a judgmental environment? Second, she may buy into this version of “Islam” and develop insecurities and issues that a natural, Prophetically-guided, scholarly approach to Islam would never allow.
 Full article @:

Wednesday 14 August 2013


"Imagine this: you’ve just crossed the Sirat (bridge over Hell) and made it to the other side. You are waiting for the doors of Jannah to open. Finally they open to the Prophet(peace be upon him) and you are in awe. Truly this place is as the Prophet described which “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and the mind of no man has conceived”, [Bukhari]. What is the ground made of? It smells a little like saffron, Subhan’Allah! What are those trees with huge fruits? Is that a river of honey? Dip your finger in it, that can’t be honey! You’ve never had anything like it in your life. You try it again and it tastes even better. How is that possible? Ok, enough honey. Where is my house? As you are being escorted to your home, you see it’s not just a house. It’s a mansion! Not even Bill Gates had it this good, and you are told you earned it because you donated $10 for that masjid. If only you had donated more! Well this mansion is enough.

You’re eager to start exploring. You enter from the front door with a texture that feels pearly. Are the doors made of pearls? Subhan’Allah! You walk in and there’s someone there. Is that your spouse from the Dunya? But they look different. They’re so beautiful, you’re mesmerized. You take their hand and walk out and you see that person who wronged you in the Dunya. Even though you forgave on earth, whenever you saw them, you’d still get a bit frustrated. But for some reason it’s ok now. It’s all good. Actually- you’re happy to see them. In fact, you can’t stop smiling. This place is awesome. 

You feel so light and airy. You feel as though nothing bad has ever happened to you in your life. You have peace. It can’t get better than this, right? Yes it can! As you walk outside your mansion, you see people rushing to go some place. They’re crowding around someone. Is that RasulAllah?! Without realizing, tears stream down your face, it IS Rasul’Allah! And he is more beautiful than any of the descriptions you’ve read. You embrace him. He smiles at you, and then you invite him to dinner at your house. You walk away, still in awe that you’ve just seen the final Messenger of God, and… Is that Abu Bakr (ra)? With `Umar (ra)! And over there is Fatima (ra), sitting with her mother Khadija (ra)! And there’s Mariam (as)! You overhear a conversation and it’s someone asking Salaah ad-Deen how it felt to liberate Jerusalem. And you recognize an accent, it’s Malcolm X! Finally, it’s the pinnacle of Jannah. Being with Allah. You actually get to see Allah. The highest, greatest most amazing pleasure that surpasses everything we’ve just talked about. Seeing your Lord, Most High." - Imam Suhaib Webb

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Eid Makeup: Gold & Purple Arabic Smokey Eye

My wife told me about above video and I thought it was incredibly inclusive and thoughtful of Chloe to think of her Muslims viewers and make such an effort for them. I am posting it for my female readers I hope you will appreciate.

Monday 12 August 2013

Mike Huckabee: Muslims Depart Mosques Like 'Uncorked Animals,' Throwing Rocks, Burning Cars

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas GOP governor-turned-Fox News host and radio personality, tore into Islam earlier this week, using a recent terror threat that put United States embassies on high alert to suggest that the Muslims were "uncorked animals," encouraged to be violent by the religion itself.
Speaking on his radio program on Monday, Huckabee prefaced his remarks by saying that he understood it was "politically incorrect" to "say anything unkind about Islam." He then went on to suggest that Islamic teachings were to blame for recent unrest during the holy month of Ramadan.
"Can someone explain to me why it is that we tiptoe around a religion that promotes the most murderous mayhem on the planet in their so-called ‘holiest days,’" Huckabee said. "You know, if you’ve kept up with the Middle East, you know that the most likely time to have an uprising of rock throwing and rioting comes on the day of prayer on Friday. So the Muslims will go to the mosque, and they will have their day of prayer, and they come out of there like uncorked animals -- throwing rocks and burning cars."

Full Article:

Saturday 10 August 2013

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Wearing hijab helps body confidence

British Muslim women who wear the hijab feel generally better about their body image than those who don’t wear the hijab suggests research published in the British Journal of Psychology today.
The research, conducted by Dr Viren Swami from the University of Westminster and colleagues looked at body image issues amongst British Muslim women.
Dr Swami explained: “In the West anxiety about body image, for women, is so prevalent it’s considered normal. This study aimed to explore how these attitudes differ within a British Muslim community.”
A total of 587 Muslim women aged from 18 to 70 years from London participated in a number of tests. From this group 218 women stated they never used the hijab and 369 women said they used some form of the hijab at least now and then.
Participants undertook a number of questionnaires that asked them to rate their own feelings of body dissatisfaction, how much pressure the media put on them to be attractive and how religious they were. They were also asked to match their own figure to a set of female silhouette images that ranged from emaciated to obese.
The results showed that women who wore the hijab generally had a more positive body image, were less influenced by the media’s beauty ideals and placed less importance on appearance. 
Dr Swami said: “Although the results showed only a small difference between those who wear or don’t wear the hijab it does suggest the hijab offers Muslim women a small protective effect in terms of feeling positive about their body image. It appears that those who choose to wear it are better able to distance themselves from the Western thin ideal. 
“These results may have useful implications for intervention programmes aimed at promoting healthier body image among Muslim women in the West. For example, by identifying those aspects of hijab use that are associated with more positive body appreciation in future studies, it might be possible to isolate factors that can be targeted in intervention programmes.”
The journal, entitled “Is the Hijab Protective? An Investigation of Body Image and Related Constructs Among British Muslim Women", can be accessed here.

Monday 5 August 2013

Burka Avenger of Pakistan

There’s a new female superhero protecting the world — the first for Pakistan: the Burka Avenger! The star of an upcoming cartoon series is a teacher who uses her alter ego, the Burka Avenger, to fight bad guys trying to shut down schools and keep girls from getting an education. The show also addresses themes such as protecting the environment and not discriminating against others — all in a kid-oriented action and humor-filled cartoon.
The Burka Avenger is the brainchild of Aaron Haroon Rashid, a Pakistan pop star, who wanted to create a positive role model to counter the Taliban’s ongoing opposition to girls’ education. In explaining the choice of the burka, which the teacher, Jiya, only wears in superhero mode, Rashid explained, “It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes. Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan."
To learn more, visit the Burka Avenger site at