Monday 24 May 2021

Dalia Mogahead: Advocating for Palestine


People who don’t visibly advocate for Palestinian rights have no idea the way anyone who does is quite literally *terrorized*. I have never spoken about this in public, mostly because I know real activists for Palestinian rights have it so much worse. But I thought I would share part of my story just to illustrate the way speech about Palestinian humanity is suppressed, silenced and sanctioned. 

The first time I experienced this reality I was 17 years old, a freshman in college, and the only engineering major on the staff of my university newspaper. I wrote a *response* to a long article by a student who had spent the summer in the IDF and recounted their experience with the “faceless soldiers who were defending the only democracy in the Middle East.” The article had countless factual errors about the history of the occupation, as well as the current (at the time) reality. I did a point by point rebuttal and my editor said it was a masterpiece. He ran the piece prominently. 

I started getting hate mail. I was called a terrorist whore. I was called a killer of Israeli children. The responses to my article poured in in a seemingly coordinated campaign. They were all published in my paper’s opposition newspaper. Like 5 a day! About my article. For at least two or three weeks. For about a month I was the most famous person on my campus of 40,000 students. The irony was that the onslaught backfired.  Alot of my professors had not read my article, but saw the avalanche of responses, which lead them to read it, and told me it was very persuasive. 

Then my editor started getting calls. Not from students or faculty, but from big donors and advertisers warning him to issue a recant of the article or apology or they would pull their funding and ads, blackmailing a 20 year old with literal bankruptcy of his college paper if he didn’t make sure the opinion section had the proper views about Palestine. 

What happened? I was 17 and alone and terrified. My parents were terrified for me (they worked at the same university). I stopped writing about Palestine. I stopped writing about anything for months despite my editor begging me to come back. To my amazement and eternal gratitude, instead of apologizing, he published a piece exposing the threats he was getting. He told me later he had never seen or experienced that kind of bullying and censorship about anything he had ever worked on.  
This is a very small window into one tiny incident where the stakes were so low. Imagine what it looks like when you’re a member of Congress, a writer for a major newspaper, or anyone else with influence.
We simply are not able to speak freely about Palestine in this country without facing very real negative consequences. Our media has a documented and severe bias.


Tuesday 18 May 2021

What can you do? (in the US) by Suhaib Webb


Here are six things we can do to support Palestinians: 

1. Contact your local representative and asked for his/her position on HR. 2590. 2.

 Ask your local representative to sanction Israel for crimes again humanity - ethnic cleansing, displacement, and the destruction of property and lives. If your representative claims ignorance, be prepared to share resources American Muslims for Palestine is an important resource you can use.

 3. Support relief efforts that provide Palestinians with the support they need to shoulder this incredible challenge. 

 4. Reach out to Palestinians and offer your platform for them to use and share their narrative. Familiarize yourself with the language they prefer, and when possible, step back and amplify their voices. They do not need that; they are doing excellent, but the louder the better, inshallah. 

5. Ask interfaith partners to take a moral stance on the issue. For years, interfaith "partners" across the spectrum have asked Muslims in American to explain terrorism or denounce violence. Don't be scared to make an ask. It will reveal who your true friends are. 

6. Don't blame yourself or the umma for these crimes. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم stated, "What I have ordered you to do, do it as best you can." The real crime falls on Muslim "leadership," those who have political power. We do not; t is on them. Our burden is to work for justice within our capacity. The Muslim umma is good; Muslim governments, as are most governments, are out for something else: Profits, instead of Prophets. We pray for people across the globe from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, Muslims are being killed, displaced, and struggling for their humanity. Allah bless us to be strong, just, and sincere! All of these are Islamic issues, and with each demand, we try our best to support and help people harmed by power.

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Muslim women are reviving tradition of public Quran recitation


Learning to become a qari (or qari’ah for females), a skilled reciter of the Quran, the holy book for Muslims, is not easy. It takes years or even decades of practice and discipline to master proper recitation and pronunciation known as tajweed.

For Madinah Javed, 25, a law graduate and activist from Glasgow, Scotland, her journey to become a qari’ah began from a young age when her mother would attend tajweed classes while they were living in Qatar. As a toddler, she would sit in her classes and absorb what she was hearing.

Some two decades of training later, the St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow invited Javed in 2017 to recite a part of the Quran and share the story of Mary and Jesus as a guest for their Christian service.

The audience was touched by her melodic recitation, and it was a proud moment for Javed. But when she posted the video of her recitation online, she did not expect to be met with a huge backlash from the far-right worldwide.

For months she was the target of hate messages and threats, so much so that she wanted to disappear and change her name. The police had her phone number registered, so that if she called they would arrive immediately.

Through the entire ordeal, the Muslim community remained silent, as women are usually shunned in many communities in the United Kingdom when they recite the Quran publicly.

It was something that never made sense to Javed as she believed the focus should be on the meaning of the recitation, instead of the reciter’s gender, colour or dress.

But later, Javed realised there was a silver lining after all.

After viewing her recitation online, many Muslim women wrote to Javed, saying they were inspired as it was the first time in their lives they heard a woman recite the Quran in public.

Madinah Javed recites the Quran at a mosque [Courtesy of Madinah Javed]
In many Muslim-majority countries such as Algeria, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, it is common for women to recite the Quran in public spaces for both men and women to hear.

But in some Muslim communities in the West, some hold the opinion that women cannot recite for audiences that include men, as they see the woman’s voice as “awrah”, as part of that which should be covered.

Noticing it was mostly men posting their recitations online on this side of the world, Javed launched her #FemaleReciters campaign that year, aiming to encourage Muslim girls and women to share their recitations online, to raise awareness and help revive the sacred tradition of Quran recitation.

Searching the hashtag on Twitter, Instagram or TikTok now reveals a collection of Quran recitations by women and girls around the world, which was previously unavailable.

“I focused all of my energy and passion into creating something beautiful. I realised there were no other female reciters here and that I had broken a glass ceiling,” Javed told Al Jazeera.

“So my activism with Female Reciters began to rehabilitate female Quran recitation. And this beautiful community of female reciters began online so naturally and my vision was that it would be a place for all women to share and belong in order to revive our sacred tradition together as sisters.”

Reciting the Quran is an important aspect in Islam, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, but even on Quran apps there have been no female reciters featured.

So in 2015, Jerusha Tanner Rhodes, associate professor of Islam and interreligious engagement at the New York-based Union Theological Seminary, launched an online petition called #Addafemalereciter calling on QuranExplorer to add female reciters to its app and website.

Six years later there is only one app, the android QAT that is known to have included a female reciter, the renowned Indonesian qari’ah Maria Ulfa.

Aside from the difference in opinion, a second reason why Quran apps have not added female voices is because there are few female recitations publicly available and not copyrighted, Tanner Rhodes said.

“There needs to be some concentrated effort to record female reciters and record the full recitation of the Quran,” Tanner Rhodes said. “Because it becomes much harder to say no, when you can say: ‘And here are three reciters’.

“Recitation of the Quran, even if you don’t become a qari is obligatory and Muslims … need to know how to recite some of the Quran. Having a diversity of voice is part of that obligation.”

For Javed, it was not until she visited Bosnia during Ramadan in 2019 that she heard a woman’s recitation emanating from a mosque for the first time in her life.

“I just stopped for a moment to take it in. The Muslim soundtrack is really shown as a male one. How often do we hear a woman reciting Quran, let alone from a mosque?… I was hearing the recitation so loudly and beautiful and clear. It was just amazing,” Javed said.

She noted that 1,400 years ago during the time of Prophet Muhammad, it was normal to hear women reciting the Quran for both men and women. Their recitations – recited beautifully and loudly – would echo on the streets outside for everyone to hear and appreciate.

One of these women was Umm Waraqa, a companion of the prophet and one of the few people who knew the entire Quran by heart. She would teach the Quran to others and her recitations could be heard by those passing her house outside.

Javed’s friend Fazeela Selberg Zaib noted a few years ago that scrolling down the list of Quran chapters on Spotify for several minutes would not yield a single female reciter in the feed.

That is why it was an emotional moment for Javed when she discovered last year on Twitter rare and old recordings from the early 20th century of Egyptian qari’ahs. For the last eight decades, women’s recitations have been banned from broadcasting on radio in Egypt.

“A spiritual lobotomy has taken place over the past century because we should have a whole trove of recordings of women in our history reciting the Quran but there’s a gap there,” Javed said, quoting Zaib.

“It’s part of our tradition. It’s normal… It shouldn’t be an anomaly [in the British and American context].”

Asma Elbadawi from the UK is one of many Muslim women who have posted their recitations online.

She told Al Jazeera her mother taught her how to recite when she was a child and she would enter in many competitions in the Muslim community. She recalled how proud all the mothers were to see their children compete.

“It was something that was seen as a privilege to learn and recite the Quran,” Elbadawi told Al Jazeera.

“For me, I grew up listening to the Quran by women and reciting it as well. For some reason, over the years it became something I didn’t see as often. It was almost like it was forbidden, but it wasn’t. There was this understanding that women don’t recite.

“When women share the recitations of the Quran, it inspires other women to take the time to learn and recite and enjoy the Quran. Because at the end of the day, it’s about enjoying that conversation that you’re having with your creator.”

Tanner Rhodes said in countries such as the United States, things have begun to change as larger Islamic organisations now have women recite at their events.

“For women in particular, learning the Quran is inherently valuable and a beautiful thing to do and committing oneself to learning the practices of recitation, it’s a form of worship. It’s a very valuable thing,” Tanner Rhodes said.

“Reading the Quran is a good thing, and more beautiful ways that people can do that is beneficial.”

‘God’s words are perfect’
The movement has spun various initiatives. Last month, the website Amaliah compiled a playlist of recitations by women worldwide reciting “The Cave”, a special chapter from the Quran that is recommended for Muslims to recite every Friday.

Javed said in places where it is not the norm for female reciters to be listened to, it will take time to make a change. That is why she tries to visit as many communities as possible, speak to people, and raise awareness.

She has given Quran recitations worldwide including at the British Museum and at the Scottish Parliament.

On Monday she will be reciting for the Nightly Quran Recitation, streamed by the Texas-based community organisation Muslim Space.

Javed said she was always taught to love reciting and it is a blessing to be able to do so.

“God’s words are perfect themselves and we’re just trying our best to recite it.”