Friday, November 2, 2012

'Who Speaks For Islam?' - short story

Should I begin with an overused long and heartfelt SO SORRY I HAVEN'T UPDATED FOR SO LONG (with any readers to whom this might make sense sure-to-be migrated to more active pastures), or just get on with it?

Here's a short story I wrote for a contest by an American Islamic organization. Bit cheesy by the end, I fear. Had to tie it up quickly. I finished and submitted it bleary-eyed at about three minutes to deadline at 5 o'clock in the morning (and then the next day I found out that they extended the deadline another fifteen days, go figure!). Worst thing is, I'd known about it for weeks. But there you go, I should be majoring in procrastination, not law.

So. Do read, and let me know what you think.


Who Speaks For Islam?

The auditorium's lights glowed under the night sky, stars above only dimly visible in the city heavens. On either side of the glossy table onstage two women faced off, a third in the middle acting as moderator. The banner on the backdrop screen, framed on either side by proud unfurled American flags, announced:

FACE OFF: ISLAM & AMERICA – TOO DIFFERENT? GCN Debate –with Arlene O'Carn & Salwa Abed

Television cameras and a rapt audience encircled Arlene, Salwa and the moderator in this modern vision of a gladiator's coliseum. They were sparring with the modern gladiator's primary weapons: words. Only one, however, seemed to be winning.

"First off," Arlene was saying to cheers from the crowd, "we don't need you so-called moderates tellin' us we don't need to fear the fundamentalists. Who says you represent the greater Muzlum community anyway? For one, where's your, uh, garb?"

As Salwa across from her, curly-haired and bright-earringed, took a breath to reply, one of the few women actually wearing hijab in the audience exchanged a frustrated glance with her friend Fatimah, who was similarly attired.  "Is this woman serious?"

"Quiet, Aliya," hushed Fatimah. "She's replying."

"Just because I don't wear hijab doesn't mean I'm not a Muslim," Salwa said firmly. "That's beyond what you have the right to say" –

"Do you pray five times a day?" interrupted Arlene.

"I…" Salwa started, helplessly – and Arlene pounced.

"Funny how often those two happen to correlate. Y'see, Katie," said Arlene O'Carn amiably, turning to the moderator, "I've got no problem with Muzlums like Miz Salwa – just the ones whose practice of their religion prevents them from assimilating into our greater Western society!"

Salwa attempted heavy-handedly to reply, but the damage had already been done. A man in the audience clapped and whooped. Aliya shot him a glare. But the damage had been done; the whole auditorium began clapping, and no amount of glaring could shut them up.

"So now, as long as we don't practice our religion, we're fine? This is pathetic," muttered Aliya to her friend. "I have to say something… 
"THIS IS BIGOTRY!" she shouted, cupping her hands around her mouth, but her voice was drowned out in the cheering tumult. Arlene smiled and nodded, lapping up every minute of it. Salwa was frowning, slightly slumped in her seat. "Why doesn't she fight back?" Aliya demanded directly into Fatimah's ear, who winced. Katie, the moderator, soon brought the crowd under control. While Salwa did the best she could to make up for her earlier lapse, the smug smile never left the corner of Arlene's lips.

"Well, we're all out of time, folks," Katie said finally, turning to the cameras, "thank you for attending this week's Debates by GCN. Don't forget to tune in next week to resume this interesting discussion. Thanks for watching, everybody, and goodnight!"

The two women onstage shook hands with each other and with the moderator. Behind her smile, Salwa appeared to be gritting her teeth. The lights dimmed, and as the TV show music played the audience began to file out the back. Aliya stayed in her seat, arms crossed. "Are we waiting for something in particular?" Fatimah inquired after a few minutes.

Without answering Aliya got up and started down the stairs, towards the empty stage. Fatimah caught at her sleeve. "What're you doing?"

"I just – I wish could go backstage and give that woman a piece of my mind! Both of them!"

"Come on," Fatimah told her firmly. "Out."

Aliya shot her another glare, but allowed herself to be steered outside.

They emerged into the bracing night air. The crowd had dispersed, mostly students heading back to their dorms.

"What is her problem?" Aliya began, unheard by anyone but the long-suffering Fatimah. "I don't understand it. Obviously we all know what kind of a no-holds-barred Islamophobe Arlene O'Carn is – but for the Muslim to capitulate like that in front of her? I just hope she does better next week.
"Who is she, anyway?" she gestured to a publicity poster they passed. "This Salwa Abed. I've never even heard of her. Where do they get these people?"

"Well," said Fatimah, lagging behind to eye the poster, "she's Arab-American, she's written books… A couple on the bestseller lists, it says!"

"Yeah, I bet she has," Aliya dismissed as they continued walking. "One of those, 'oh look at me, I'm a Muslim but I'm just like you' stuff. I'm telling you. These days, being a Muslim and having a Muslim name is worth a lot more than it used to be, if you're willing to shill yourself properly."

"Sounds like you've given this some proper thought, Aliya," said Fatimah, grinning. "Is this a new career path we should expect for you?"

Aliya rolled her eyes. "Yeah, right. I don't blame her, really, it's easy money. Never mind that she's not actually practicing. Never mind that making her some kind of poster child for American Muslims is deliberately misrepresenting us – and Muslims worldwide."

"You know," said Fatimah, "some people might disagree with you on that. The 'we all sin, so it doesn't matter' crowd…"

"I know, but that’s not the point. What I'm saying is, the more people like her, who prop themselves up on TV announcing themselves as the 'real women of Islam', just gives more opportunity to everyone else to label us, going about our normal business while just happening to cover up our hair and dress modestly however the heck we choose to and actually practice our religion, as crazy extreme fundamentalists! It's not fair."

Fatimah was used to her friend's rants and had sportingly allowed her thus far. "Well, why don't you do something?" she put in, once Aliya took a breath. "You get yourself all worked up for nothing. I've heard all this a billion times: why this, why that. The question is, what are you going to do about all of it?"

"I don't know – that's the problem."

They stopped, suddenly, as a van pulled out in front of them. From the back of the building several figures emerged, and trudged down the lawn towards it.

"Is that…"

"The moderator," said Fatimah. "And crew, probably. Want to say something?"

"Sure," said Aliya.

"Okay, go ahead. Tell her."

"You tell her," whispered Aliya. The van had continued past them; the people were almost to the van doors.

"Fine. Um – Miss Katie!" Fatimah called, waving her hand as though in a classroom, and they hurried over.

"Yes?" Katie said. As they came up, she fixed them with one of her screen-worthy smiles.

"Well – we just wanted to tell you what big fans of you we were" –

Katie's smile widened as Aliya elbowed Fatimah in the ribs. "Why, thank you."

"But we'd also like to say," Fatimah continued, with a reproachful glance to her friend, "that we were very disappointed in the way the debate was presented."

"First of all," Aliya put in, "we didn't think at all that Ms. Abed was a good selection as a representative for Muslims."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Katie said diplomatically, "but we felt that, due to her status as such a successful author and speaker…"

Aliya snorted. "You can ask any Muslim. I'm sure that plenty certainly won't agree that she's in any kind of position to speak for Islam."

"Well, who would you suggest?"

"Um…" Slowly, Aliya was horrified to draw a complete blank.

"I suppose a more appropriate question would be, who speaks for Islam?" Katie asked again, with that fixed, bright smile of hers. For the first time in a while, Aliya was finding herself at a loss for words.

"We gotta move, Katie!" shouted someone from the van, and saving her.

"Sorry! Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. See you next week, then," said the moderator, turning to go with another double-wattage smile.

"Looking forward to it," murmured Fatimah, and Aliya's heart lurched in knowledge of her own sore lacking.

They were back in their dorm by now, in the cluttered and dim living room. Fatimah was perched on the couch; Aliya paced back and forth.

"We don't know!" Aliya said, gesticulating and practically shouting. "That's the problem! Who speaks for Islam? We have no idea!"

"You keep 'speaking for Islam' that loud, Roya is not going to be very happy," noted Fatimah, peeling an orange.

"Don't say her name too loud, she'll hear you," said Aliya ominously, glancing towards the closed door. Fatimah wordlessly extended Aliya an orange slice.

"No, thanks… God, why didn't we – why haven't we thought about this before? Where are our leaders?"

"Well, Roya is president of the Muslim Student Council" –

"Yeah, right."

A muffled indignant noise came from behind a closed door, and Aliya stopped her pacing just long enough to direct a not-very-contrite "Sorry, Roya," towards it.

"Parties and dress-up," she continued in a lower voice, "you know what I think of her leadership. And I'm not talking students here, Fatimah, I'm talking about people who could actually hold their own against that Arlene lady."

"One of the professors, then. We've got plenty of people who should be up to it within Islamic Studies, at least."

"Oh, really?" scoffed Aliya. "So who do you have in mind? The radical from Yemen, or the mole from the State Department, or the guy who spends half his time snorting incense and twirling around to voodoo chants? Or the woman who does?"

"Not sure they're voodoo chants, exactly…"

"Voodoo, Sufi, whatever."

"Not very respectful, Aliya."

"Fine. Sorry. All I'm saying is, not many people would take them too seriously either. And then" – if possible, the rate of her pacing increased. "That's not even the central point here! I'm not talking about within our college, though now that we've brought that up, sure, we are in crisis mode and we don't even know it. But setting that aside – I'm talking about the wider community. Big time. Muslims as a whole, the religious community, the Ummah! Where are our leaders? Where have they been, where did they all go?"

She stood there, arms outstretched, breathing hard with impassioned effort.

Fatimah then observed dryly, "Aliya's Philosophical Musing of the Day Number 7762," and got started on another orange.

"I'm not kidding, Fatoom," said Aliya sternly. She sat down next to her to nick a slice. For a few moments they sat chewing thoughtfully.

"I know," said Fatimah. "I'm not either. In fact, I think I might know a member of the faculty who would do a great job against Arlene."

"Really?" said Aliya, turning to her. "Who?"

One week later, once again the auditorium sent its glaring light up into the sky, and Katie the moderator swiveled her chair round to beam at the camera almost as twinkly. "Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the second round of our debate with Arlene O'Carne and Salwa Abed!"
Dutiful applause smattered as they both came out. Fatimah, craning her neck left and right, didn't bother to join in, and sighed in relief when Aliya eased into the seat next to her. "Is everything ready?" she hissed to Aliya, who nodded.

"We'll just wait for the Q & A session. I talked to Katie. Everything's set."

Forty minutes later, the debate was ending. Aliya, both in nervousness and frustration at what was going on onstage, had ripped the program to shreds on her lap. Once again Salwa had failed spectacularly, and that maddening self-satisfied quirk adorned the corner of Arlene's mouth.
"We will now have our Q&A session," said Katie, "starting with… yes you, sir, in the blue shirt…"

The man labored to his feet; his hair was graying, he had a paunch, and he shuffled a bit taking the microphone. Self-consciously he cleared his throat before starting. "I'm, uh, Evan Cornell." The room took a collective breath of zero anticipation. "This is directed to Arlene. I just wanted to say…"

"Yes?" said Arlene, leaning forward faux-attentively.

"I just wanted to say what a disgrace to our American spirit your espoused views are, and how ashamed I am to count you amongst our ranks as an academic," said the man, his voice suddenly, irretrievably, hardening. Arlene was visibly taken aback. "As a public figure, you should know better. Your fear-mongering and saber-rattling are doing far more harm than good in this country, and I just wanted to say that we, as a country and as individuals, have had enough of it."

"Yeah!" shouted someone far off. The applause built and rumbled to a crescendo, and Arlene looked horrified.

"Stop it!" she shrieked. She got to her feet, teetering on her stilletos. "How dare you accuse me? You're – you're one of them! You're a Muzlum! I'm gonna sue" –

"If anyone is punishable to serve some libel claims, it would be you, Ms. O'Carn," said the man, "and actually, I'm not Muslim at all, though I have the greatest respect for the Islamic faith, and for Muslims." He took a quick look to where Aliya and Fatimah were seated. "I don't count myself as belonging to any organized religion, but I feel the need as a human to stand up for what's right when my fellow humans are being prejudiced and discriminated against."

"Well, in that case," stammered Arlene, "I'm sure you'll like it just fine when Sharia creeps over to rule the land! I'm sure" –

"I'm a constitutional law professor here at the university. Once it gets overruled, I'll let you know," said the man dryly, to laughter.

"I think that'll be all," said Katie, visibly grinning, "thank you all for the lively discussion…"

The music blared over Arlene's continued protestations; in the end, she was hauled bodily off the stage by her own bodyguards. Aliya and Fatimah made their way to Evan, with difficulty – surrounded by well-wishers as he was – to give him their profuse thanks.

"So," said Aliya, as she and Fatimah made their way out afterwards, "successful as that was, I still think we need someone to speak for Islam who is actually Muslim. I wonder who it should be…"

"If you think I'm going to say it should be you," retorted Fatimah, "you are mistaken. You've got a long way to go – keep that temper in check, for one."

They laughed, together.

"Hey, towelhead!" someone shouted. Aliya's head whipped around instantly.

"Don't," Fatimah cautioned. But someone had already got to him – there was a helpless squeal and two people broke through the crowd, one holding the guilty party in some kind of headlock. 

"Apologize," he ordered.

"Sorry," the other managed wheezily, and once the man had let go stumbled away.

"I'm not Muslim either," the man said gruffly, "but we all have a duty towards each other."

"Thank you," Aliya told him, and meant it.

"We're going to have to do some Qur'an distributing, I think," she said to Fatimah as they continued walking. "Spread the knowledge."

"'We'?" said Fatimah.

Aliya winked. "You bet."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Women's Rights: Bring Them Into Focus

- I've been putting these little italicised fore-notes at the beginning of several posts now; I guess I'll keep the 'tradition' going. The following was written in response to an article in the Saudi English newspaper Arab News ( about women's rights; it won't make much sense unless you read the article first.

To The Editor:

I am a Muslim Saudi woman. Though I am elated at the news of a conference being held on the all-too-needed topic of women's rights here, the content of your article had me doubting whether the conference really accomplished what it set out to do.

Let's start out being positive, though. I must agree with your headline: "Muslims Cautioned Against Looking At Women Through Western Prism". Why are we even looking towards the West for guidance in women's rights? 1400 years ago under the Prophet Muhammad women were granted rights to inheritance, to vote, to equality, to humanity... which women in the mud hovels of the Middle Ages -mired West totally lacked. Now, without a doubt - we need to stop deluding ourselves - we are not following our own religious teachings (when did the Prophet Muhammad prohibit women from riding donkeys?), and we are taking for ourselves the very worst aspect of Western women's "liberation": immorality. The question for Saudis, Arabs and Muslims is: when, where and why did we fall behind? More importantly, how do we now catch up, and improve?

Now, a conference about that would be very interesting.

To continue: I find it staggering that in an article covering a women's rights convention, 5 of the 6 speakers/moderators mentioned are men. The one woman is tucked into a footnote at the end, not even quoted. This is part of the problem: when will men stop speaking for women?
Their endeavors on behalf of women are much appreciated. However, these social problems
will never be solved if they keep listening to no one but themselves, repeating
they've been saying for many years: "All is well". It's not. I'm sure if you asked the average Saudi woman, she would not agree that "all her needs are provided for". Transportation? Nope. Independence? Nope. Right to work? Oh, they're still discussing that. Mentioned in one of the lectures was 'women having illegal sex and getting abortions'. Those women did not
impregnate themselves. As with all problems, the blame cannot be skewed to one
side. We need to stop blaming the women for moral bankruptcy in society. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes.

That said, let's not point fingers at just the men. Women are at fault, too. Many display astonishingly bovine behavior towards very real problems in their own society. Acceptance of the status quo, if they are personally not affected, is rife. I've had people tell me that they are
not affected by the driving ban, as they have drivers: "why should they care?" Many women conduct themselves in a way totally bereft of decorum and dignity, much less their supposed 'faith'; why are women who call themselves Muslim walking around malls in drag queen makeup? This merely lends fuel to excuses to hinder women's rights on the hollow basis of 'preventing immorality'.

Point is, the women are not pristinely innocent creatures either: no one is. What we most need to understand is that these issues in Saudi Arabia - and the world as a whole - are not part of a 'gender war': this is a comprehensive social problem. We need to honestly face it, and ourselves, if we are to go anywhere, and if we are ever to find solutions.

And God, how I sincerely hope we do.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thank You For Giving Me The Vote, King Abdullah. Now Can I Please Have Something To Vote About?

The following is the second of my articles to appear on the Aslan Media website at
It's an alternate form of my below piece, An Overrated Decision.

When I, a Saudi female who lives in the city of Jeddah, first heard the news last month that King Abdullah was going to let women vote, my first reaction was, "vote in what?"

As is well known, the country of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The king has the final say in everything. There is no parliament, no prime minister, not even a constitution.

I suppose democracy must begin somewhere. But what elections was the king even talking about?

Perhaps he meant municipal elections. Those were held for the second time ever earlier this year. Yet when women went to their municipalities to vote, they were turned away at the polls. These women then launched a protest against their lack of a voice (not to mention the nonsensical ban on allowing them to drive), which I view as part of a larger attempt for Saudi women to gain leverage in a male dominated system and society.

Perhaps the king meant elections for the Shura Council, the "formal advisory body" in Saudi Arabia that in theory has the power to propose laws to the King (but not enforce them). That would be more interesting. About time, too!

But there's something missing here. Did he say anything about women driving? About finally legalizing it? Er… No. Apparently the King is fine with women taking a part in deciding which the (symbolic) road the country should take, domestically and internationally, but not in actually driving on that (physical) road.

In any case, the King’s decree is already beginning to look suspiciously ineffective. The fact is that the next municipal elections are scheduled to be held in 2015 and the Shura Council does not directly effect daily life for Saudis (as mentioned, the council merely proposes, not enforces, laws). We need a decree that would bring a positive, practical change to Saudi women's lives, not just lip-service that sounds good – and that the world's media hail as a major milestone – yet makes no real difference at all in anything but perception.

Don’t forget that just two days after the announcement hailed as a landmark in the progress of women's roles in Saudi society, a Saudi woman who drove was sentenced in court to a flogging of 10 lashes as punishment. Of course, there was an international uproar and the sentencing was eventually overturned. Once again the media talked about a huge step forward for Saudi women! Personally, I do not see the revoking of the sentence as something to be celebrated. It is not like no woman would ever be sentenced for driving again.

My pessimism was reinforced when Crown Prince Sultan died (may God have mercy on his soul) and Prince Nayef was announced next in line to the throne. The septuagenarian Nayef is not known for his support of initiatives advancing democracy or women's rights. On the contrary, he "does not see the need for elections or for female members of the Shura council" – both subjects of the decree the world recently celebrated. Nayef has also stated that women's driving is a "non-issue" and "should be decided by society" – whatever that means. On the ground here in Saudi, any mention of the future possibility for women to drive – not to mention other, more basic issues such as guardianship, unfairness in divorce, and child custody – is met with derision. "You think Nayef will even consider it?"

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade. In fact, I will more than gladly join the parade when it does come – but I will make sure any celebration I take part in stands for a real achievement.

This story is far from over. Here's hoping for a truly huge step forward for Saudi women, and soon. When that time comes, let's hope it's not limited to just driving a car, but an acknowledgement of just how far Saudi has to go in terms of women's rights. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to recognize that support women's rights does not only integrate seamlessly with the true message of Islam, but with our worldwide mission as humans with consciences.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

At You I Stare In Disbelief

I wrote this a while ago (mid-November, when #JeddahFire had just happened and the Egyptian protests were raging) and never got around to posting it. It's somewhat dated, but -I hope - still relevant, and decided to post it anyway.

These days, the thoughts - the emotions - that cross my mind most when watching the news or when I'm on Twitter are ones of horror, pain (only something non human would not feel pain).... but most of all, disbelief.

Disbelief. Surprise. Shock.

Because most of all, what I think is:

How can this be happening? How can this all be true? It can't be true!

It all sounds like a cruel joke.

How can the great heroes of the Egyptian revolution still be suffering? January 25th, your fighting spirit has returned; but never again did we want to see the likes of January 28th.

How can the grand Midan el-Tahrir - Freedom Square - echo once again with screams and cries of pain, choked with tear gas and riddled with rubber bullets - but resound with chants of freedom?


How can the brave sons and daughters of Syria still be suffering under their wicked tyrant?

How can things be the way they are?

Closer to home... In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world - how can a girl's school burn down and cause numerous injuries, and several deaths?

The same city that saw tens killed and injured and millions in property damage in the past two years, because of flooding - from *rain*? The same city where people, now, in the winter with the rainy season coming up, look up to cloudy skies with worry clouding their own eyes?

The same city where I have seen no tangible improvement, nothing to prevent the same thing from happening again?

World, at you I stare in disbelief.

People - mankind - all of humanity -

At you I stare in disbelief. At our future, I eye in apprehension and stark fear. The rage at our present is building.

And then I roar -


Friday, June 17, 2011

Women To Drive - Let's Go!

So today's the day, everyone: June 17. The day women will finally take the wheel in Saudi Arabia…

Or won't they? Will the fear of police detention; of UAE tanks and fighter jets (as the rumor goes); and, of course, of good old-fashioned fire and brimstone hold us back? Will the rumor-spreading fear-mongers, the damning finger-shakers, the regimented naysayers get their way? Will the fight be postponed another 20 years? Let's hope not.

Let's hope and pray that whatever happens today, women will wake up to a brighter future in Saudi Arabia and in the world as a whole. This Grand Arab Uprising, the Arab Spring, has been a tide of change across the Arab world. It's passed Saudi Arabia by so far – let's hope it can be a force to help bring about, at the very least, the most elemental of rights for women: that of mobility. Let's hope what happens today can in itself be a force of change to bring about the many rights of women in this country that are so sadly lacking.

The arguments people use against women's driving here are each just as illogical, nonsensical and easily proven incorrect as the other. Women's driving is most definitely not against Islam – to ride donkeys and horses was hardly outlawed by the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. An excuse made for the misogynistic customs of society – and in that, we are very much un-Islamic! – is no excuse at all; to upset those outdated traditions that we hold to so closely is something I eagerly anticipate, something that should've been done long ago. For those who claim that 'this is not the right time' – when will be the right time, and who is to suggest just how will we determine this castle-in-the-sky 'right time'? The traffic here is a disaster. Laws are nonexistent. My American mother, a driver with more than 20 years of experience, grits her teeth at the speeding, the recklessness, the road races. Traffic laws need to be implemented here, and fast; perhaps the advent of 'dangerous women drivers' will finally get the police up and running, and the rules practiced.

People speak of a dark age of 'harassment' and the 'dissolution of public morals'. Hate to break it to you, but 'the dissolution of public morals' has hardly been stopped by something as meager as women's driving. Walk into any mall you find. Walk along the street in your black tent and see how many honks you get; how many filthy words you get yelled out of car windows at you. It is an anomaly to find a girl without a boyfriend – or, oh the horror, girlfriend! – in our nation's colleges and universities. Same goes for boys. Public morals? What public morals, where? I find this 'dissolution' already rocketing along, due in part to the oppressive stifling so many Saudi youth feel in this country, which this ban is a part of. Countless pious and devout Muslim women drive the world over. It is both unrealistic and disrespectful to assume that to drive is to be a slut, thank you very much.

That distant dream on the horizon of a Saudi Arabia without sexual harassment, with proper traffic laws, of a Saudi Arabian society that does not demean women, that respects them as the Qur'an, the God they claim to follow does: "Never will I turn away from the deeds of any of you, male or female; you are of one another" (3:195) – will be just that, a distant dream, until we women of Saudi Arabia have the courage to stand up and demand our God-given rights.

!And when we do, God be with those who refuse us

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Defines A Muslim? (3) C'mon, Now, Really

Look. I think it all comes down to one very simple point that I made in Part 1. If you really believe God sent down the Qur'an, do what He says to do in it.

Honestly, though? Just do what you want; what you believe to be right. I'm not going to treat you any different or any of that which comes with a medieval outlook and "you're not one of us" BS. It's you and God. But please, claiming yourself to be 'Muslim' as you directly contradict the essence of Islam itself – the Qur'an – is, I think, as much of a crime as Osama Bin Laden's twisting of the Qur'an to fulfill his own sick fantasies. After all – he had an interpretation of his own, right? An interpretation that any sane person immediately condemned. They did not cast him out of Islam – only God can do that, and no human being can judge another – they did not accuse him of 'not being a Muslim anymore', but they condemned his interpretation. His action.

That is what I hope we can do here. Never condemn the person – never treat them but anything with the utmost respect, love, kindness. The way you want to be treated. But, for God's sake, do not condone their actions. Condemning a person and what they do are two very different things and that's the reason why I'm not a sick maniac whom you would be justified to call a self-righteous isolationist. Condemning PEOPLE, casting myself as God, determining who's right and who's wrong (and I hope I've made it quite clear) is not what I'm talking about.

I'm just saying, look within yourself and ask yourself if you can really justify what you're doing. I hope I've not offended anyone and that I've been able to get my message across clearly.

(Incidentally, I also regard with a jaundiced eye those who say my point of view is 'idealistic' and 'not caught up with the times'. So refusing a glass of wine and that flirty hunk is that difficult? Making time for God in your day is impossible? Come on. We have countless examples of faithful, practicing Muslims who manage to do it in spite of the barrage of urges to do otherwise! Why give ourselves the easy way out?)

In all, God gave us these instructions for a reason. C'mon, people. Let's follow them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What Defines A Muslim? (2) The Interpretation Question

Okay all, here's part 2 of this series: my bound-to-come-short attempt at the definition of a Muslim. It was brought on by discussions on Twitter as well as, believe it or not, walking through a Saudi mall!

One thing that must be stressed here is that this is NOT meant to represent that I'm walking around with a checklist of Criteria To Be Met if someone Claims To Be Muslim - "or else". I'm just kind of annoyed at the extent the 'Muslim by name' phenomenon has reached. Here in the Arab world specifically, Saudi Arabia especially, it's getting kind of ridiculous. I once was speaking to a girl in my class; she mentioned that she didn't cover her hair when she traveled. I asked her, "Do you really believe that you should?" She said "Sure!" – and, when asked further about why she didn't back up her beliefs with actions, simply shrugged.

So is this a case of words not matching up with actions? Beliefs not translated into real, live, factual stuff? I think it is. I think it's an attitude of carelessness, a kind of laissez-faire picked up from the general attitude about religion nowadays. "It's what in your heart that counts." Of course it is – but what is in your heart and words and intentions are NOTHING without deeds to back them up, as well as vice-versa. That's just common sense. Why else is "those who believe" always, always directly followed by "and do good deeds" in the Qur'an?

So I really detest this attitude of "I know what I'm going to do but I'm too lazy to do it"… which is the first category of non-practicing Muslims. Frankly, if the girl had told me "no, I actually don't believe I should cover my hair" because she had researched the actual subject and had come to the conclusion (as many have) that covering one's hair is indeed unnecessary, I would've respected her far more.

This brings us to the second category: Muslims who claim that their interpretation of the sacred texts has enabled them to follow Islam as they see fit. Naturally and as a matter of course there are different understandings of how Islam ought to be practiced. As mentioned in Part 1, that's the beauty of it, and re-interpretation MUST be done if a true Islamic Reformation is to be accomplished. It's part of Islam and refuting the, unfortunately, all-too-often outdated, misogynistic, patriarchal, *insert synonym of BAD of your choice here* system and edicts Muslims have been following blindly for centuries because someone told them the door of interpretation was closed and that's it. I'm of the opinion that the decay and downfall of the Muslim world was in part caused by that cursed idea. It needs to be rectified, immediately – and responsibly. Let's not get carried away here.

So excuse me if I regard with a jaundiced eye the claims of people who drink, who don't pray, who have sex without being married. It's just, how exactly do you 'interpret' (impolitely: 'twist around') direct orders? Nothing ambiguous, just "do" and "don't do"?

Don't drink alcohol.

Direct punishment for those who have sex outside of marriage.

PRAY, for God's sake!

Do I really need to get verses in the Qur'an to back this up? Really, guys? (As always, I'd love to hear if you've got an interpretation that says it's OK for any of the above.)

(continued in Part 3 - I'd get sued for length otherwise.)