On the Deaths We Choose to Mourn… And the Ones We Choose to Forget

On February 10th, 2015, Yusor Abu Salha, 21, was shot execution-style alongside her husband of six weeks, Deah Barakat, 23, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19, by a man who resembles a potato. The potato-terrorist’s name is Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old while male who, according to the malestream media, shot the three innocent students over a “parking dispute” while chanting the infinite wisdom of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, renowned leaders in the progressive Islamophobic new atheists movement. Like all white men with grievances and guns, Hicks had harassed the three Palestinian-American students for their religious beliefs incessantly before finally killing them in a pre-meditated “fit of rage,” while their cars were not parked at an empty parking space.

I apologize for waiting to write about this story. As you can tell, I’m still rather upset.

However, I cannot describe the atrocious murder of these three in a clear act of terrorism without mentioning the February 6th assault of a 9-year-old Muslim boy in Sweden, whose head was smashed into the pavement by security as the 9-year-old struggled to breathe whilst reciting the shahada; or the vicious assault on a Muslim family inside of a grocery store on February 12th during which the father of a 10-year-old boy was physically beaten to the ground by a group of white men while his son was held back by bystanders from assisting his father, and while his young daughter was sexually harassed as the men demanded that she remove her hijab; or the 28-year-old Mustafa Mattan who was shot and killed through the door of his apartment on February 9th after he rose to answer a knock. Mattan was a Somali Muslim, a university graduate student who’d found work as a security guard to save for a wedding, and a humble and soft-spoken man whose funeral expenses were covered by donations that his family struggled to raise. And these are only the most prominent of countless hate-crimes motivated by growing Islamophobia. Surrounding these attacks on living, breathing people, most of whom have been made to stop living and breathing, are the February 13th burning of the Islamic Center in Huston, the February 14th vandalism (happy day of love everyone) of an Islamic school in Rhode Island, and the windows shot out of a Muslim secondary school in Montreal on February 10th.

Although the malestream media neglected to report the shooting on Chapel Hill accurately without the criticism of Twitter and independent journalists (that’s embarrassing) the Muslim community was overflowing with enough pain and outrage (and rightfully so) that eventually, reporters from CNN and MSNBC had the sense to realize their mistakes, though not without parading the “parking dispute” proposition for a few more days, checked with the words “police claim” to frame the favored excuse. Unfortunately, some expression of that pain and outrage from the Muslim community involved appropriation of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter–#MuslimLivesMatter—which was also embarrassing, and telling to say the least, considering the death of the Somali grad student had, comparatively, inspired nothing from us but the sound of crickets.

It is inarguable that Yusor, Razan, and Deah had been upstanding citizens, who built homes for those without homes, who raised money to donate to Syrian refugees, who were devoted and kind, who impacted their communities so profoundly that their efforts continued even after their deaths. It is inarguable that this world was better while they lived in it, that the loss of their lives is mourned by those loved best by God, that they were stellar Muslims and stellar human beings. But what if they hadn’t been? What if they hadn’t been the epitome of everything we uphold as ideal? What if they hadn’t been newly weds? What if they hadn’t been accepted into a university, hadn’t been planning to attend next fall? What if they hadn’t been hijabis? What if they hadn’t raised money for refugees, but had been impoverished themselves? What if they had been 16 and pregnant, or LGB or T, or… not Palestinian? —what if they, like the Somali man, shot in his apartment, whom we neglected, had actually fit the profile of the victims in #BlackLivesMatter?

Would Muslim lives matter then?

Before we “borrow” (read: appropriate) from the black community, whose struggles and movements benefit us all, it is crucial to evaluate whether those from whom we are “borrowing” are valued in our own. The relative silence in the death of Mattan, 16 hours before the deaths of Yusor, Razan, and Deah, speaks as many volumes about the racism in the Muslim community as the silence surrounding the deaths of Yusor, Razan, and Deah speaks about the American media. The Muslim community exists in a state of Arab supremacy, in which the devastation to Arab American lives—or Arab lives in a global context—is met with all the heartbreak that embraces an ideal victim, and destruction to all other lives, especially Black lives, is greeted with a shuffle of discomfort. Non-Arab lives are considerably devalued, and consequently, the narrative of their deaths neglected. As hard as it might be to face, our collective sorrow has a color.

The victims of the Chapel Hill shooting garnered this much attention in the Muslim community because the victims were upstanding. And no one should have to be upstanding for their lives to matter. There’s a really horrible sense that some who aren’t directly connected to the victims is publicly indulging themselves in the excuse to behave righteously about how good–and they were good–the victims were… and to credit the entire Muslim community through the good deeds of the respected dead. So that the Muslim American community can itself be depicted as the ideal victim.

But we are not an ideal victim. We are not all Arabs, and we are not all straight, and we are not all young and beautiful and excellent, and we are not all in positions to give rather than receive. And my heart is breaking, for Yusor, and Razan, and Deah, and for Mustafa too, and—forgive me—but especially for him. Because no one but his family is mourning him like they are mourning the victims of Hicks. And it is shattering me to the core.

.إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ‎

#Justice

Guest Post: Culture, nationalism, and the myth of a monolithic Islam

Does our last guest writer even need an introduction? Metis, wife, mother, academic, and a writer on topics related to religion and feminism, is the badass behind MusFem, where feminism is spoken fluently–and the gridlocks of conventional wisdom is challenged. Under different names, Metis has always been a subversive voice of uncompromising reason and astounding patience. Please welcome Metis and her exploration of religion and national identity–as well as her contention as to whom it truly concerns.

It has taken my neighbour’s six-year-old daughter nearly a year to vaguely understand the difference between religion and nationality. Every time her mother tried to take her to church because ‘good Christian children attend church’ she would promptly declare that she was “American, not Christian!”

Most immigrant or expatriate families who live away from home tend to focus more on their “own traditions” which manifests itself either in the form of people interacting closely with their national community or in the form of strict adherence to religious traditions. It appears to me that in my neighbour’s case the focus of the family has been more on their American identity in a foreign country. This made me realise that Quran never refers to ‘nationality’ as we know it today. There are references to ‘peoples’ (49:13) and ‘tribes’ (7:160) like the ‘Children of Israel’ (10:90) and ‘Pharaoh’s People’ (43:51) and the ‘Quraish’ (106:1), for example, because people were known to exist as tribes with their personal beliefs becoming ‘Jews, and Sabaeans, and Christians’ (5:69). Bible doesn’t refer to nationalities either. Yet, in the modern world there are constant references to Islam as it started in the 7th Century Arabia versus the modern idea of nations and nationalities. Muslims are repeatedly reminded that a thousand and four hundred years later Islam is a sum total of the verse 12 of chapter 8 of the Quran, while the ‘West’ is ‘democratic’, ‘free’, and ‘just.’ Muslims who migrated to the ‘West’ (sometimes two generations ago) have, like any other immigrant/expat community, tried to remain faithful to their traditions – in this case their Muslim traditions. For that they have been blamed for “bringing that desert stuff into our world.” Constant references are made to ‘the West and Islam’ or ‘America and Islam’ as if these are mutually exclusive entities, and Muslims are regularly asked if they can be “British and Muslim”, and taught how to exist as hyphenated identities: American-Muslim. We vaguely understand what is meant by ‘West’ and we are fairly sure about what we mean when we refer to America or Britain or France. But what do we mean by ‘Islam’? What is ‘Islam’?

In 2001, the then President of the US, George Bush said, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Thirteen years later, the famous Muslim scholar and writer, Reza Aslan said in reference to ISIS (2:13) that “if a member of ISIS said I’m chopping off the infidels heads because I’m a Muslim and Islam tells me to do so, you’ve got to take his word for it; he’s a Muslim and that’s his interpretation of Islam.” One cannot help but notice the difference between the two men’s understanding of ‘Islam.’ For Bush Islam is a monolithic bloc that is black and white – peaceful Muslims practiced the ‘true Islam’ while the terrorist Muslims hijacked Islam and were “traitors to their own faith.” At least that is what he said. Aslan, on the other hand, acknowledges that everyone has their own interpretation of Islam; in effect, every Muslim’s Islam is their personal understanding of the faith and hence those who are terrorists are also Muslim, not “traitors to their own faith.” Bill Maher infamously condemns all Muslims as following one type of Islam, while Aslan and Jebreal try to argue that there is no one type of Islam.

Apparently there are 73 sects within ‘Islam.’ Whether one believes this number as true or not, it is true that most Muslims identify themselves as belonging to a branch of Islam and even within a particular branch there are diversities in beliefs and practices. There are also ‘cultural Muslims’ (aka secular Muslims) like Jebreal (who told Maher that she is a secular Muslim) or Mandvi who recently acknowledged that “Religion is so much more than the god you pray to. The religion that you associate with, it’s culture, it is family, it is background… culturally, yes, I feel like I will always be culturally Muslim.”

Very recently a radio programme focused on the history of Islam in America the introduction of which made a valuable observation that “Islam has some 1.6 billion followers practicing a wide array of religious traditions and speaking hundreds of different languages. And yet, even as more and more Americans convert to the faith and foreigners emigrate to the U.S. from all over the Islamic world, Muslims are still often caricatured in the American imagination.”

This ugly caricature of the American imagination has to stop but first we must also realise that an ‘American’ does not automatically mean a Maher-version of white, non-Muslim, ill-informed citizen of the US. What is an ‘American imagination’ about Muslims if an American also happens to be Muslim? Inadvertently the programme’s introduction is making the same dangerous mistake of stereotyping, and alienating Muslims from America, which it is accusing ‘Americans’ of doing. An American can be a Muslim. They can be white, brown or black. An American Muslim can be a Sufi or Salafi or Progressive or Quranist or Shiite or even just a cultural Muslim.

To understand if people have, even a vague, universal definition of Islam I asked Muslims and non-Muslims to give me their definition of Islam. Twenty seven people kindly shared their definition – each one different from the other. Interestingly only one Muslim made a reference to the Prophet Muhammad while four non-Muslims referred to him as essential to the Muslim faith. Muslims generally focused on the worship of One God and most further defined their identity for example as ‘Ritualistic spiritual muslim’ (sic) or ‘Spiritual Muslim’ or ‘Sufi Muslim’ and even ‘Quranist.’ Furthermore, while non-Muslims were inclined to offer a text-book definition of Islam highlighting the mechanics like “organized religion”, Prophet, Quran, “rituals” and “rules”, Muslims focused more on their “relationship” with God, as Islam being a “security blanket”, and adopting “a Way of Life.” Clearly Muslims understand Islam personally and individually rather than as a standard definition and they acknowledge that their belief system can be further identified as a particular type of Islam.

Where am I leading with this? I argue that while we all know in our hearts that Islam is not monolithic and that there is no ‘true Islam’, non-Muslims and sometimes even Muslims like to pretend otherwise. This insistence that we have “our own traditions and everything else is wrong” (as if there are standard sets of Muslim traditions) satisfies the ego of Muslims who want to broadcast their version of Islam as the only legitimate version – the true Islam. Recently when Huffington Post Religion posted this article on their Facebook Page on how Shiite Muslims observe Ashura, Sunni Muslims were quick to point out to the world that “This is deceiving”, “This has nothing to do with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad”, “This is not the true Islam; This is very real diversion”, and even that “This is not an Islamic practice it is made up and weird” (sic). Yet, if you ask the small community of Shiite Muslims who observe Ashura through bloodletting, the physical ‘abuse’ is neither deceiving nor weird; it is all about the “universality of the experience”, a universality that is confined to the minority community that celebrates its spirituality in a unique manner. Reiterating what Aslan said, “that’s their interpretation of Islam” and we must take their word for it with tolerance and acceptance of diversity.

No one has perhaps said it better than Dr. Laury Silvers that “There is no core “Islam,” there is only diverse Muslim identities constructed in a multitude of ways.” So which one particular Muslim identity is the only legitimate one that non-Muslims and Muslims alike can refer to when discussing ‘Islam’, a religion of over a billion diverse people?

That is a billion American dollar question.

You have the right to bear children.

You have the right to bear children. No one may enter your body and alter the state of your existence with an entitled twist of cold medical instruments. If you are impoverished, you have the right to bear children. If you are disabled, you have the right to bear children. If you are of color, you have the right to bear children. If you are transgender, if you are intersex, if you are not heterosexual, if you are diaspora embodied, if you are ill, if you cannot read this, you have the right to bear children. You have the right to bear children in a country that is not yours. You have the right to bear children who may “burden” society for 18 years. You have the right to bear children of men who resemble you. You have the right to bear children of men whose hearts have been crushed by the weight of distress. You have the right to bear children of women in male bodies. You have the right to bear children you cannot afford. You have the right to bear children who are disabled, of color, transgender, like you. You have the right to bear children. You have the right to love, and you have the right to bear children.

And once they have been birthed, your children have the right to exist.

#ENDForcedSterilization

It’s the 2nd day of Ramadan and my fast has already been interrupted for the next 7 days.

Since it’s been a while since I’ve written here, I’ll remind everyone asking What is the meaning of this!, that according to mainstream interpretation women should avoid applying nail polish because it acts as a barrier (we’re suddenly against barriers now) between the water during wudu–ritual purification before prayer–and the surface of the nail. However, since–also according to mainstream interpretation–women are exempt from prayer during their menstrual cycles, many take the opportunity to wear nail polish during this time.

Continue reading “It’s the 2nd day of Ramadan and my fast has already been interrupted for the next 7 days.”

valentine’s

When I was little this was my favorite holiday, a truth I avoided professing until I reached a point in my life when I didn’t give a toss. Aside from the gruesome origin of the holiday (that’s sure a downer) I was fond of notes, flowers, red and pink, the expression of affections, and decorative cards. I enjoyed walking down the streets and every 30 minutes seeing small stands filled with these, displayed by hopeful vendors. As much as I liked the 14th I don’t think I ever went absolutely batshit for it. (In fact I wonder if this wouldn’t ruin my fondness of it.) The holiday had always been quiet for me: I never really associated it with any kind of extravagance, and would have always preferred quiet meals at home to packed restaurants. There are a lot of feminist reasons to dislike the holiday–the overt exclusion of LGBT people in its representations is an important example, as well as the poverty-level wages earned by flower industry workers–but I’m going to write about something I’ve observed this past 24 hours.

Which was mainly men complaining–very loudly–about how stressful this holiday is.

I find this very interesting. Valentine’s Day, it seems, consumes less time and demands less preparation than most major holidays. Even if your SO prefers fancy hotels and restaurants–all you’d have to do is some booking in advance. You’re done in 10 minutes. I’ve never heard a woman complain about her partner’s utter lack of competence on this holiday before. (In fact, it’s considered distasteful; or, if you’re so misogynist that you don’t want to give women so much credit, it’s at least embarrassing when your girl friend is shoving dozens of roses and balloons in your face and you’re telling her how “unloved” you are.) It’s considerably harder to find gifts for men during this holiday. Without traditional conventions working to “guide” her, a woman gifting her male significant other would encounter more difficulties and reasonably become more frustrated–yet I’ve never heard a single woman who is gifting her partner complain.

I’ve heard men go on and on with their complaints–one of them even declaring that as soon as he’s on a first date, he lets it be known that he won’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. (That would never fly with me. Fortunately, he wasn’t asking me.)

With Christmas, which begins WEEKS in advance, and Halloween, which requires all the stress that accompanies piecing together a costume or throwing a party or gathering candy and decorations, and the imperialist holiday of Thanksgiving, which… I won’t even start on the labor for Thanksgiving… Valentine’s Day in comparison is absolutely nothing at all. Book a reservation at a restaurant, buy some roses, say something thoughtful–and you’re done.

The malicious hatred of it, is a result of the hatred of all the pink it involves, of flowers, of compassion, of anything and everything that is known to be a trait of femininity. The malicious hatred of it is a result of the hatred of women especially receiving anything at all. Unlike Christmas, Halloween, or Thanksgiving, the labor for Valentine’s Day is expected to be performed by men. And that’s why every man on earth is magically anti-capitalist a week before the 14th.

During Christmas, Halloween, and Thanksgiving, most of the labor that is involved is endured by women. I suppose men are stereotyped to put up the Christmas lights; after that, all that’s traditionally expected of him is to stuff his face and watch television until the party starts. The sense that women are traditionally the main receipt of Valentine’s Day, and all of the responsibility of representing femininity with pinkness and floweryness, amounting to general male disdain of it is telling of the most deeply embedded sexism that a man can overtly display.

Stuffed animals are a turn off for me, I’m not much of a fan of chocolate, and I’m rather choosy about jewelry, but I don’t mind (fair trade) flowers once in a while. Honestly, I love flowers. Potted plants are nice. And I can’t imagine ever being with a man–or why any woman would want to be with a man–who would throw such a fit about a simple gesture of love one day a year. I’d seriously question why it bothered him so much while he undoubtedly expects every woman around him to cook extravagant Eid dinners without a single complaint. The difference is that while most other holidays masquerade as “gender-neutral,” they aren’t; Valentine’s is one of the few explicitly designed for women, and not men, to relax–unless you’re a woman who, like me, lives in a patriarchy, where you can’t relax, because you have to hear men bitch about the three things they have to do. Constantly.

Why Nudity Doesn’t Work (for Islamic Feminism)

Admittedly, even as a Western woman, I still grapple with the role of nudity in the feminist movement–the only real incorporation of it that I understood entirely had been the Slutwalks, and that is because the message wasn’t, “I am free to be sexy!” but, “You can’t rape me if I am, and you can’t rape me if I’m not.” There were, after all, women who attended in burkhas, and in sweaters, and of course women who attended in lingerie, because women are raped in all those things. The purpose was to demonstrate that attire doesn’t matter, not to shed clothing as a symbolic act of liberation.

The latter might have worked (in a Western context) had the demonstration not been gendered.

Now obviously emphasizing that bodily regulations are oppressively more restrictive on women is important, but I don’t believe that any of the protests I have seen really executed this effectively–instead they have repositioned women as the sex class, and that is exactly because they have conflated “sexy” with nudity. It is not that most of the attendees are typically women, but that attention is refocused on the fact that they are. Consequently it is not only that the demonstrations have been gendered; it is that they have been sexualized. It is that getting naked is sensationalized.

And it is that attitude–that nudity is something sensational–that directly defeats the liberating aspect. Because sensationalism is a performance. And nudity, when liberating, is not. It is not a performance: it is not constraining or restrictive.

I know a lot of Islamic feminists discard the suggestion of nude liberation entirely–and with good reason–dismissing it as an affront to women’s dignity and (most understandably) as a device of neocolonialism. I am not ready to dismiss it. There are ways that it works. Natalia Antonova, for example, has written about experiencing nudism from a feminist perspective and the comfort that it provides for body image. There is a context in which it is effective. Nudity becomes a device of neocolonialism when women like FEMEN are involved. And again, note the sensationalism and sexualization.

FEMEN began with sex worker rights, an area in which conflating nudity and sexuality is pretty much inevitable (& an area w/ women I support), but its emphasis on attractive women (on women [Western] men find attractive) is what undermines its purpose of securing women’s rights. Because while it may be inevitable to coincide sexuality and nudity, what FEMEN has done is conflate sexuality with sexiness. And thus the purpose of securing women’s rights is defeated–especially religious women of color, who are perceived as victims of their religion, and thus colonialist feminist rhetoric is employed against, for example, Arab women. The nudity is not, “Everyone is whoever the hell she is–no performances,” but rather, “My Western feminism is better [read: sexier] than yours, according to my own standards of liberation / beauty to which you should abide. Perform accordingly!”

And that is precisely why nudity doesn’t work for Islamic feminism. Take note, FEMEN, and all you other feminists insisting, “Muslim women–take off your clothes!” (I am not kidding that is actually someone’s catchphrase.) There are nuances you do not understand. Believe it or not there are entirely different frames of mind other than yours! And there people who function with these frames of mind, and fashioning feminism to address these nuanced worldviews in particular are more effective, rather than throwing a generalized blanket “solution” over everything. Maybe there had been / will be some time in the past or future when nudity work[ed]/s, based on cultural attitudes and the non-sexualized approach of the protest itself, but it doesn’t now. (No doubt when it does you will all claim that you invented nudity or something and we are just following because you, white feminists, are the MOST INSPIRATIONAL. Like Muslim women didn’t vote before you, because you totes invented feminism. Or something.)

Muslim women have our own ways of protesting, OKAY. Gosh. And you know what, they involve extravagant headpieces. Which are fun. And there is a reason that works. There is a reason Muslim feminists chose that device of liberation. There are cultural and religious reasons that that works and that nudity doesn’t. There are intricacies in religious and cultural approaches that you don’t understand.

So please, please, get the hell out of my way.

IKEA’s Literal Erasure of Women

The catalogue photo to the left was released in Sweden; the one to the right was released in Saudi. To the right, the woman has conspicuously vanished from the photo.

While I don’t deny that this is indicative of Saudi’s approach to sexual equality–and a degree of very poignant and disturbed reactions followed after I viewed this photograph–and of the erasure of women in Saudi from the face of the earth, I’m furious with those who assert that IKEA is not to blame. Saudi did not ask for women to vanish from the IKEA catalogues distributed in its blasphemous anti-Islamic country, and that is a terrible (and racist) defense of IKEA: the political atmosphere in Saudi is no excuse to assume that sales would plummet if women were shown in catalogues.

To IKEA’s credit, the company did apologize, insisting that they had betrayed their values with the erasure. Frankly, I don’t believe they are really sorry. You can’t make a mistake this massive without demonstrating you really don’t give a fuck. Capitalism without morality–and the anti-thesis of patriotism. IKEA did not betray its own values: it betrayed Sweden’s. This is what happens when corporations forget their roots.