Thursday 26 February 2015

The First Victims of the First Crusade


THE first victims of the First Crusade, inspired in 1096 by the supposedly sacred mission of retaking Jerusalem from Muslims, were European Jews. Anyone who considers it religiously and politically transgressive to compare the behavior of medieval Christian soldiers to modern Islamic terrorism might find it enlightening to read this bloody story, as told in both Hebrew and Christian chronicles.

The message from the medieval past is that religious violence seldom limits itself to one target and expands to reach the maximum number of available victims.

Just as the Crusades were integrally linked to Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages, terrorist movements today are immersed in a particular anti-modern interpretation of Islam. This does not imply that a majority of Muslims agree with violent religious ideology. It does mean that the terrorists’ brand of belief plays a critical role in their savage assault on human rights.

Cultural ignoramuses portrayed President Obama’s references to the Crusades and the Inquisition at the recent National Prayer Breakfast as an excuse for Islamic terrorism, but the president’s allusions could and should have been used as an opportunity to reflect on the special damage inflicted in many historical contexts by warriors seeking conquest in the name of their god.

Times were hard in northern Europe when the crusaders began to gather in the spring of 1096. A disappointing harvest in 1095 had brought famine to the poor. As James Carroll observes in “Constantine’s Sword,” there is “no doubt the crusading impulse rescued many serfs, but also landowners, from desperate economic straits.”

Pope Urban II did not tell crusaders to murder Jews, but that is what happened when at least 100,000 knights, vassals and serfs, unmoored from ordinary social restraints but bearing the standard of the cross, set off to crush what they considered a perfidious Muslim enemy in a faraway land. Why not practice on that older group accused of perfidy — the Jews?

The city of Trier, on the Moselle River, was one of the early stops. The Jews were, according to a Hebrew chronicle, offered the choice of conversion, exile or death — similar to the choices offered by groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram. After the Jews of Trier made an unsuccessful attempt, by paying off a bishop, to persuade the crusaders to bypass their community, they sought refuge in the prelate’s palace.

The chronicle recounts that “the bishop’s military officer and ministers entered the palace and said to them: ‘Thus said our lord the bishop: Convert or leave this place. I do not wish to preserve you any longer.’ ” It goes on: “ ‘You cannot be saved — your God does not wish to save you now as he did in earlier days.’ ”

The anonymous author of the chronicle, known as Text S to scholars, probably did not witness all of the events he describes. However, scholars of the First Crusade generally consider the text authentic. Furthermore, Christian accounts — also most likely written decades later but at a time when many survivors would have been alive — tell essentially the same story.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Albert of Aix, a Christian born in the late 11th century, describes atrocities in Mainz — another stop on the crusaders’ rampage through the Rhineland — by a band headed by one Count Emico. Again, there is a bishop who initially promises the Jews protection for what Albert describes as an “incredible amount of money.” But Emico and his Christian soldiers broke into the hall where the Jews were held.

“Breaking the bolts and doors, they killed the Jews, about seven hundred in number, who in vain resisted the force and attack of so many thousands. They killed the women, also, and with their swords pierced tender children of whatever age and sex ... Horrible to say, mothers cut the throats of nursing children with knives and stabbed others, preferring them to perish thus by their own hands rather than to be killed by the weapons of the uncircumcised.”

Albert reports that a small number of Jews escaped because they agreed to be baptized “because of fear, rather than because of love of the Christian faith.” With all of the money taken from the Jews, Emico and “all that intolerable company of men and women then continued on their way to Jerusalem.”

This account highlights several elements analogous to the actions of modern terrorist groups. These include attempts at forced conversion; the murders of women and children; and the imposition of financial penalties on coerced converts who try to remain in their homes. Albert’s disparaging remarks about Emico also reveal that there were Christians who felt about the crusaders exactly the way many Muslims today surely feel if they are unlucky enough to find themselves in the path of violent lunatics.

In Mosul, the Iraqi city conquered by the Islamic State last June, Christians had coexisted for centuries with Muslims who did not share whatever medieval beliefs the terrorists claim to represent. The city was also home to the Yazidis, whose theology includes elements of Zoroastrianism as well as Islam and Christianity.

When the brutal warriors established control, thousands of Yazidis were forced to flee for their lives if they did not convert to Islam. Christians were also ordered to formally convert, pay taxes to Shariah courts or face “death by the sword,” without any possibility of escape.

Sound familiar?

Thomas Asbridge, director of the Center for the Study of Islam and the West at the University of London, commented in this newspaper that “we have to be very careful about judging behavior in medieval times by current standards.”

This issue is better judged from the other side of the looking glass. What we actually see today is a standard of medieval behavior upheld by modern fanatics who, like the crusaders, seek both religious and political power through violent means. They offer a ghastly and ghostly reminder of what the Western world might look like had there never been religious reformations, the Enlightenment and, above all, the separation of church and state.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

No, Islam Isn’t Inherently Violent, And The Math Proves It

And a cursory look at the data shows that from 1994-2008, I found that 204 high-casualty terrorist bombings occurred worldwide and that Islamists were responsible for 125, or 61 percent, of these incidents, accounting for 70 percent of all deaths.
I exclude from the data all terrorist incidents that occurred in Iraq after the American invasion, and I consider attacks on occupying military forces anywhere to be guerilla resistance, not terrorism. I also use a restrictive definition of “Islamist” and classify attacks by Chechen separatists as ethnonational rather than Islamist terrorism. In other words, even when we define both “terrorism” and “Islamist” restrictively, thereby limiting the number of incidents and casualties that can be blamed on Islamists, Islamists come out as the prime culprits.
So, all that would seem to suggest Islam is more violent, right?
Not so. Rewind fifty or a hundred years and it was communists, anarchists, fascists, and others who thought than any means justified their glorious ends. Even now, Islamists are by no means the sole perpetrators. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and Colombia’s “narcoterrorists” blow up civilians and have nothing to do with Islam.
What about violent crime? Here Muslims are way behind the rest of us—and in a good way. Homicide rates in Muslim-majority countries average about two murders per annum per 100,000 people. In non-Muslim countries, the average rate is about 8 per 100,000. Murder rates fluctuate from year to year, but they are consistently low in Muslim societies. The homicide rate in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, is 1 per 100,000—one-fifth the rate of the world’s largest Christian country, the United States. Christian countries live with murder rates that are unknown in the Muslim world. Brazilians and Mexicans are used to murder rates in the 15-25 range; the rate in Venezuela tops 50. Turks, Egyptians, Iranians, and Malaysians live with rates in the 2-4 range. In a good year, Christian South Africa lives with a murder rate of around 30. In a bad year, the rate in Muslim Senegal is one-tenth of that. Anyone who is skeptical of these numbers is invited to walk through minaret-dotted Dakar and steeple-studded Johannesburg at night and compare their experiences in the two cities. For that matter, have a stroll after dark in the low-income areas of Istanbul or Ankara. Then do so in Philadelphia or Oakland.

Full article

Sunday 22 February 2015

Today’s Top 7 Myths About Islamic State


 By Juan Cole
The self-styled ‘Islamic State’ Group (ISIS or ISIL), the Arabic acronym for which is Daesh, is increasingly haunting the nightmares of Western journalists and security analysts.  I keep seeing some assertions about it that strike me as exaggerated or as just incorrect.

1.  It isn’t possible to determine whether Daesh a mainstream Muslim organization, since Muslim practice varies by time and place.  I disagree.  There is a center of gravity to any religion such that observers can tell when something is deviant.  Aum Shinrikyo isn’t your run of the mill Buddhism, though it probably is on the fringes of the Buddhist tradition (it released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway in 1995).  Like Aum Shinrikyo, Daesh is a fringe cult.  There is nothing in formal Islam that would authorize summarily executing 21 Christians. The Qur’an says that Christians are closest in love to the Muslims, and that if they have faith and do good works, Christians need have no fear in the afterlife.  Christians are people of the book and allowed religious freedom by Islamic law from the earliest times.  Muslims haven’t always lived up to this ideal, but Christians were a big part of most Muslim states in the Middle East (in the early Abbasid Empire the Egyptian and Iraqi Christians were the majority).  They obviously weren’t being taken out and beheaded on a regular basis.  They did gradually largely convert to Islam, but we historians don’t find good evidence that they were coerced into it.  Because they paid an extra poll tax, Christians had economic reasons to declare themselves Muslims.

We all know that Kentucky snake handlers are a Christian cult and that snake handling isn’t typical of the Christian tradition.  Why pretend that we can’t judge when modern Muslim movements depart so far from the modern mainstream as to be a cult?

2.  Daesh fighters are pious.  Some may be.  But very large numbers are just criminals who mouth pious slogans.  The volunteers from other countries often have a gang past.  They engage in drug and other smuggling and in human trafficking and delight in mass murder.  They are criminals and sociopaths.  Lots of religious cults authorize criminality.

3.  Massive numbers of fighters have gone to join Daesh since last summer.  Actually, the numbers are quite small proportionally.  British PM David Cameron ominously warned that 400 British Muslim youth had gone off to fight in Syria.  But there are like 3.7 million Muslims in the UK now!  So .000027 percent of the community volunteered.  They are often teens, some are on the lam from petty criminal charges, and many come back disillusioned.  You could get 400 people to believe almost anything.  It isn’t a significant statistic.  Most terrorism in Europe is committed by European separatist groups– only about 3% is by Muslims.  Cameron is just trying to use such rhetoric to avoid being outflanked on his right by the nationalist UKIP.  One of the most active Daesh Twitter feeds turns out to be run by an Indian worker in a grocery chain in Bangalore who lived in his parents’ basement and professed himself unable to volunteer for Syria because of his care giving chores.  Daesh is smoke and mirrors.

4.  Ibrahim Samarra’i’s ‘caliphate’ is widely taken seriously.  No, it isn’t.  It is a laughing matter in Egypt, the largest Arab country.  There are a small band of smugglers and terrorists in Sinai who declared for Samarra’i, but that kind of person used to declare for Usama Bin Laden.  It doesn’t mean anything.  Egypt, with 83 million people, is in the throes of a reaction against political Islam, in favor of nationalism.  It has become a little dangerous to wear a beard, the typical fashion of the Muslim fundamentalist.  Likewise, Tunisia voted in a secular government.

5.  Daesh holds territory in increasing numbers of countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But outside of Syria and Iraq, Daesh is just a brand, not an organization.  A handful of Taliban have switched allegiance to Daesh or have announced that they have.  It has no more than symbolic significance in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  These converts are tiny in number.  They are not significant.  And they were already radicals of some sort.  Daesh has no command and control among them.  Indeed, the self-styled ‘caliph’, Ibrahim Samarrai, was hit by a US air strike and is bed ridden in Raqqah, Syria.  I doubt he is up to command and control. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have a new agreement to roll up the radicals, and Pakistan is aerially bombing them.
Even in Syria and Iraq, Daesh holds territory only because the states have collapsed.  I remember people would do this with al-Qaeda, saying it had branches in 64 countries.  But for the most part it was 4 guys in each of those countries.  This kind of octopus imagery is taken advantage of by Daesh to make itself seem important, but we shouldn’t fall for it.

6.  Only US ground troops can defeat Daesh and the USA must commit to a third Iraq War.  The US had 150,000 troops or so in Iraq for 8 1/2 years!  But they left the country a mess.  Why in the world would anybody assume that another round of US military occupation of Iraq would work, given the disaster that was the last one?  A whole civil war was fought between Sunnis and Shiites that displaced a million people and left 3000 civilians dead a month in 2006-2007, right under the noses of US commanders.
In fact, US air power can halt Daesh expansion into Kurdistan or Baghdad.  US air power was crucial to the Kurdish defense of Kobane in northern Syria.  It helped the Peshmerga paramilitary of Iraqi Kurdistan take back Mt. Sinjar.  It helped an Iraqi army unit take back the refinery town of Beiji.  The US ought to to have to be there at all.  But if Washington has to intervene, it can contain the threat from the air.  Politicians should just stop promising to extirpate the group.  Brands can’t be destroyed, and Daesh is just a brand for the most part.

7.  Daesh is said to have 9 million subjects.  I don’t understand where this number comes from.  They have Raqqah Province in Syria, which had 800,000 people before the civil war.  But the north of Raqqah is heavily Kurdish and some 300,000 Kurds fled from there to Turkey.  Some have now come back to Kobane.  But likely at most Daesh has 500,000 subjects there.  Their other holdings in Syria are sparsely populated.  I figure Iraq’s population at about 32 million and Sunnis there at 17%, i.e. 5.5 million or so. You have to subtract the million or more Sunnis who live in Baghdad and Samarra, which Daesh does not control.  Although most of the rest Sunni Iraq has fallen to Daesh, very large numbers of Sunnis have fled from them.  Thus, of Mosul’s 2 million, 500,000 voted with their feet last summer when Daesh came in.  Given the massive numbers of refugees from Daesh territory, and given that they don’t have Baghdad, I’d be surprised if over all they have more than about 3-4 million people living under them.  And this is all likely temporary.  Plans are being made to kick them right back out of Mosul.

Wednesday 18 February 2015

‘We record all the killing of women by men. You see a pattern’

 Mumtahina Jannat.


Strangled in her east London home
Mumtahina Jannat was killed by her abusive husband, Abdul Kadir, on 5 July 2011. Kadir, 49, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, to serve a minimum of 17 years.
Jannat, known as Ruma, was 16 when she married the wealthy Kadir in Bangladesh, but from their wedding night until her death she suffered near continual abuse. They moved to the UK in 2002. “She had such a sweet demeanour. She wanted to be surrounded by books,” said Onjali Rauf, Jannat’s niece.
Kadir became infuriated by her independence, and Jannat confided to her family that he had drugged, beaten and raped her. She was forced to give up a college course and driving lessons. Shortly after their second child was born, Kadir kicked her in the stomach after a caesarean section, causing the stitches to open up.
Struggling with pressures of “family honour”, she endured abuse for years, but when he turned his violence towards her children, she sought help. and fled to a refuge in 2005. With an injunction in place, she tried to build a new life, “She was so proud to get her citizenship certificate in the UK, and felt it was her first step towards becoming an educated woman,” said Rauf. But Kadir did not let go, and a three-year battle over his contact with the children wore Jannat down. Every time she made a renewed effort to break free, he would threaten her family or use the children to get back into her life.
In an attempt to rid herself of Kadir, Jannat applied for sole custody of the children. She told the judge: “I’m scared he will kill me.” The judge said she was being silly. “Ruma gave up then: she just lost hope,” said Rauf.
Kadir was able to force his way back into her home. The abuse continued, and in early 2011 Jannat made her final bid for freedom, telling him he couldn’t return. Two days later she was seen dropping her daughter off at school. An hour and a half later Kadir rang his brother to say: “I’m in trouble.” Jannat had been strangled with her own scarf.
Kadir denied murder, saying the death had been accidental. A jury took less than an hour to return a guilty verdict.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Palestinian child prodigy becomes doctor at age 20

 Palestinian child prodigy becomes doctor at age 20
 Iqbal Al Assaad was not just a prodigy as a child, she was a prodigy with a dream - to become a doctor and help the Palestinian relatives she visited in refugee camps while she was growing up in Lebanon.
She graduated from high school, top of her class, at the age of 12. Already, she had mastered the biochemistry and mathematics she would need for medical school.
By the age of 13, Iqbal had not only learnt to drive, she had caught the eye of Lebanon's education minister, who helped her to secure a medical scholarship in Qatar.
And this year, at 20, she became not only the youngest ever medical graduate from Cornell University's Qatar branch, but possibly the youngest Arab doctor ever.
"Since day one, Iqbal stood out as a very mature and professional student despite her age and experience," says one of her professors at Cornell, Dr Imad Makki.
"The sky is the limit for Iqbal."
There is just one problem: Iqbal cannot work as a doctor in Lebanon, the country of her birth. "My dream is to come back to do something for the Palestinian refugees in the camps, even by opening a free clinic for them," she says.
"But if you're a Palestinian doctor, you're not allowed to work in public hospitals."
Medicine is among several dozen professions from which Palestinian refugees are still effectively barred.
Although Palestinians in Lebanon were given the right to take clerical and lower-level jobs in 2005 and allowed to work in further professions in 2010, skilled fields such as medicine and law are regulated by professional syndicates. These organisations impose strict restrictions on membership meant to guard jobs for Lebanese nationals.
The syndicates worry that a Palestinian "entrance to the labour market will be overwhelming - so they feel it's about job opportunities for Lebanese nationals", said Lina Hamdan, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese government's Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee. "Officially there is nothing preventing them from practising and working, but the professions are ruled by the syndicates."
Iqbal's story is unique, but her dilemma is increasingly common. The UN Relief Works Agency, UNRWA, estimates the Palestinian population in the country at roughly 450,000, with about 92,000 new Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria since that conflict began in 2011.
For the young Iqbal, it was a lack of health care for Palestinians that touched her most deeply.
She grew up in Bar Elias, a small village in the Bekaa valley, after her parents arrived in Lebanon. She visited relatives in the refugee camps and was struck from a young age by the poverty she found.
Although UNRWA provides primary medical care facilities, it cannot pay for more advanced medical cases, meaning refugees often "face a choice between forgoing essential medical treatment and falling deeply into debt," as the organisation explains on its website.
"It was seeing that refugees don't have any type of medical insurance," Iqbal says. "Only if this person has money and can afford things at the hospital, then he can get the medical care he needs."
With a dream in the back of her mind, Iqbal dedicated herself to education, diving into mathematics and biology.
After she graduated from high school, herconviction impressed Lebanon's education minister Khaled Qabbani, who promised to secure a scholarship. He turned to Qatar Foundation chairwoman Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned.
Qatar welcomed Iqbal on a full scholarship at Weill Cornell Medical College, part of a group of elite branch American campuses in the country's Education City. She had never taken an entrance exam. Nor had she ever lived outside Lebanon. She was at least five years younger than all her peers.
Her voice still evokes the pressure she felt to succeed.
Ms Al Assaad is now on her way to the United States for a residency in paediatrics at the Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the top residencies for her speciality.
She wants to come back to Qatar to work, since the country's education system gave her so much.
Then, she will follow her dream.
"I want to come back the Middle East between Qatar and Lebanon," she says. "I feel it would be the first step" if Lebanon could let refugees work as doctors.
But working in an independent Palestine would be an even better solution. "Palestine," she said, "is always a dream."

Monday 9 February 2015

Khelil Helwa (Hebron is beautiful)

Filmmaker and activist, Yuval Orr, has created a nine minute documentary giving an in-depth view of life in Hebron, a Palestinian city located in the southern West Bank. The film follows a 15-year-old boy, Awni Abu Shamsiya, as he struggles with everyday life in this volatile region.
Hebron is the only Palestinian city with an Israeli settlement within it. Conflicts between Palestinian civilians, Israeli soldiers and Jewish-Israeli settlers happen on a daily basis. There is a long history of violence here, including some of the worst civilian-led massacres committed by both sides since the beginning of the Jewish-Arab conflict.

In a recent report, Israeli soldiers carried out a predawn arrest campaign; arresting eight Palestinians from towns and cities across the West Bank. This included Hebron, where 23-year-old student, Abed Arraouf Ghnimat, was arrested from the town of Surif. While it was reported that an instructor at An-Najah National University and an editor for the online news website, Huna al-quds, were among those arrested, it would seem many of them were youths.
Orr’s film gives a heartbreaking view into the life of one youth in this area. Although only nine minutes long, the film clearly shows the reality of life in Hebron through the eyes of a teenage Palestinian in a way that leaves the viewer open to come to their own conclusions.

Where Are Pakistan’s Female Muftis And Islamic Scholars?

 Supporters of the Pakistani religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami attend a rally to condemn the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo for publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
“I have a problem. My husband said ‘talaaq’ (divorce) to me thrice in one sitting. Everyone says the divorce is final now although he revoked his decision within hours. I have too much at stake here, and want to stay in this marriage. I have heard that the words uttered thrice in the same sitting count as one according to some Muslim jurists. What do you say?”
These were the words of a desperate woman aged 31, and the query was directed to a female Islamic preacher.
While the preacher explained basics to her, the disclaimer at the end was: “To have a legitimate version, I would suggest you ask a Mufti.”
The girl was puzzled. This female preacher had the required knowledge and had studied Islamic Sciences in depth. Why could she not confirm it?
“Because I am not a mufti. No woman in Pakistan is. I am not certified to give you this answer. You will have to consult a male scholar.”
And so it is. In a country that presently has close to 250,000 female students studying Islamic sciences across the country, not one female mufti (an expert expounder of Islamic jurisprudence) is to be found in Pakistan. With the exception of Dr. Farhat Hashmi, even a thorough internet search will prove exhausting and futile if you try and search for mainstream Islamic scholars from Pakistan. Neighbouring India, with one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, is stuck in the same lurch.
While women study, preach and uphold religious teachings and values, there is an unsaid line which they do not cross. Beyond that line is a man’s domain. In the hierarchy of serious religious scholarship and clergy, women remain submissive and at best supplementary in terms of Islamic intellectual thought. Thus, the narrative that has evolved over the centuries sorely lacks the female voice, not just in South Asia but world over. Islamic female scholars, both in the mainstream and esoteric circles, and both from a faith-based and a critical scholarship premise, have risen again. The mark has been made, but only in the upper tier of Muslim cultures. The change remains to trickle down.
“In our culture, the woman remains dependent on the man, even the educated and self-reliant ones. Traditional Islamic scholars do not want this to change. If women start learning and studying at the level of men, many existing ideological ideas will be questioned. Most traditional scholars want to stay in a state of permanent utopia. Two things are at play here: patriarchy and a monopoly over the corridors of the power that comes as an advantage of religious leadership,” says Ibrahim Qazi, a worker of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), one of Pakistan’s strongest right wing political parties.
JI, while seen as a hardliner group, has to its credit bringing the signature face-covered veiled women both into the political and evangelism arenas.
Though female voices have always been part of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition, they are not as audible as men’s voices. When asked the possible reason for this, Aurangzeb Haneef, scholar and teacher of Islamic Studies, feels that religion discouraging women is not one of them.
“In the formative and classical period, as well as going on into the medieval period, women’s contribution to the intellectual corpus is palpable. This is especially true for transmission of Hadith,” he says.
Haneef feels that in the modern period, the field has become increasingly dominated by men.
“While religious organizations such as JI have women representation, their organizational structures are not conducive to supporting women’s scholarship independent of men.”
Allowing women to enter this sphere could possibly alter gender-based power dynamics in Muslim societies. A case in point would be Laleh Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American author who is the first American woman to translate the Quran into English. The most debated in all of her translation is her interpretation of a verse of the Quran, where Bakhtiar translated the verse as “husbands should go away,” instead of the husband being allowed to hit the wife mildly if she crosses all limits (including committing infidelity in the opinion of many).
“I believe that it was because I was looking at the verses from a female perspective,” says Bakhtiar, in her answer to Al Jazeera.
While Dr Hashmi may not agree with some of the non-traditional interpretations of Bakhtiar and others, she has to her credit brought a surge of Pakistani women from all strata of society into the fold of deliberated Islamic study. The liberals in Pakistan often see Dr Hashmi as a strict hardliner. Yet, she has also had to face opposition from more strict and traditional schools of thought.
“It is sad that there is such a dearth of Islamic scholars who are women. It is very important that women come into this field and invest their time into research in Islamic Studies. In fact, there is nothing against a woman becoming a Muftiah,” says Dr Hashmi.
Her expertise is Hadith Sciences, and in this she is inspired by historical accounts of Muhaddithat (female hadith narrators and scholars). One of the recent literary works on the subject is by Akram Nadwi who has compiled a biographical dictionary called “Al-Muhaddithat: The women scholars in Islam.” As he began his research, he hoped to find 20 to 30, but ended up finding more than 8000 of them.
“It is easier to perpetuate male authority and to cite men (even on ‘women’s issues’) than to acknowledge women’s voices, particularly where women do not have the same easily recognizable credentials or public profiles as their male counterparts,” says Kecia Ali, Associate Professor of Religion at Boston University. “One way to begin to chip away at this disproportionate emphasis on male scholarship is to bring women’s voices and contributions to the fore on many issues, not just those concerning women.”
But Haneef says that women have a natural advantage when it comes to such issues.
“Women can think, understand, and deliberate better on issues pertaining to women and gender relations.”
The role of women as mothers and nurturers makes them safe choices, for teaching and preaching, seen as lighter ‘fluff’ work, but intensive research and redefining discourse is seen as too hardcore for the gentler sex. This is in sharp contrast with women at the time of the Prophet (pbuh), who were nurturers and home-makers, as well as scholars. One of the most prominent Islamic jurists of her time was his wife Umm Salama, known for her fatawa. Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman Pakistan Ulema Council, says that these examples must be followed.
“Muslims have inherited a big chunk of their knowledge of religion from these honoured women. Even today, women must play their role. But it is not necessarily patriarchy at work that is hindering this process. If women, themselves, decide to forge ahead in this field, no obstacle will stop them,” says Ashrafi.
One such woman is Emaan Asif, a business graduate who gave up her professional career by choice, and is currently studying to become an ‘Aalima, a degree in Islamic sciences awarded by traditional schools. Yet, Emaan has no scholarly ambitions for doing this. Her reason is simply to learn more about her faith and “become a better Muslim”. Her husband, Asif Misbah, supports her through the demands of this period of painstaking extensive study.
He feels one must venture into this field “as long as it does not compromise any fundamental life-role or leads to sharia non-compliance in any aspect, for both men and women.”
According to Haneef, the female voice is necessary and her perspective essential in the Islamic narrative.
“By virtue of her position, ‘Ayesha added aspects of the Prophet’s (pbuh) life to the Hadith corpus that were humane, personal, and intimate and might have been lost,” he says, citing the Prophet’s (pbuh) wife as an example.
While the change may have begun with a resurgence of women being seen in the area of Islamic scholarship, “it will be a long and discontinuous process,” says Ali. “But like anything worth doing, one must try.”
Bakhtiar is hopeful and feels that change takes time.
“We have to be patient.”