Latest from Progressive Muslims United

Check out our bookstore...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Call Silenced in Cairo Is Warmly Received in Berlin

Barbara Braun/Drama

From left, Hussein Gouda Hussein Bdawy, Abdelmoty Abdelsamia Ali Hindawy and Mansour Abdelsalam Mansour Namous, onstage in "Radio Muezzin" at the theater Hau Zwei in Berlin.

From the NY Times

Published: March 18, 2009

BERLIN — On several recent evenings four muezzins from Cairo took to a carpeted stage at Hau Zwei, a Berlin theater, and talked about their lives and jobs. In their stocking feet, as if in a mosque, they showed family snapshots and pictures of their neighborhoods, and explained to the audience how to wash and pray according to Muslim ritual. "Radio Muezzin," conceived by Stefan Kaegi, a Swiss director, is a one-act play, a documentary, really (performed in Arabic with subtitles), the concept for which arose after a decision in 2004 by the Egyptian minister of religious endowments, Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq.

Article Continued.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Quiet Revolution Grows in the Muslim World


Thursday, Mar. 19, 2009

At a store in Cairo, an assistant places a white scarf of nontransparent material directly on the head of another assistant, ensuring that all of the hair is concealed.
At a store in Cairo, an assistant places a white scarf of nontransparent material directly on the head of another assistant, ensuring that all of the hair is concealed.
Olivia Arthur / Magnum for TIME

A Quiet Revolution Grows in the Muslim World

Three decades after Iran's upheaval established Islamic clerical rule for the first time in 14 centuries, a quieter and more profound revolution is transforming the Muslim world. Dalia Ziada is a part of it.

When Ziada was 8, her mother told her to don a white party dress for a surprise celebration. It turned out to be a painful circumcision. But Ziada decided to fight back. The young Egyptian spent years arguing with her father and uncles against the genital mutilation of her sister and cousins, a campaign she eventually developed into a wider movement. She now champions everything from freedom of speech to women's rights and political prisoners. To promote civil disobedience, Ziada last year translated into Arabic a comic-book history about Martin Luther King Jr. and distributed 2,000 copies from Morocco to Yemen. (See pictures of Islam's revolution.)

Now 26, Ziada organized Cairo's first human-rights film festival in November. The censorship board did not approve the films, so Ziada doorstopped its chairman at the elevator and rode up with him to plead her case. When the theater was suspiciously closed at the last minute, she rented a tourist boat on the Nile for opening night--waiting until it was offshore and beyond the arm of the law to start the movie.

Ziada shies away from little, including the grisly intimate details of her life. But she also wears a veil, a sign that her religious faith remains undimmed. "My ultimate interest," she wrote in her first blog entry, "is to please Allah with all I am doing in my own life."

That sentiment is echoed around the Muslim world. In many of the scores of countries that are predominantly Muslim, the latest generation of activists is redefining society in novel ways. This new soft revolution is distinct from three earlier waves of change--the Islamic revival of the 1970s, the rise of extremism in the 1980s and the growth of Muslim political parties in the 1990s.

Today's revolution is more vibrantly Islamic than ever. Yet it is also decidedly antijihadist and ambivalent about Islamist political parties. Culturally, it is deeply conservative, but its goal is to adapt to the 21st century. Politically, it rejects secularism and Westernization but craves changes compatible with modern global trends. The soft revolution is more about groping for identity and direction than expressing piety. The new revolutionaries are synthesizing Koranic values with the ways of life spawned by the Internet, satellite television and Facebook. For them, Islam, you might say, is the path to change rather than the goal itself. "It's a nonviolent revolution trying to mix modernity and religion," Ziada says, honking as she makes her way through Cairo's horrendous traffic for a meeting of one of the rights groups she works with.

The new Muslim activists, who take on diverse causes from one country to another, have emerged in reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks and all that has happened since. Navtej Dhillon, director of the Brookings Institution's Middle East Youth Initiative, says, "There's a generation between the ages of 15 and 35 driving this soft revolution--like the baby boomers in the U.S.--who are defined by a common experience. It should have been a generation outward looking in a positive way, with more education, access to technology and aspirations for economic mobility." Instead, he says, "it's become hostage to post-9/11 politics." Disillusioned with extremists who can destroy but who fail to construct alternatives that improve daily life, members of the post-9/11 generation are increasingly relying on Islamic values rather than on a religion-based ideology to advance their aims. And importantly, the soft revolution has generated a new self-confidence among Muslims and a sense that the answers to their problems lie within their own faith and community rather than in the outside world. The revolution is about reform in a conservative package.

Text-Messaging The Koran
The soft revolution is made concrete in hundreds of new schools from Turkey to Pakistan. Its themes echo in Palestinian hip-hop, Egyptian Facebook pages and the flurry of Koranic verses text-messaged between students. It is reflected in Bosnian streets honoring Muslim heroes and central Asian girls named after the holy city of Medina. Its role models are portrayed by action figures, each with one of the 99 attributes of God, in Kuwaiti comic books. It has even changed slang. Young Egyptians often now answer the telephone by saying "Salaam alaikum"--"Peace be upon you"--instead of "Hello." Many add the tagline "bi izn Allah"--"if God permits"--when discussing everything from the weather to politics. "They think they're getting a bonus with God," muses Ziada.

Even in Saudi Arabia, the most rigid Muslim state, the soft revolution is transforming public discourse. Consider Ahmad al-Shugairi, who worked in his family business until a friend recruited him in 2002 for a television program called Yallah Shabab (Hey, Young People). Al-Shugairi ended up as the host. Although he never had formal religious training, al-Shugairi quickly became one of the most popular TV preachers, broadcast by satellite to an audience across the Middle East and watched on YouTube. "The show explained that you could be a good Muslim and yet enjoy life," says Kaswara al-Khatib, a former producer of Yallah Shabab. "It used to be that you could be either devout or liberal, with no middle ground. The focus had been only on God's punishment. We focused on God's mercy."

In 2005, al-Shugairi began a TV series called Thoughts during the holy month of Ramadan, focusing on the practical problems of contemporary Muslim life, from cleanliness to charity. Sometimes clad in jeans and at other times a white Saudi robe and headdress, he often speaks informally from a couch. "I'm not reinventing the wheel or the faith," al-Shugairi explains in Jidda's Andalus Café, which he opened for the young. "But there is a need for someone to talk common sense."

Al-Shugairi's own life mirrors the experimentation and evolution of many young Muslims. In the 1990s, he says, he bounced from "extreme pleasure" as a college student in California to "extreme belief." The shock of Sept. 11, an attack whose perpetrators were mostly Saudi, steered him to the middle.

Traditional clerics deride al-Shugairi, 35, and other televangelists for preaching "easy Islam," "yuppie Islam," even "Western Islam." But his message actually reflects a deepening conservatism in the Islamic world, even as activists use contemporary examples and modern technology to make their case. One of al-Shugairi's programs on happiness focused on Elvis Presley, a man with fame, talent and fortune but who died young. Life without deep spirituality, al-Shugairi preaches, is empty.

The soft revolution's voices are widening the Islamic political spectrum. Mostafa Nagar, 28, an Egyptian dentist, runs a blog called Waves in the Sea of Change, which is part of an Internet-based call for a renaissance in Islamic thinking. Yet Nagar belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest Islamist movement in the Middle East. His blog launched a wave of challenges from within the Brotherhood to its proposed manifesto, which limits the political rights of women and Christians. Nagar called for dividing the religious and political wings of the movement, a nod to the separation of mosque and state, and pressed the party to run technocrats rather than clerics for positions of party leadership and public office.

When Nagar and his colleagues were urged to leave the Brotherhood, they decided to stay. "As a public party," he says, "its decisions are relevant to the destiny of all Egyptians, so their thoughts should be open to all people." And indeed, his blog--and other criticism from the movement's youth wing--has caused the manifesto to be put on ice.

The flap underscores an emerging political trend. Since 9/11, polls have consistently shown that most Muslims do not want either an Iranian-style theocracy or a Western-style democracy. They want a blend, with clerics playing an advisory role in societies, not ruling them. As a consequence, Islamist parties are now under intense scrutiny. "Islamists, far from winning sweeping victories, are struggling to maintain even the modest gains they made earlier," says a recent survey by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In Iraq's recent elections, for example, secular parties solidly trumped the religious parties that had fared well four years ago.

Rethinking Tradition
Politics is not the only focus of the soft revolution. Its most fundamental impact, indeed, may be on the faith itself. In the shadows of Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara, Turkey, a team of 80 Turkish scholars has been meeting for the past three years to ponder Muslim traditions dating back 14 centuries. Known as the hadith, the traditions are based on the actions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and dictate behavior on everything from the conduct of war to personal hygiene. (See pictures of Iranians.)

Later this year, the Turkish scholars are expected to publish six volumes that reject thousands of Islam's most controversial practices, from stoning adulterers to honor killings. Some hadith, the scholars contend, are unsubstantiated; others were just invented to manipulate society. "There is one tradition which says ladies are religiously and rationally not complete and of lesser mind," says Ismail Hakki Unal of Ankara University's divinity school, a member of the commission. "We think this does not conform with the soul of the Koran. And when we look at the Prophet's behavior toward ladies, we don't think those insulting messages belong to him." Another hadith insists that women be obedient to their husbands if they are to enter paradise. "Again, this is incompatible with the Prophet," Unal says. "We think these are sentences put forth by men who were trying to impose their power over the ladies."

The Hadith Project is only one of many such investigations into Islam's role in the 21st century. This is perhaps the most intellectually active period for the faith since the height of Islamic scholarship in the Middle Ages. "There is more self-confidence in the Islamic world about dealing with reason, constitutionalism, science and other big issues that define modern society," says Ibrahim Kalin of the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Ankara. "The West is no longer the only worldview to look up to. There are other ways of sharing the world and negotiating your place in it."

Crucially, this latest wave of Islamic thought is not led only by men. Eman el-Marsafy is challenging one of the strictest male domains in the Muslim world--the mosque. For 14 centuries, women have largely been relegated to small side rooms for prayer and excluded from leadership. But el-Marsafy is one of hundreds of professional women who are memorizing the Koran and is even teaching at Cairo's al-Sadiq Mosque. "We're taking Islam to the new world," el-Marsafy says. "We can do everything everyone else does. We want to move forward too."

The young are in the vanguard. A graduate in business administration and a former banker, el-Marsafy donned the hijab when she was 26, despite fierce objections from her parents. (Her father was an Egyptian diplomat, her mother a society figure.) But last year, el-Marsafy's mother, now in her 60s, began wearing the veil too. That is a common story. Forty years ago, Islamic dress was rare in Egypt. Today, more than 80% of women are estimated to wear the hijab, and many put it on only after their daughters did.

Piety alone is not the explanation for the change in dress. "The veil is the mask of Egyptian woman in a power struggle against the dictatorship of men," says Nabil Abdel Fattah of Cairo's al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and author of The Politics of Religion. "The veil gives women more power in a man's world." Ziada, the human-rights activist, says the hijab--her headscarves are in pinks, pastels, floral prints and plaids, not drab black--provides protective cover and legitimacy for her campaigns.

Read "Finding God on YouTube."

Waiting for Obama
The ferment in the Muslim world has a range of implications for President Barack Obama's outreach to Islam. Gallup polls in Islamic societies show that large majorities both reject militants and have serious reservations about the West. "They're saying, 'There's a plague on both your houses,'" says Richard Burkholder Jr., director of Gallup's international polls. Many young Muslims are angry at the outside world's support of corrupt and autocratic regimes despite pledges to push for democracy after 9/11. "Most of the young feel the West betrayed its promises," says Dhillon, of the Brookings Institution. Muslims fume that a few perpetrators of violence have led the outside world to suspect a whole generation of supporting terrorism. "The only source of identity they have is being attacked," Dhillon says. The post-9/11 generation has been further shaped by wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, all of which Washington played a direct or indirect role in.

Although he is the first U.S. President to have lived in the Muslim world and to have Muslim relatives and a Muslim middle name, Obama is likely to face skepticism even among those who welcomed his election. In an open letter on the day of his Inauguration, the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference appealed for a "new partnership" with the Obama Administration. "Throughout the globe, Muslims hunger for a new era of peace, concordance and tranquility," wrote Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the conference. He then pointedly added, "We firmly believe that America, with your guidance, can help foster that peace, though real peace can only be shared--never imposed." (See pictures of Muslims in America.)

That is the key. Gallup polls show that by huge margins, Muslims reject the notion that the U.S. genuinely wants to help them. The new Administration, with a fresh eye on the world, wants to bolster the position of the U.S. But "Obama will have a narrow window to act," says Burkholder, "because the U.S. has failed so often in the past."

Ask Naif al-Mutawa, a clinical psychologist from Kuwait. Al-Mutawa is the publisher of The 99, glossy comic books popular from Morocco to Indonesia, with 99 male and female superheroes, each imbued with godly qualities such as mercy, wisdom and tolerance. In a recent article for the Chicago Tribune, Obama's hometown paper, al-Mutawa recounted a conversation with his father about his newborn son. Al-Mutawa's grandfather had recently died, and he expected his father to ask him to keep the name in the family. Instead, his father suggested the child be named after Obama. "I was stunned," al-Mutawa wrote. "Instead of asking me to hold on to the past, my conservative Arab Muslim father was asking me to make a bet on the future."

But al-Mutawa opted against it. "I want to see results, not just hope, before naming my children after a leader," he wrote. Such pragmatism is typical of the Muslim world's soft revolutionaries. They believe that their own governments, the Islamist extremists and the outside world alike have all failed to provide a satisfying narrative that synthesizes Islam and modernity. So they are taking on the task themselves. The soft revolution's combination of conservative symbols, like Islamic dress, with contemporary practices, like blogging, may confuse outsiders. But there are few social movements in the world today that are more important to understand.

Wright's most recent book is Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East

Monday, March 23, 2009

Out of the Closet, at Gunpoint: Gay, Muslim and Coming Out to Mom and Dad


Out of the Closet, at Gunpoint

I thought I'd never tell my Muslim parents that I'm gay. Then a terrifying encounter gave me no choice.

by Shariq Mahbub


From the magazine issue dated Mar 30, 2009

Robert Caplin-Rapport for Newsweek
A Great Escape: Over time, my parents accepted my life

As a gay, Muslim teenager growing up in a posh area of Karachi, Pakistan, I struggled to hide from my family the fact that I was attracted to other men. I immersed myself in literature, and as a precocious ninth grader I produced and acted in George Bernard Shaw's farce "Passion, Poison and Petrifaction," a play whose title unconsciously expressed my nervous view of the Pakistani world outside my cocoon. Looking for an exit, I was a superachiever in a hurry. At 18, I earned a scholarship to Stanford University. I should have made a clean break then. But all through college I dated women, willing myself to be "normal." Not surprisingly, my attraction to men didn't wane.

In grad school, I was ready for adventure and decided to spend a summer back home researching rural-development projects. I worked with a local social worker, a handsome, bearded man who liked to flirt. We'd sit together under the sun discussing politics, while I observed his body under his diaphanous kurta shalwar. Knowing he was married, I didn't dare make a move.

One evening I drove to a park known for being Karachi's unofficial cruising spot for gay men. Within a few minutes I noticed a burly man with a heavy mustache in his late 30s gesturing toward me. My heart was pounding as he approached. "I have a place we can go," he said, and we started walking toward the park's exit, visions of a forbidden tryst flashing in my mind.

In my air-conditioned car he gave me driving directions. Looking around, he suddenly sneered, "This is a very nice, expensive car." I started getting nervous. He didn't touch me. He gave no signals.

We arrived at the entrance to a dingy house and entered the driveway. He locked the gate behind us, told me to wait in the car and disappeared into the house. I was sweating profusely now and wondered, "Can I still get out of this situation?" Five minutes later he came out, visibly angry now, sat in the car and pointed a gun at me. He said he was an undercover cop and that inside the house were several men waiting to rape me to teach me a lesson. "What is wrong with people like you?" he yelled maniacally. "You should like girls, or you will be treated like one."

My lust had transformed into immobilizing fear. He told me to drive again, and as we drove around for what seemed like hours, I had a vague sense that I needed to play his game and find a way to survive this ordeal. He demanded that I admit homosexuality was a sin, and I eventually complied. I also promised to meet him at a hotel the following day, where he would tell me how much money he wanted. He warned me that he had my car's license-plate number, and that he'd track me down if I didn't show.

When I got home, I made excuses to my parents about why I was late, then went right to bed. After an anguished night of tossing and turning, I emerged from the wreckage of my mind determined to come out to my father, who has a calmer temperament than my mother, and ask for his help.

I met my father in his office to keep the confession private. Shaking, I blurted out what had happened, asking him not to tell my mother. I saw immediate worry wash across his face. If he was upset about my sexuality, he hid it and focused on dealing with my predicament. He wisely counseled me that the man was probably not a cop, but a gangster looking to blackmail or kidnap me, and that I was lucky to have escaped. We determined that I would not meet him at the hotel. We didn't talk about the incident again. But my father told my mother, believing that she had a right to know, and scenes of crying and recrimination ensued. They told me that I was going through a phase, that I just hadn't met the right girl yet. They expected me to change. I quickly left Karachi to head back abroad. I needed to get away. On the way to the airport I imagined I spotted the thug on the street, but I never heard from him again.

The following year I found a job in New York and knew I would never return to live in Pakistan. As my financial independence grew, my parents adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In 1996 I met my Buddhist partner. He gave me a gold and platinum ring inscribed with his initials, and I wear it with devotion to this day. Over time, my parents have come to accept my life. When they visit now, all four of us go out for Pakistani food, and it almost feels like home.

Mahbub is a spiritual teacher, energy healer and financial consultant. He is writing a book called "A Spiritual Path for a New Age."

Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison a Sponsor of Same-sex Immigration Bill

Rep. Keith Ellison was the first Muslim elected to Congress.



Full Article.

Turkey: Transgender Activist Murdered; Government Should Prosecute Violence, Prohibit Discrimination

From Human Rights Watch

Turkey: Transgender Activist Murdered

Government Should Prosecute Violence, Prohibit Discrimination
March 12, 2009

(New York) - The killing of Ebru Soykan, a prominent transgender human rights activist, on March 10, 2009, shows a continuing climate of violence based on gender identity that authorities should urgently take steps to combat, Human Rights Watch said today. News reports and members of a Turkish human rights group said that an assailant stabbed and killed Ebru, 28, in her home in the center of Istanbul.

Members of Lambda Istanbul, which works for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual (LGBTT) people, told Human Rights Watch that in the last month Ebru had asked the Prosecutor's Office for protection from the man who had beaten  her on several occasions and threatened to kill her. Lambda Istanbul was told that a few weeks ago police detained the man but released him two hours later. The same man is under police custody as the murder suspect.

"The Turkish police have a duty to respond to all credible threats of violence, whoever the victim," said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. "Investigating violence against LGBT people, prosecuting suspects, and passing effective legislation to ensure equality are all critical to ensuring that these murderous abuses end."

This is the second killing of a member of Lambda Istanbul in the past year. In July 2008, an unknown person shot and killed 26-year-old Ahmet Yildiz as he was leaving a café near the Bosporus. No one has been charged with this crime.

Members of Lambda Istanbul described Ebru as a leading figure in the organization, who worked to end police harassment and ill treatment of transgender people in Taksim, a central area in Istanbul. The LGBTT Platform for Human Rights, a coalition of several LGBTT organizations in Turkey, held a vigil on March 12, 2009 in front of Ebru's home.

In 2007, Lambda Istanbul twice submitted a file of 146 cases they had documented to the Istanbul Provincial Human Rights Board, many dealing with reports of violence against transgender people, including cases of violence by the police. Several of these cases had been reported to the police. The then-deputy governor of Istanbul told Lambda Istanbul that the governor's office had found no records of these allegations and complaints in the police districts involved.

"Until an anti-discrimination law is in place to protect the LGBT community and the police take seriously their duty to protect everyone, these murders will continue," said Cano Nieto. "Turkey cannot continue to ignore its obligations when lives are at stake."

The European Court of Human Rights has held that Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to life, requires police forces to take reasonable steps to protect a person when they receive credible information that there is a risk to that person's life.

A May 2008 Human Rights Watch report on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Turkey, "We Need a Law for Liberation," documents the long and continuing history of violence and abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity there. A subsequent December 2008 report specifically documents police violence in the country and features cases of harassment and abuses against transgender people in Istanbul.

In these reports, Human Rights Watch called on Turkey to pass legislation protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Picture of the Week: Stylish Muslims

Hala dons a pink hijab for a date on Valentine's Day. Muslim women's attitudes about the appropriate amount of make-up vary widely.
Olivia Arthur / Magnum for TIME


Hala dons a pink hijab for a date on Valentine's Day. Muslim women's attitudes about the appropriate amount of make-up to wear and the proper amount of hair to reveal vary widely.

Full Article.

Hardline Saudi Clerics Urge TV Ban on Women, Music


The Associated Press
Sunday, March 22, 2009; 6:48 PM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- A group of Saudi clerics urged the kingdom's new information minister on Sunday to ban women from appearing on TV or in newspapers and magazines, making clear that the country's hardline religious establishment is skeptical of a new push toward moderation.

In a statement, the 35 hardline clergymen also called on Abdel Aziz Khoja, who was appointed by King Abdullah on Feb. 14, to prohibit the playing of music and music shows on television.

"We have great hope that this media reform will be accomplished by you," said the statement. "We have noticed how well-rooted perversity is in the Ministry of Information and Culture, in television, radio, press, culture clubs and the book fair."

Although it raises the pressure on the new minister, the recommendation is likely to have little effect. Khoja's appointment was part of a government shake-up by Abdullah that removed a number of hardline figures and is believed to be part of an effort to weaken the influence of conservatives in this devout desert kingdom.

"No Saudi women should appear on TV, no matter what the reason," the statement said. "No images of women should appear in Saudi newspapers and magazines."

Saudi Arabia was founded on an alliance with the conservative Wahhabi strain of Islam that sees the mixing of sexes as anathema and believes the playing of music violates religious values.

The former information minister, Iyad Madani, earned the ire of hardliners several years ago by allowing music in government-run TV and female journalists to interview men, despite the country's strict gender-segregation rules.

Women also appear on Saudi television with their faces showing, though most in public totally cover themselves.

Newspapers publish pictures of Saudi women, but almost always with their heads covered, while pictures of Western entertainers are shown but bare arms and cleavage are painted over.

The clerics include several professors from the ultra-conservative Imam University, Islamic research scholars, a judge in a court in the resort of Taif and some government employees.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in town for meetings with Saudi officials, told a news conference that during lunch he sat between a female Saudi surgeon and a female journalist. He said while one woman is allowed to perform surgery and another is allowed to teach, neither is permitted to drive.

"I find that bizarre," he said.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Picture of the Week: We Want Education in the Swat Valley

A little girl in Karachi holds a placard condemning attacks on girls' schools in Pakistan's troubled Swat Valley

Related Story from the Associated Press.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)