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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Picture: Saudi Arabia Increases Cultural Events

Saudis visit the 4th Riyadh International Book Fai... Saudis visit the 4th Riyadh International Book Fair in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, March 3, 2009.
3:46 p.m. ET, 3/3/09

Related Story.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

2 Palestinian Women Become Judges in Islamic Court

Palestinian Islamic Law Judge...

Palestinian Islamic Law Judge Khuloud Faqih, works at her office at the Islamic Law Court in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday
Photo: AP

From the Jerusalem Post and the Associated Press - March 2, 2009
Ramallah, West Bank

The Islamic courts were among the last male-only bastions in Palestinian society, where women have been presidential candidates, police officers and even suicide bombers.

Now two stern-looking women in Muslim head scarves and long black robes have smashed through the thick glass ceiling.

Khuloud Faqih, 34, and Asmahan Wuheidi, 31, made history in February when they became the first female Islamic judges in the Palestinian territories.

Across the Arab world, only Sudan has had women judges in Islamic courts, West Bank-based academic experts on Islamic affairs said. Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, all relatively progressive states in the region on women's rights, do not.

"I compare us to other Arab Muslim women, and I think we've done well," said Faqih, wearing a sash in the colors of the Palestinian flag across her robe. "I think I've opened a door for myself and other women."

She spoke between meetings with petitioners in her modest courtroom - an office with a few couches, a desk and a coffee table with plastic flowers.

Muslim courts in the Palestinian Authority rule over family affairs like marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody, relying on Islamic jurisprudence rather than secular rules.

The petitioners did not seem shocked to see a woman in the judge's seat - in this case, an office chair. But they appeared to argue often and loudly with Faqih, in stark contrast to the quiet in a neighboring room where a male judge heard cases from respectful petitioners.

Palestinian feminists have praised the female judges but say the move will not make a dramatic change, because the judges still rely on Islamic laws that ultimately favor men.

"As long as the law is the law, which is difficult to women, I don't think it will change much," said Dima Nashashibi of the Palestinian Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling.

For example, women need a judge to grant a divorce, while men don't need that approval.

But the female judges say they can help their sisters obtain their rights under Islamic law. They say a sense of shame surrounds women speaking to men, especially about intimate family relations.

Wuheidi gave the example of a woman seeking divorce because her husband was impotent but who was too shy to divulge details of her sex life to the male judge. In Islam, a woman can ask a judge for a divorce if she is not sexually satisfied.

"When a woman speaks to another woman, it's easier for her to speak," Wuheidi said.

In one case, Faqih doubled the alimony that a woman's ex-husband had to pay for each of their five children to $96 a month - a fair sum among Palestinians.

"Where I can make decisions that help women obtain better rights, I will," Faqih said.

But some petitioners doubted women could be equal to men.

"I'd like to see her, but I think that men do this job better, they are less emotional," said Eziyeh Yousef, who was finalizing her divorce papers.

In many Arab societies, traditions have long held that only men can be Islamic judges because women are too weak and sensitive.

But Yousef's friend, Najah Mahmoud, quickly interrupted. "Are you kidding? Women can do everything like men. She doesn't know what she's talking about."

The two new judges are trained civil lawyers, not Islamic scholars. But they excelled in the Islamic law exams, beating dozens of other, mostly male, applicants.

The top judge responsible for the appointment, Sheik Taysir Tamimi, said Faqih approached him in August asking if she could apply for a position.

"I said, 'I beg you to apply,'" Tamimi said, hoping it would help women obtain better rulings.

Tamimi debated the issue with his reluctant colleagues, then issued a letter confirming that women could become Muslim judges.

The decision only affects the West Bank, ruled by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. In the Gaza Strip, the ruling militant group Hamas has not made similar appointments, although Hamas women have become legislators and are slowly emerging in senior positions.

Tamimi said he hoped more women would apply, but said the openness to change among critics depends on how the two new judges perform.

"Any new experience will have supporters and detractors. But if you want to please everybody, we'll never move forward as a society," he said.

Sufism as Youth Culture in Morocco

From the Washington Post - March 3, 2009

Mokhtar Ghambou

Sufism as Youth Culture in Morocco

Morocco owes its image of a modern Muslim nation to Sufism, a spiritual and tolerant Islamic tradition that goes back to the first generations of Muslims and has sustained the religious, social and cultural cohesion of Moroccan society for centuries. Sufism provides answers to some of the most complex issues in the contemporary Muslim world, where youth comprise the majority of the population.

Most Moroccans, young or old, practice one form of Sufism or another. As a deep component of the Moroccan identity, Sufism absorbs all members of society, regardless of age, gender, social status or political orientation.

Moroccan youth are increasingly drawn to Sufism because of its tolerance, its fluid interpretation of the Qur'an, its rejection of fanaticism and its embrace of modernity. Young men and women find in the Sufi principles of "beauty" and "humanity" a balanced lifestyle that allows them to enjoy arts, music and love without having to abandon their spiritual and religious obligations.

Sufi orders exist throughout Morocco. They organize regular gatherings to pray, chant and debate timely topics of social and political importance, ranging from the protection of the environment and social charity to the war on drugs and the threat of terrorism.

Moreover, Sufi gatherings inspire young people to engage in interfaith dialogue, highlighting the universal values Islam shares with Christianity and Judaism - such as the pursuit of happiness, love of one's family, tolerance of racial and religious differences, and the promotion of peace.

Combined, Sufi seminars, chants and trances provide millions of Moroccans with a social medium where the fusion of the sacred and the secular, the soul and the body, and the local and the universal is both possible and enjoyable.

I recently asked Ahmed Kostas, an expert on Sufism and director at the Moroccan Ministry of Religious Affairs in Rabat, why this old spiritual tradition is so popular among modern youth.

"Progress and change," he noted, "are basic tenets of Sufi philosophy."

Sufis distance themselves from fundamentalists, whose vision of Islam is a strict and Utopian emulation of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, by placing great emphasis on the community's adaptation to the concerns and priorities of modern times. Sufis neither condemn unveiled women nor censure modern means of entertainment. For them, the difference between virtue and vice is determined on the basis of intent, not appearances.

Sufism is so diffuse in Moroccan culture that its role cannot be properly understood if reduced to a sect or shrine; it pervades even those musical trends labeled as "modern" or "Western." Rai, as well as Moroccan versions of hip hop and rap, may seem too earthly or too sensual to be associated with Sufism, yet they draw on Sufi poetry to sing the primordial essence of the human body, the virtues of simplicity, and the healing gifts of Sufi saints, such as Sidi Abderrahman Majdub, Sidi Ahmed Tijani, and Sidi Boumediene-spiritual masters revered by their peers and disciples for having attained spiritual union with God during their earthly lives.

The impact of Sufism on youth culture is more explicit in the lyrics of the urban band Nass Al Ghiwan and the Saharan Gnawa musicians. These two groups have profoundly shaped Moroccan popular music since the 1970s. Ghiwan songs, informed by the hippie style of bands like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, inspire many listeners to a physical response called shatha, a Sufi word that Moroccans use for modern dance.

Gnawa musicians, the descendants of African slaves brought to Morocco between the 12th and 17th centuries, produce a similar effect. Their music is a mix of religious lyrics deeply rooted in the oral tradition of sub-Saharan Africa and melancholic melodies reminiscent of American jazz and blues. The Gnawa performance centers on a spinning body and a high-pitched voice, rhyming poetic verses with Sufi chants in Arabic such as "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his Messenger." These same words are terrifying when they come from the mouth of the terrorist, but lift the soul when they are sung by pious Muslims, Gnawa and other Sufi-inspired musicians.

Even Fnaire, the most recent hip hop band from Marrakech, identifies itself as a blend of Moroccan Sufi tradition and American rap.

In addition to Moroccans, thousands of young men and women from Europe, America and Africa flock to sacred music festivals organized every summer by Sufi movements throughout Morocco, to sing and celebrate their enthusiasm for life and their commitment to the universal values of peace. The scene at these festivals completely refutes the kind of image that extremists seek to convey to Muslim youth.

It is this fusion of Sufism and modernity that produces a unique aesthetic experience, which is attractive to Moroccan youth who reject extremism and uphold values of a shared humanity.

Mokhtar Ghambou is professor of Postcolonial Studies at Yale University. He is also the founder and president of the American Moroccan Institute (AMI). This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Gulf TV in Hebrew to Educate Israelis on Islam

From the MidEast News Source

Gulf TV in Hebrew to Educate Israelis on Islam

Written by The Media Line Staff

Published Monday, March 02, 2009

Leaders of the Support Prophet Mohammed Organization, based in the Gulf state Bahrain, on Sunday stressed the need to establish a TV channel in Hebrew to teach Israelis about Islam's values, the Dubai-based newspaper Gulf News reported.
The organization hopes that with the help of TV, which they consider to be the most effective medium, and by using people familiar with Israeli society, they can present explanations about Islam to Jews and help them better appreciate the religion, the paper reported.   
The decision was made after a cast member on the Israeli version of the reality show Survivor, said he had named one of his shoes Muhammad, and the other was named after an Israeli Arab cast member who the Israeli cast member did not get along with.   
The organization was established in Bahrain after cartoons of the prophet Muhammad were first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, which sparked riots among Muslims.
The controversy regarding the publication caused a fierce debate regarding the limitations of freedom of speech, and led to the cartoons being re-published as acts of support for the Danish paper by newspapers in Norway, Germany and the Netherlands.
 Some 100 people lost their lives as police in various countries tried to control the ensuing demonstrations. In addition, Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran were set on fire and death threats were issued against the cartoonist and the editor-in-chief of the paper.

Italy and Indonesia Hold Joint Inter-faith Conference

Rome, 4 March (AKI/The Jakarta Post) - The Indonesian and Italian governments and an Italian Catholic lay organisation were to hold a cultural conference on Islam and coexistence in Rome on Wednesday.

Musurifun Lajawa, a counsellor at the Indonesian Embassy in Rome, told Indonesian state news agency Antara that the conference, themed "Unity in Diversity: The culture of coexistence in Indonesia", was aimed at introducing Indonesia as model for a moderate Muslim country where people of religious beliefs and culture can live side by side.

Lajawa said that the conference, hosted by the Communita di Sant' Egidio, was expected to help create dialogue between representatives of Indonesian Muslim organisations and Italian experts.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini and his Indonesian counterpart Nur Hassan Wirajuda were scheduled to give speeches at the conference's opening session.

There were to be two main sessions in the conference, one themed "Christianity and Islam for a culture of coexistence" and "Civil Society, Islam, Coexistence."

Among the main Indonesian speakers at the event were Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the country's largest Islamic organisation Nahdlatul Ulama, and Bachtiar Effendi and Azyumardi Azra of the State Islamic University.

Indonesia is an archipelago with more than 17,000 islands and 240 million people from 45 ethnic groups who practise all of the world's major religions.

However, more than 85 percent of the country's inhabitants are Muslim.

Caucasus Muslims Leader to Urge Islamic Nations to Develop Inter-religious Dialogue

Article from Trend News - March 4, 2009

Study Paints Rare Portrait of Muslim-Americans

Study paints rare portrait of Muslim-Americans


The Associated Press
Monday, March 2, 2009; 11:33 AM

-- Muslims in America have a much more positive outlook on life than their counterparts in most predominantly Muslim countries and some other Western societies, according to a poll released Monday.

The Gallup Organization study found Muslim-Americans to be racially and ideologically diverse, extremely religious, and younger and more highly educated than the typical American.

Gallup asked respondents to evaluate their life situation by placing themselves on a ladder where the bottom step, zero, equals the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life. Gallup defined as "thriving" those who said they're currently on at least step seven of that ladder and expect to be on step eight or higher about five years from now.

Muslim-Americans (41 percent) were slightly less likely than Americans overall (46 percent) to be thriving. Yet the proportion of Muslims thriving in the United States was among the highest of Western societies surveyed, Gallup found. For example, only 8 percent of Muslims in the United Kingdom and 23 percent in France were thriving.

One exception: 49 percent of Muslims were deemed thriving in Germany, which welcomed many immigrants from Turkey during labor shortages in the 1960s and 1970s.

In predominantly Muslim countries, only in Saudi Arabia were more Muslims _ 51 percent _ thriving than in America.

Gallup found only 11 percent of Muslims thriving in Indonesia and Pakistan, 13 percent in Egypt, in the high teens to 20 percent in Bangladesh, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and 24 percent in Morocco. Gallup found the proportion "suffering" _ answering 0 to 4 on both ladder questions _ ranging from 20 to 26 percent in Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon and as high as 33 percent in Jordan and 45 percent in Pakistan.

In short, Muslim Americans look more like other Americans in their life outlook than they resemble Muslims in most predominantly Muslim nations.

The Gallup study painted an uncommon portrait of Muslims in a U.S. and global context by combining interviews with 946 Muslims from polling of more than 300,000 Americans throughout 2008 and comparing them to Gallup surveys in more than 140 other countries. With Muslim-Americans probably making up only around 1 percent of the nation's population, few sound surveys have targeted the group, despite interest after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In an essay for the Gallup report, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. _ the first Muslim elected to Congress _ urged Muslim Americans to "step out of the shadows of your own world, and step forthrightly into a participatory America."

"For too long _ and particularly after 9/11 _ Muslims have withdrawn into their own mosque-defined communities, denying themselves their rightful place in the fabric of America," Ellison wrote. "'Being Muslim' shouldn't need to be explained, but rather be observed by how each of us lives our lives, and the values we espouse. However defined we are by our religion, we are equally defined by our nationalism; we are Americans."

Results were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for Muslim-Americans, 0.2 points for all Americans and varying ranges in other countries.


On the Net:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

CAIR: Minnesota Muslims Oppose Bill Banning Hijab on Driver's Photos

March 3, 2009

CAIR: Minn. Muslims Oppose Bill Banning Hijab on Driver's Photos

Activists to meet with legislators at state capitol on March 10

ST. PAUL, Minn., March 3 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ --The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) said today that a proposed bill banning head coverings in driver's license photographs would infringe on the First Amendment rights of Muslims who wear a religiously-mandated head scarf, or hijab, and of Minnesotans of other faiths who wear religious attire.

Citing "public safety" concerns for the ban, the bill accommodates those who wear a head covering for medical reasons but fails to provide an accommodation for those who wear it for the constitutionally-protected right to practice their religion.

[In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the ruling of an earlier court that two New Jersey Muslim police officers had the right to wear beards for religious reasons. The ruling held that, since there was a medical exemption for officers who had a skin condition, a religious exemption must be granted as well.]

SEE: Bill to Ban Driver's License Headgear Proposed (Star Tribune)

SEE ALSO: Bill Would Ban Hijab On Driver's License Photos

CAIR-MN challenged the safety assertion by the bill's sponsor, saying instead that current Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and State Department passport rules allow religious head coverings to be worn in photographs and while passing through airline security.

A similar bill has been introduced in Oklahoma following a successful campaign by CAIR's chapter in that state to allow Islamic head scarves in driver's license photographs.

SEE ALSO: Muslim Woman Takes Driver's Photo with Head Scarf (Video)

SEE ALSO: Religious Freedom Under Attack in Oklahoma

"This proposed legislation has a clear disparate impact on people of faith and cannot pass a First Amendment test," said CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam. "Muslims will not be the only people in Minnesota affected by this legislation. Individuals from the Sikh, Jewish, Catholic, and other religious communities who wear head coverings will also have their religious rights negatively impacted."

She questioned whether the proposed bill would permit law enforcement officers in the field to force the removal of religious head coverings.

Ms. Islam said Muslims from across Minnesota will gather on March 10 for the annual "Muslim Day on the Hill" to discuss the bill and other issues of concern to the Muslim community with legislators. The event will include a rally at 10 a.m. in the Rotunda of the State Capitol, followed by individual meetings with elected officials. The event is co-sponsored by CAIR-MN, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN) and the Islamic Center of Minnesota (ICM).

CAIR-MN will contact Rep. Steve Gottwalt, who introduced the legislation, to request a meeting to discuss the bill and the negative impact it will have on the constitutional rights of all Minnesota faith communities.

According to a 2004 CAIR review, most states, with the exception of Georgia, Kentucky and New Hampshire, have addressed religious accommodation concerns. Five states -- Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas, Missouri, and Maine--- recognize some religious practices, while the other 42 states have adopted more inclusive approaches to religious accommodation policies.

SEE: Religious Accommodation in Driver's License Photographs

CAIR, America's largest Islamic civil liberties and advocacy group has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

CONTACT: CAIR-MN Communications Director Jessica Zikri, 612-226-3289, E-Mail:; CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Taneeza Islam, Esq., 651-587-4712, E-Mail:; CAIR-OK Executive Director Razi Hashmi, 405-248-5853, E-Mail:; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202 488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail:

Monday, March 2, 2009

Muslim (Journalist) Send Home; A Legal Visa Holder Meets Unreason at Dulles

From the Washington Post - March 2, 2009

Muslim Sent Home
A Legal Visa Holder Meets Unreason at Dulles

By John Marks
Monday, March 2, 2009; A17

On Jan. 26, my office received a call from an immigration agent at Dulles International Airport, who said that my colleague Rashad Bukhari had been refused entry to the United States. He was not charged with anything, the agent said, and would be eligible for a future visa.

In fact, when Rashad arrived at Dulles, his Pakistani passport contained a valid, multi-entry visa, issued less than two years before by the U.S. State Department in Islamabad. He used this visa in 2007 to enter the United States without difficulty. Rashad is 36, and he worked for two American organizations, including the U.S. Institute of Peace, before he joined us at Search for Common Ground in 2007. He is Urdu-language editor of our Common Ground News Service, whose goal is to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West.

Immigration officials at Dulles could have easily verified all of this if Rashad had been allowed to make a phone call or if they themselves had chosen to check. Rather, they detained him for 15 hours, temporarily took away his cellphone and laptop, and eventually put him on a plane back to Pakistan. They prepared a transcript of the encounter in which an official justifies the United States not honoring Rashad's visa by saying, "You appear to be an intending [sic] immigrant."

Rashad answered that he has a wife and three children in Pakistan, that his job is based there, that he had a return ticket and that he had no intention of remaining in the United States.

Rashad later told us that the agent said -- in words that do not appear in the transcript -- that if he "voluntarily" withdrew and did not try appealing to more senior immigration officials, he would have a chance to return to the United States after getting a new visa; otherwise, he would face a five-year ban. In either case, Rashad was told, he would have to leave.

Faced with this Hobson's choice, Rashad "voluntarily" left the country.

Rashad noted afterward, "The immigration officer was actually very polite and remained nice to me. We chatted a little about my work and about international politics. He said, as an individual, he regretted the decision, saying he saw me as a good man. He repeatedly suggested that I should come back again with a new visa. He told me that he had studied history and politics and said that the work I am doing is more important than any military action."

Since Sept. 11, 2001, I have heard of many incidents similar to this one. My first reaction when I was told about Rashad's treatment was: In dealing with immigration and visa issues, nothing can be done.

And no, I do not believe that what happened to Rashad, who is Muslim, would have occurred to, say, a white Englishman of the same age.

I travel frequently to Muslim countries, and I know there is a widely held perception that the United States is not a welcoming place for Muslims. This has done serious damage to our national reputation at a time when improving the U.S. image in Pakistan and other Muslim countries and rallying support against extremism are major American foreign policy objectives.

I also know that, only days before this incident, Barack Obama declared in his inaugural address, "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

I hope that means the Obama administration will carry out a full review of policies and procedures regarding how immigration officers deal with Muslims from other countries. There need not be a contradiction between securing our borders and providing equitable treatment to all those who wish to enter the United States legally.

And, on the human level, it would be wonderful if the federal government apologized to Rashad and to others who have been badly treated at our airports and borders.

Rashad later told me, "My friends in Pakistan, as well as in [the] U.S., are equally disturbed and upset. I prefer to go where I am welcome. Please understand how many layers of impact such incidents create. At a personal level, it puts a stain on my record and a question mark over my future international travel; at a more general level, it reinforces the negative reality that we at Search for Common Ground are trying to shift. I understand that security agencies need to protect their country from harm. And I support them. But unnecessary screening and overreacting because of distant fears and suspicions do not get us anywhere."

Rashad concluded his message with the hope that what happened to him will be a "catalyst for positive change." Would that this will be the case.

The writer is president and founder of Search for Common Ground, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that works to find peaceful solutions to conflict around the world.

Turkish Women Battle for Rights

From the Common Ground News Service

Turkish women battle for rights
by Evre Kaynak
24 February 2009

Istanbul - In the past two decades, a movement of some 30 Turkish non-governmental women's rights organisations has spearheaded legal, political and social change to promote equality and eliminate violence against women. Change, however, is not coming easily as these NGOs try to battle ingrained traditional views toward women amidst much turmoil.

Today in Turkey, people's lives are severely disrupted by the continued militarisation in the Middle East and rising conservatism globally. As a result of the armed conflict between the Turkish military and Kurdish rebels in east and southeast Turkey, and recent bombings in Istanbul and Izmir, issues such as women's demands for equality, the elimination of gender-based violence and the rule of law have fallen behind in the public agenda.

With rising security measures in the country, including security forces on the streets and identification checks by police, particularly in Kurdish cities such as Diyarbakir and Van, many people venture out only for basic needs, and many families do not allow women to leave the house at all, due to fear for their safety.

In this tense atmosphere, women's NGOs are concerned about increased violence, its psychological effects on women and limitations to their right to move around freely. With societal pressure focused predominantly on women's immediate physical safety, these groups hope to eventually guide communities away from "protecting women", and toward "protecting women's rights".

At the end of August 2008, 60 women from several organisations that work on women's issues came together in the small eastern city of Elazig for a three-day workshop to discuss women's rights issues at the national and regional levels. Participating groups included the Saray Women's Association, Van Women's Association, Yaka-Koop and Bitlis Guldunya Women's Center, as well as the Filmmor Women's Cooperative and Women for Women's Human Rights.

Participants discussed ongoing issues affecting women, including the right to be free from violence, sexual and reproductive rights, freedom of association – and especially the effect that recent violence has had on Turkish women.

All agreed that the rise of militarism in the country has been perpetuating the patriarchal hegemony in Turkish society and that NGOs have to work to reverse outdated attitudes resulting from armed conflict and uncertainty, attitudes that have restricted women's equal participation in social, economic and political life.

These attitudes have only made it more difficult for such NGOs to accomplish their goals, as restrictions on movement are preventing women from organising around their own needs and networking. Some in Turkey have attempted to justify these attitudes by arguing that independent women's organisations exist only to undermine "family values" and "public morality", break apart families, and help women get divorces.

The current atmosphere requires this already strong network of women's NGOs throughout the country to continue to work to achieve gender equality, even in this increasingly militant and conservative atmosphere.

After all, Turkish women have stepped up to similar challenges.

The women's movement in Turkey has been successful in bringing about a number of revolutionary legal changes, such as the reform of the Civil Code in 2001, which now recognises the equality of women and men in all matters related to marriage, divorce, custody, inheritance and property. The Penal Code was also reformed in 2004, and now guarantees women's autonomy and acknowledges women's ownership over their own bodies and sexuality.

Last year, the women's movement in Turkey again flexed its political muscle by demonstrating against a constitutional amendment by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) that would remove the clause "men and women are equal" from the current constitution, which eventually led to the demise of this amendment.

Women and women's NGOs in Turkey must not lose sight of their goals, especially during the current militaristic atmosphere, and must continue to work alongside one another to achieve full equality between the sexes. The movement should build on the momentum and political clout it has generated over past years by continuing to push for non-violent and fair solutions to achieve their goals.


* Evre Kaynak is an activist working for Women for Women's Human Rights (WWHR)-New Ways ( in Istanbul, Turkey. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 February 2009,

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Iran Angered Over Films 'The Wrestler' and '300'

Iran angered over films 'The Wrestler' and '300'

Associated Press Writer - March 1, 2009

An adviser to Iran's president on Sunday demanded an apology from a team of visiting Hollywood actors and movie industry officials, including Annette Bening, saying films such as "300" and "The Wrestler" were "insulting" to Iranians.

Without an apology, members of Iran's film industry should refuse to meet with representatives from the nine-member team, said Javad Shamaqdari, the art and cinema adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"In my viewpoint, it is a failure to have an official meeting with one who is insulting," Shamaqdari told The Associated Press.

The film "300," portrays the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which a force of 300 Spartans held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass in Greece for three days. It angered many Iranians for the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks.

Iranians also criticized "The Wrestler" starring Mickey Rourke as a rundown professional wrestler who is preparing for a rematch with his old nemesis, "The Ayatollah." During a fight scene, "The Ayatollah" tries to choke Rourke with an Iranian flag before Rourke pulls the flagpole away, breaks it and throws it into the cheering crowd.

Neither movie was shown in Iran.

While American actors such as Sean Penn have traveled to Iran, it is rare for such a large group to visit. In February, Iran denied visas to a U.S. women's badminton team that had been invited to compete in a tournament in Iran.

The group includes the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Sid Ganis; actors Bening, and Alfre Woodard; producer William Horberg; AMPAS Special Events Programmer and Exhibitions Curator Ellen Harrington; and Tom Pollock, the former Universal Pictures chairman.

According to the Web site of Iran's Cinema Association, the group arrived Friday in Iran. They met a group of Iranian artists on Saturday, and will be holding educational seminars in directing, screenwriting, acting, producing, marketing and film distribution.

Shamaqdari says Iranians will warmly host the visiting Americans "but it will not stop Iranians from demanding an apology."

The visits come as President Barack Obama has indicated a new willingness to open up relations with Iran.

Relations between the two countries have been strained over concerns in the West that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons program, something Tehran denies. The U.S. has also alleged that overwhelmingly Shiite Iran supports Shiite militias in Iraq, which Iran says is not true.

The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam

Pamela K. Taylor

Pamela K. Taylor

co-founder, Muslims for Progressive Values

Aasiya Zubair Hassan, Domestic Violence and Islam

The brutal and gruesome murder of Aasiya Zubair Hassan has prompted a great deal of soul searching in the Muslim community. National organizations, the local community, imams, Muslim social workers, activists and writers have all agonized over how the community did not do enough to protect Aasiya, despite evidence that her husband, the man charged with killing her, was known to be violent. They have called for imams to preach against domestic violence as against the standards of Islam, and for communities to stand in solidarity with Muslim women who complain of abuse, rather than counseling patience or questioning if there is anything they might have done to cause the abuse, or that they could change in order to avert future abuse.

To be sure, domestic violence is indeed against the teachings of Islam, and murder of family members is especially repugnant. The Qur'an teaches that men should remain with their wives in kindness, or separate from their wives with kindness, and specifically that they should not stay with their wives in order to do harm to them (2:229, 2:231). It offers a vision of spousal equality when it prescribes a decision making process within the family of mutual consultation (2:233), and labels both husband and wife with the term "zauj" (4:1 and others) and describes them as protecting garments for one another (2:187).

Physical and/or emotional abuse has no place in this vision of marriage. Indeed, when women came to the Prophet complaining of their husband's treatment, the Prophet admonished the men saying that those who treated their families poorly were not among the best of men. Mu'awiyah al-Qushayri, one of the companions of the Prophet, reports "I went to the Apostle of Allah and asked him, 'What do you say about our wives?' He replied, 'Feed them with the food you eat, clothe them as you clothe yourself, and do not beat them, and do not revile them." (Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 11, the Book of Marriage, Number 2139)

Clearly, this understanding of Islam leaves no room for men domineering themselves over women, or for physical or emotional abuse within the family,

And yet, if all the soul searching the Muslim community has done these past few weeks is to have any effect, we must acknowledge that there are problematical verses in the Qur'an and there are certain hadith which must be countered. Unfortunately, the calls for the Muslim community to openly stand up against domestic violence, have been silent with regards to the parts of our scriptural heritage that have been and continue to be used to justify all sorts of barbarous treatment of women.

It is fact, nonetheless, that the Qur'an and hadith have been used to foster a culture of patriarchy so absolute that many Muslim men perceive it as their right to expect abject obedience from their wives. Some imams and scholars go so far as to say that it is a husband's duty to hit his wife if she errs, discussing at length the limits to such hitting: It must be done in such as way as to leave no mark, they say. It cannot be on the face or other sensitive areas, It should be done lightly, using a small stick, with little force. Others discuss the provocations that could merit such physical punishment -- ranging from those who say it is only in the case of adultery or flagrant breaking of marital vows, to those who say it can be for any sort of spiritual lapse, to those who allow it in any kind of open disobedience to the husband's wishes.

It should be acknowledged that none of these imams or scholars are advocating domestic violence as we think of it -- a man hitting his wife in rage, hurling abuse verbally and physically at her. Rather they are predicating a calm scenario, one in which the man first admonishes his wife about her lapses, then spends a few nights away from her bed, then finally resorts to a calm, reasoned, and limited physical punishment. Unfortunately, the effect of such pronouncements is that many men feel justified in their physical abuse, pointing to the fact that imams say it is ok to hit one's wife, while ignoring all the other limitations placed upon that hitting. Worse, they feel entitled and empowered by the patriarchal norms these imams and scholars preach, seeing themselves as the kings of their home, rather than as domestic partners as the Qur'an teaches and the Prophet modeled for them.

The fulcrum of this patriarchal interpretation is verse 4:34. Translations vary wildly, ranging from those defining men the the defenders of women to those who render it as men being in charge of women. (The Arabic word, qawamun, comes from a root which means to stand up, thus men are called to stand up for women.) The verse goes on to say that devout women protect that which Allah would have them protect in their husbands absences. Again, the interpretations vary wildly -- from those who read it quite literally, describing pious women as devoted to Allah, to those who take it mean women should be devoutly obedient to their husbands. It continues, saying that if men fear "nushuz" (understood variously as openly rebellion, adultery, spiritual negligence, or wifely disobedience), they should admonish their wives and then separate from them in sleeping arangements. And then the third phase -- the word used is "daraba."

Daraba is used for many, many things in the Qur'an, from sexual intercourse to parting company, from metaphorically striking a parable to physically striking a person or thing. The vast majority of commentators, have understood the meaning of 4:34 to mean hitting. Modern interpreters such as Ahmed Ali and Laleh Bakhtiar , have made a case that this interpretation is wrong.

Bakhtiar's argument is particularly strong. She described her approach to this verse in a lecture I attended two years ago. She told the audience that she went to many, many scholars and asked them, "Did the Prophet ever hit his wives?" To which all them replied, "No, he never hit his wives." This is directly supported by a hadith narrated by his wife Aishah, who reported "The Messenger of Allah never struck a servant of his with his hand, nor did he ever hit a woman. He never hit anything with his hand, except for when he was fighting a battle in the cause of Allah." Bakhtiar then asked the scholars, "And the Prophet always obeyed Allah, correct?" To which the answer was an emphatic "Yes, the Prophet was the embodiment of the Qur'an."

"Then, how," she asked, "do you explain that when he had problems with his wives, he admonished them, he refrained from sleeping with them for a month, but he never went to the third step and hit them? Was he being disobedient to Allah, or have we misunderstood verse 4:34?" To which, she says, the scholars had no answer.

Her answer is that we have misunderstood 4:34, and that we have to look at what the Prophet actually did after that month's separation -- which was to offer his wives the choice of divorcing him or remaining with him while resolving to avoid the behaviors he found so objectionable. While, she translates "daraba" as "to go away from them," (which is the most common usage of the term in the Qur'an), it seems that it might be better rendered as "to strike a bargain with them."

In either case, Muslim feminists often point to the fact that classical commentary also ignores a verse in the same chapter (4:128), which tells women if they fear "nushuz" from their husbands that they are free to reconcile -- presumably by admonishing and sending him to sleep on the couch for a week as described a few verses earlier when advising men what to do when they feared "nushuz" from their spouses -- or to seek divorce, which is either the third step in the process if you believe "daraba" means to go away from, or a final, fourth step after physically punishing him, if you believe daraba does indeed mean to hit.

Sadly, modern translators of the Qur'an infect the Qur'an with their own patriarchal assumptions, translating "nushuz" when it refers to women as "ill-will, "disloyalty and ill-conduct" or "rebellion" while translating it as "ill-treatment" or "cruelty or desertion" when it refers to men's behavior.

Again, we see the Qur'an setting up a parity between the spouses, each of whom has the right to a process of dealing with "Nushuz" on the part of their spouse, however one understands the meaning of "nushuz", and however one understands that process. But this parity has been completely ignored in classical commentary, and in modern Muslim culture.

Indeed, the overwhelmingly accepted interpretation of verse 4:34 posits men as being in charge of women to the extent that they become father figures, with the unilateral right to correct their wives as though those wives were children.

For any anti-domestic violence agenda within the Muslim community to be effective, we must come to term with this verse. We must be very clear that it can in no way be used to justify domestic abuse, and that it does not mandate the abject subjugation of women within the marital relationship. We must be firm that even under the most patriarchal interpretations, it does not give men the right to terrorize women, to harm them physically or emotionally, and to seek to dominate and control their lives.

Even more, it is time for the Muslim community globally to reassess the widespread belief that Islam mandates patriarchy. As a feminist and a Muslim, I believe that the Qur'an and hadith give us ample material to establish egalitarian families and societies. To do so, we will have to prefer hadith which establish the equality of all humankind and which show the Prophet living as a partner to his wives not a lord or boss over other other hadith which which subjugate women to men, much as advocates of patriarchy prefer the hadith which support patriarchy over those which support egalitarianism.

We will have to prefer interpretations of 4:34 that currently only a minority support, rejecting the notion of physical punishment for anyone, just as the Prophet rejected physical punishment. We must understand men as "qawamun" of women in light of verses that say, "The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another" (9:71). We must take 4:34 and 4:128 taken together, as echoing that sentiment, setting out how husbands and wives each can cope with a problematic spouse. We can no longer afford to look at 4:34 in isolation, as establishing the hegemony of men over women.

Similarly, we must look at verse 2:228 in it's entirety, rather than isolating the final line as though it gives men more rights than women. 2:228 begins: "Women who are divorced shall wait, keeping themselves apart three monthly courses. And it is not lawful for them that they should conceal that which Allah hath created in their wombs if they are believers in Allah and the Last Day. And their husbands would do better to take them back if they (the women) desire a reconciliation." (Note: The form of "they desire" makes it clear that the party desiring the reconciliation is the women, not the men.)

It then proceeds with some very dense language. Literally it says, "For them the like of that which is over them, and men have a degree over them." Again, the form of "them" is the feminine plural, making it clear that for women are the same things that are against women. This has been translated in various manners, but the most popular is "And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree of advantage over them."

This verse, then, commands women who are divorcing or being divorced that they should ascertain whether they are pregnant, and admonishes men to defer to women if the women wish reconciliation in light of the fact that they are pregnant, telling the men in no uncertain terms that women have as many rights as the men do, though men do have a degree (of flexibility, of advantage, of ease) over women in that they do not have to wait three months to remarry, and they are in an easier situation, as they do not face the physical, emotional and economic challenges of being pregnant and divorced.

Many have used this verse to shore up patriarchal notions, reading it to mean that men's rights are above women's rights universally and unequivocally. It is easy to read the verse that way, especially if the last line is taken out of context.

It is also easy to read in ways that are not patriarchal. Men's degree over women can readily be seen as 1) women having to wait three months before remarrying, a waiting period that men are not subject to since they do not get pregnant, and 2) women facing a more difficult situation regarding divorce because they also face physical, emotional and economic difficulties men do not face if they happen to be pregnant at the time the divorce is happening.

In fact, the verse is admonishing men to remember women's rights at a time when marital discord is likely to make men neglect those rights.

Like verse 4:34, verse 2:228 has been used to promote the notion of men's dominance over women. These patriarchal formulations contribute to a cultural atmosphere that enables domestic violence.

Domestic violence activists have long insisted that domestic violence is not about out-of-control anger, it is about controlling the life of one's spouse. They point to the fact that abusers such as Aasiya's husband, Muzzammil Hassan, do not lash out at, say, an employee who misses a deadline; they are able to control to whom and at what times they exercise violence. They usually hit women in places where bruises and cuts will not be visible, further evidence that it is not a matter of losing control, but of calculated intent to dominate, harm and manipulate a specific individual. Another example is that even in the middle of beating up their wife, if the phone rings, or police come to the door, the abuser is able to shut down his supposed rage, appearing and sounding calm and reasonable.

When religion is used to support notions that men are entitled to rule over women, we are only encouraging domestic violence.That is not to say that religion causes the violence; nor that Muslim abusers quote scripture as they lash out at their spouses; nor even feel justified by that scripture to commit the violence they do. It is quite clear that beating up one's wife, or hurling invectives at her, has no place in Islam; that even those who advocate a man's unilateral right to physically punish his wife do not enivision domestic violence, but a reasoned, calm, and limited response to severe provocation.

Rather, religion and cultural norms contribute to the abuser's feelings of manly entitlement. His expectations of being the boss of the home are validated and reinforced.

American Muslims are coming to grips with the fact that we have often turned a blind eye to violence in the home. Our leaders have come to understand when violence is ignored, or worse, when women are counseled to be patient, or asked what they have done to provoke such violence, they are complicit in the crime. That they have created a culture in which domestic violence carries no stigma, and thus abusers feel free to do as they like.

What we have not yet addressed, is how mainstream interpretations of Islam also contribute to an atmosphere where domestic violence can flourish.

The harsh reality is that even in cultures where domestic violence is soundly condemned, where abusers face stiff criminal sentences, domestic violence persists. Nearly 1200 American women lost their lives at the hands of a husband, boyfriend, or ex last year, according to the Center for Disease Control, and domestic violence is a problem in nearly 30% of all marriages.

Thus, we cannot expect to eradicate domestic violence among Muslims. But we can take strong and principled stands against patriarchal interpretations that enable abusers, and we can take concrete and significant action against abusers. I can only hope that the horrible death of Aasiya Hassan acts as a catalyst for much needed change.

"On Faith" panelist Pamela K. Taylor is co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values and director of the Islamic Writers Alliance. She is a member of the national board of advisors to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and served as co-chair of the Progressive Muslim Union for two years. Taylor is a strong supporter of the woman imam movement, which seeks the full participation of Muslim women in every aspect of life, including the pulpit. In July 2005, she became the first woman in centuries to officiate Friday prayers in a mosque when the United Muslim Association of Toronto and the Muslim Canadian Congress invited her to serve as guest imam. (This event followed a number of services, sermons and prayer sessions led by women held in private venues because no mosque agreed to host them.) In February 2006, when the former Grand Mufti of Marseilles visited Toronto, he requested that Taylor lead him in congregational prayer as an unequivocal demonstration of his support for female imams. Taylor has also been active in interfaith dialogue for 20 years, both in local initiatives and speaking at numerous conferences, universities, and churches. She received her MTS from Harvard Divinity School, and writes regularly on spiritual matters and the Islamic faith. She has essays in Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality: Perspectives from the World's Religious Traditions (2006) and the forthcoming The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics (2007). She has written hundreds of articles and opinion pieces for newspapers, magazines, and journals, and is an award winning poet.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)