Thursday 28 May 2015

How Morocco's Islamic Women Preachers Are Leading A Social Revolution

Girls are "like a timebomb ready to explode and ruin the family's reputation," the Moroccan jewelry trader tells his customer as she admires a display of necklaces.

The solution is to "get rid of this bomb" by marrying your daughters off as soon as you can, he explains.

His customer, Hannane, replies firmly that Islam does not advocate child marriage and that women can also play an important role outside the home.

Hannane is one of a new generation of female religious leaders, known as morchidat -- part of a quiet social revolution in the North African country.

Their groundbreaking work is the subject of a British film, "Casablanca Calling," which will be showcased on Tuesday night at an international conference on child marriage in Morocco's famous port city.

The morchidat were introduced in 2006, partly in an attempt to counter Islamist radicalism following suicide bombings that rocked Casablanca in 2003.

The hope is that these female spiritual leaders can both encourage a more tolerant Islam and improve the position of girls and women in Moroccan society.

"The morchidat are a rare experiment in the Muslim world," the film's Moroccan associate producer Merieme Addou told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"It's the first time in a Muslim country that a religious role has been given to a woman."

The morchidat give guidance to women and young people in mosques, schools, orphanages, hospitals, prisons and rural villages.

But Addou says they have their work cut out as they try to overcome the many problems facing Moroccan society.

"So many cultural traditions -- from early marriage to women's education -- have become confused with religious teaching and it is challenge to separate them in people's minds," she adds.


Wednesday 27 May 2015

Reza Aslan: It’s not God’s fault if you use religion to justify hate — you’re just a bigot

People don’t learn their values from religious teachings, according to Reza Aslan. During an appearance Wednesday night on The Daily Show, the religious scholar argued the situation was reversed — people infused scripture with their own personal values.
“There is obviously a serious problem with religious violence, and particularly with Islam and in the Middle East,” he remarked. “But if you’re going to blame religion for violence in the name of religion, then you have to credit religion for every act of compassion in the name of religion, you have to credit religion for every act of love in the name of religion, and that’s not what people usually think. They focus very much on the negative.”
“Part of the problem is that there is this misconception that people derive their values from their scriptures,” Aslan added. “The truth is it is more often the case that people insert their values into their scriptures. I mean, otherwise, every Christian who read the Bible would read it exactly the same way. In this country, not 200 years ago, both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their viewpoints, they used the same verses to do so. That’s the thing about scripture, it’s power comes from its malleability. You can read it in any way you want to.”
“If you are a violent misogynist, you will find plenty in the Koran or in the Bible to justify your viewpoint. If you’re a peaceful feminist, you will find just as much in those scriptures to justify your viewpoint.”
“What if you’re a Jew who loves a bacon egg sandwich?” host Jon Stewart interjected.
“I would recommend the Book of Mormon,” Aslan jokingly replied. “The point is that without interpretation scripture is just words on a page, it requires somebody to read it, to encounter it for it to have any kind of meaning, and obviously in that transaction you are bringing yourself, your views, your politics, your social ideas into the text. How you read scripture has everything to do with who you are. God did not make you a bigot, you’re just a bigot.”
In the extended portion of the interview uploaded online, Aslan said trying to completely divorce religion from violence was also wrong.
“We need to resist saying ISIS has nothing to do with Islam or that violence in the name of religion has nothing to do with religion. Of course it has to do with religion. If ISIS calls itself Muslim, we should probably take them seriously,” he said.
“I’m OK with you saying ISIS is Muslim as long as you realize that the tens of thousands of people that they kill are also Muslim, and the tens of thousands of people fighting them are also Muslims. So if ISIS is Muslim, and their victims are Muslim, and the people fighting them are Muslim — that doesn’t really say anything all that interesting about Islam itself.”

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Women scholars in Egypt reflect on the intersection of Islam and feminism


 When Omaima Abu-Bakr was a teenager in Egypt, she wore miniskirts and high heels — in line with the fashion of the time. But she says the freedom in fashion didn’t translate to equity in education or work or family life.
Now a professor at Cairo University and co-founder of The Women and Memory Forum, a women's rights NGO, she dresses much more modestly, including wearing a headscarf. But she says women in Egypt actually have more rights now than they did when she was young. And she believes that with a bit of re-interpretation of classic texts, Islam and feminism can work hand-in-hand.
“We’re correcting [and] we’re reforming past, patriarchal interpretations of the religion,” she says.
Most of the conflicts between Islam and modern women's rights she attributes to culture, rather than the actual religion. She sees Islam as a dynamic religion, adaptable to the times.
In her research, she digs into the Quran and other sources of Sharia law, analyzing from what she calls a perspective of “equality and justice.”
“I still am, day in and day out, trying to deal with these conflicting orders or diversions to discourses. Trying to deal with them on a personal level because I have a personal stake,” she says. “This is part of my self-perception. I’m a practicing Muslim person and a feminist too,” she says.
Abu-Bakr represents one of several perspectives on how observant Muslim women can merge their religious beliefs with their feminist values.
Amna Nosseir is also exploring this path. She teaches Islamic philosophy and comparative religion in the women’s section at Al-Azhar University. She also served as the dean of the section for a decade before she "quasi-retired” to focus on teaching and advocating for a stronger role for women at the government-affiliated religious institution and in society in general.

Monday 25 May 2015

Here are 6 crazy things Israel has done to maintain racial purity

Israel bills itself as the Middle East’s only democracy, but it is increasingly clear that this label depends a lot on how you define the Middle East, and how you define democracy. Perhaps the sharpest dissonance between the description of Israel as a liberal democracy and its actual policies is the drive for racial purity.
Israel insists on being the historic homeland for the world’s Jews, something few would disagree with. But it also insists on being a Jewish-majority country, at all costs. In order to maintain its Jewish majority, it must demonize non-Jews, particularly Muslims and Christian Arabs, as “demographic threats.”
Here are six crazy things the Israeli government or the Israeli people have done to maintain this racial makeup.
1. No-Sex Contracts: In 2003, an Israeli company importing Chinese workers required them to sign a contract agreeing not to marry or have sex with any Israelis. No legal action was taken against the company, as Israel has no laws protecting workers from such demands.
2. Birth Control Without Consent: For years, the Israeli government was injecting Ethiopian Jewish immigrants with birth control, “often without their knowledge or consent.” When the practice was exposed in 2013, it was ordered to be halted.
3. Deporting Non-Jews: Anyone in the world with Jewish lineage can move to Israel and claim citizenship. But if you’re not Jewish, things can be dicey. Many refugees from African conflicts have fled to Israel to claim asylum. Israel has locked many of them into massive camps in the desert. It has granted asylum to 0.07% of those seeking it, deporting many others. NPR recently did a story on some refugees who were deported, only to be slain by ISIS.
4. Stripping Palestinians of Land Rights: The Israeli Supreme Court recently laid out two decisions essentially allowing Israel the right to demolish Palestinian communities within Israel itself—not the Occupied Territories—to clear land for Jewish Israelis.
5. Discriminatory Marriage Laws: In the United States, marriage is one of the ways a spouse can gain legal entry through a green card and citizenship. Israel prohibits its citizens from marrying Palestinians in the territories, by refusing to recognize their spouses as citizens. Israel also has no civil marriage law, leaving the institution in the hands of religious clerics who work to prevent interracial marriage.
6. Right Of Return, For Jews Only: The most systematic policy designed to maintain a Jewish majority is the Law of Return. Under this law, Jews can come to Israel from anywhere in the world and claim citizenship, but Palestinians expelled after various wars from homes that were in Israel cannot. The double standard was expressed by Ghada Karmi and Ellen Siegel, a Palestinian woman and a Jewish woman who met in London in the early 1970s. They have posed multiple times with these signs over the years:

These laws, norms, and practices form a matrix with one goal: to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel. (In the case of the birth control given to Ethiopian Jews, it was also an example of trying to maintain a certain type of Jewish majority.)

Friday 22 May 2015

American Muslims Perfectly Respond To Terribly Racist Facebook Comments

In late April, a mosque in Tampa Bay, Florida made national news after a fire destroyed the building’s attached daycare center. Though the daycare completely burned down, all 60 children and the staff managed to escape unharmed.
But when a local news station posted the story on Facebook, dozens of hateful Islamophobes took to the comment section to express their dissatisfaction with the situation’s fortunate outcome.
To bring the idiocy of these ignorant remarks to light, activist groupPeace House asked several local Muslims to read the comments on camera, and the reactions were compiled into a video.
Because many of the offensive comments were extremely stupid, the participants, apparently amused, mostly made fun of the commenters and looked for the humor in the hatred.
Though I appreciate the participants’ refusal to validate the commenters’ insults by taking them seriously, I personally have a hard time finding the video funny: The comments are truly horrifying.
Still, you have to give these guys and gals credit for turning the tables on the ignorant commenters; it’s something I personally would probably not be able to do.

Thursday 21 May 2015


Personally I think feminism is about people being able to make choices for themselves without getting judged. You want to wear the veil? Fine! You want to wear short skirts? That’s fine too! It’s not up to me to go up to people and tell them what is wrong and what is right. The only person I have to control is myself. Obviously feminism goes way further than just the way you dress. But the most important thing is that there are equal human rights for men and women. These aren’t crazy ideas right? Yet there are always people who judge others for being feminists. Some Muslim men think I’m just a little girl whining because I don’t want to do the dishes. Others think I am some kind of Ayaan Hirsi Ali supporter. But there are also some non-Muslim people who have these stereotypes that really bother me. Ideas such as having to free me from my beliefs because I am oppressed. Listen to me, we are far from oppressed. Islam was the first religion but also the first system to give women the right to have education, the right to vote, etc. “Yeah but the Quran says-..” Excuse me but have you actually read the Quran? Have you actually put everything in its context or are you just trying to make your point and make me look like I’m oppressed?
Being a Muslim and a feminist is possible and here I am to prove that. I don’t feel any connection towards Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who seems to only bash Islam and I don’t feel any connection to Femen either who seem to only want to ‘free’ women by tearing their clothes off. I do feel a connection to women who stand up for each other, who support each other whatever their belief or background might be. That’s what I believe in.
What you’ve just read was about me and my experiences, but I didn’t want this to revolve around me only. There are some other people who wanted to share their ideas and experiences. These people are Muslims with different backgrounds, from different countries, who want to show you that being Muslim and a feminist is perfectly possible.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Smokers’ Corner: Once upon a Saudi king

 Illustration by Abro
 My hero :)
A few years ago while attending a media conference in Dubai, I had an interesting conversation with a delegate from Egypt.
He was a graduate of a university in Riyadh where he had enrolled in the late 1960s after escaping the rule of Gamal Abel Nasser in Egypt.
In Riyadh he became an ardent supporter of Saudi monarch, Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (aka Shah Faisal).
He told me: ‘Had Faisal not been killed (in 1975), Saudi Arabia would have been a very different country than what it became and what it is today …’
But the historical verdict on Faisal largely remains somewhat schizophrenic.

A peek into what Saudi Arabia might have been if King Faisal was still alive

Many who hail him as a dynamic force who attempted to tenaciously modernise a ‘backward tribal society,’ also accuse him (in the same breath) of being the original initiator of the controversial practice of dishing out ‘Petro-Dollars’ across the Muslim world to promote the highly intransigent strand of the Muslim faith that is prevalent in Saudi Arabia.
This view is highlighted by leading documentary film-maker, Adam Curtis, in his recent documentary (on Afghanistan), Bitter Lake (BBC).
Curtis suggests that Faisal’s legacy cuts both ways. On the one hand it set the pace that turned Saudi Arabia into becoming an extremely rich and highly influential monarchy and state, while on the other hand it saw the country promoting an ideology that eventually mutated and triggered various faith-oriented fissures in the Muslim world.
But did Faisal know what he was unleashing?
Farzana Moon in her book, No Islam But Islam, explains how Faisal’s ascension to the Saudi throne (in March 1964) was not a smooth, seamless event. He was Prime Minister during the regime of King Saud bin Abdulaziz (who had been on the throne since 1953).
Though both men belonged to the same family (the Ibn Saud), Faisal was often at loggerheads with the King.
The entry on Faisal in Encyclopaedia of the Orient suggests that he was often critical of Saud’s regime, accusing it of squandering the wealth that had begun to pour in from Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves.
According to American professor of political science and author, R. Hrair Deckmejien (in his 1994 book Islam in Revolution), the Ibn Saud family had risen to power in the 1920s with the help of armed militias made up of highly conservative Bedouins called the Ikhwan.
After establishing itself as the ruling dynasty in the region, the Ibn Saud (on the insistence of the Ikhwan) agreed to implement hidebound religious dictates. However, according to Robert Lacey’s account of Saudi history (Inside the Kingdom), Ibn Saud (in 1930) began to eliminate and disband the militias (because they had turned against the King).
Faisal was made Crown Prince when his brother King Saud came to the throne in 1953. James Wynbrant in A Brief History of Saudi Arabia maintains that when (in 1958) Faisal was also made prime minister, he quietly cultivated relations with the powerful official clergy of the country.
This helped him gain their trust, enough to get them to back him when he finally demanded that he be made regent.
Michael G. Roskin and James J. Coyle in their detailed study, ‘Politics of the Middle East: Culture & Conflicts’ describe how King Saud refused to budge, but as the Royal Guards loyal to Saud surrounded Faisal’s residence, Faisal (as Prime Minister) ordered the Saudi National Guard to surround the King’s palace.
Consequently the ulema issued a fatwa in Faisal’s favour, and he became the King. Saud was sent into exile to Greece.
Faisal became the king during a period when populist left-leaning ideologies like Ba’ath Socialism, Arab Nationalism and Islamic Socialism had begun to sweep across numerous Muslim countries.
Middle-East expert, James P. Jankowski, in his book Nasser’s Egypt (2002) suggests that the Saudi monarchy’s main opponents at the time were Egyptian ruler, Gamal Abel Nasser, and the Ba’ath Socialists in Iraq and Syria.
Nasser was a passionate and progressive Arab Nationalist and a popular leader in the Muslim world.
Across the 1960s, so-called ‘Nasserism’ would go on to inspire youthful uprisings in Yemen, Sudan, and Libya and even in Pakistan; whereas progressive regimes had emerged in Algeria and Tunisia.
The Muslim world was awash with leftist ideas that fused socialism with Islamic ideals of egalitarianism. These ideas were also vehemently critical of Arab monarchies, Israel and the United States.
In her book on the Saudi monarchy, Professor Sherifa Zuhur explains how Faisal actually tried to imitate this sense of populism by asking the Saudis to treat him as their servant instead of King.
He began to organise and streamline the country’s oil wealth to set up a state welfare system that is still in place in Saudi Arabia today.
He strengthened his country’s relationship with the United States and offered to help it fight its Cold War against the Soviet Union.
To Faisal, the ‘dangerous’ populist ideas and movements that were erupting in the Muslim world at the time were being instigated and bolstered by the Soviets.
To counter the spread and influence of Nasserism in Saudi youth, Faisal tried to rapidly modernise Saudi Arabia. He introduced television, encouraged modern education and allowed Saudi women to work alongside men in offices.
Mordechai Abir, in his 1987 essay, ‘The Consolidation of the Ruling Class and the New Elites in Saudi Arabia’ explains that (consequently), many of the powerful ulema who had supported Faisal in his bid to gain power, eventually turned against him.
According to Abir, they accused Faisal of introducing ‘alien ideas’ and ‘corrupting Saudi culture and society.’ As a result, Faisal kept them at an arm’s length and blocked their entry into the higher echelons of his regime.
In 1966 a group of men attacked Saudi Arabia’s first TV station, and one of the attackers was killed by security guards. The dead man was actually a distant cousin of the King. A decade later, the cousin’s younger brother would return to haunt Faisal.
Nasser died in 1970 and Faisal stepped up his efforts to replace Nasser as the Arab world’s main leader.
To do this, Faisal also began to overtly oppose Israel. He supported Egypt and Syria in their 1973 war against Israel and then shocked the world by dramatically increasing the price of Saudi oil to weaken the economies of the United States and those Western countries that had backed Israel.
Faisal’s move finally saw him becoming one of the most powerful Arab monarchs and a popular leader in the Muslim world. No other Saudi monarch before or after him has been able to match the kind of populist appeal and fame that Faisal finally cultivated for himself.
To retain this appeal, Faisal began to fund various movements both on the left and the right. For example, he bankrolled various left-wing Palestinian outfits fighting against Israel, and on the right, bolstered radical right-wing groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood who were opposed to Nasserism and Ba’ath Socialism.
He also began to pump in money into the coffers of the poorer Muslim countries as long as they espoused ideals dear to Faisal’s Saudi Arabia.
But, alas, in 1975 Faisal was assassinated by the brother of the man that the security forces had killed during the 1966 Saudi TV station attack.
It was a case of revenge, but some theories suggested that the Israelis had him killed, while others pointed the finger at the many powerful Saudi conservatives who had been sidelined by Faisal.
Faisal was succeeded by his brother Khalid who at once slowed down Faisal’s modernisation project and toned down his foreign and internal policies.
But Faisal’s demise also gave the ultra-conservatives the space to rebound.
In 1979, dozens of armed Saudi fanatics stormed the Holy Mosque in Makkah. According to author Yaroslav Trofimov (in Siege of Mecca), the uprising was an expression of repressed anger among Saudi conservatives against Faisal’s modernisation policies.
The uprising was crushed by Khalid, but it made future Saudi monarchs give a lot more space to the conservatives, slow down modernisation and channel the radicals by exporting their energy and ideas out of the Kingdom and into Muslim lands that were recipients of large Saudi economic hand-outs.
But by then Nasserism was dead, Ba’ath Socialism was receding and the Soviet Union was on the brink of collapse.
So the exported ideas and energies were now being disseminated into a tumultuous vacuum. That is why they violently transfigured and became almost entirely nihilistic, further tarnishing the legacy of perhaps the most unique Saudi monarch ever.

Thursday 14 May 2015

'Fire at every person you see': Israeli soldiers reveal they were ordered to shoot to kill in Gaza – even if the targets may have been civilians

 International critics of Israeli tactics have argued the country responded disproportionately (Breaking the Silence)

One solider, a First Sergeant in the IDF’s engineering unit who was sent to Gaza City, said: “The briefing on rules of engagement was [to open fire at], ‘Anything you think you should [open fire at]… Anyone you spot that you can be positive is not the IDF.’ The only emphasis regarding rules of engagement was to make sure you weren’t firing at IDF forces, but other than that, ‘Any person you see.’ From the very start they told us, ‘Shoot to kill.’ As far as the IDF was concerned, there wasn’t supposed to be any civilian population there.”
The Israeli air force dropped thousands of leaflets on areas it was preparing to attack, but according to the testimonies, it was assumed that once these leaflets had been distributed, anyone left would be from Hamas, or one of the other militant groups that took part in the war.
Another first sergeant, from an infantry division operating northern Gaza, said that he was told that, “if it looks like a man, shoot. It was simple: You’re in a motherf***ing combat zone. A few hours before you went in the whole area was bombed, if there’s anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot that person.”