Jihad on Ruby Avenue

Originally a guest post on Orbala.

My favorite masjid is so severely sex-segregated that there isn’t merely a barrier for the women; there’s an entirely separate tiny afterthought of a room. But it’s my favorite because it is in the hills, where the stars are the brightest, next to sheds with horses in them (my mother once chastised me for feeding the horses before breaking my own fast during iftar time) and in the midst of wild plants, cats, rabbits, and snakes—and, according to the claims of my brothers, jinn. It is a wild, tangled, untamed place, and my heart always quakes at the glimmering city lights far away. On Ruby Avenue, my imagination is also wild, vibrant, and irrepressible. It was where I went to Quran classes as a child and studied under the imam, but because of the segregation, I rarely attend anymore, since I’m not fond of second-class citizen treatment; though aunties constantly demand to know why, the response from my mother is always that I’m busy with class and work, which they then proceed to make clear is an unacceptable excuse.

Currently, the masjid is under an expansion project. My mother relayed to me that the new building won’t have a barrier, and so I should attend. I informed her that men lie (a male leader told me once that he would take down the barrier at a different masjid and did not keep his word) and so I will not believe this until I can witness that it is true.

In the meantime, on a Friday during Ramadan on Ruby Avenue, in a prayer room separate from the women’s, one of the imams casually mentioned through the intercom that anyone from the congregation can call the azaan. I turned to my mother and announced, “I’m going to call the azaan on Sunday.”

She stared at me for a few minutes, and I added, “He said anyone!” I knew, however, as well as she did, that he’d only meant the men in the other room whose presence he could appreciate. The message was not intended for me. We do not exist. Earlier that week the imam had asked for feedback on whether maghrib should begin 10 minutes or 15 minutes after iftari.

“10 minutes,” I had voted softly in the women’s section in vain. We were in a different room, deliberately could not be heard, and would not be counted.

“10 minutes!” shouted several of the men. For some reason, they always shouted, as though the imam couldn’t hear them two feet away. At any opportunity they would then of course proceed to complain that the women were too loud.

But the imam had said anyone and should be held accountable for his words. After all, if he meant to exclude women, he ought to have said so. He should hear himself say it, hear how terrible it sounds. There is a reason none of the men have the courage to say these things out loud. They quietly go about them instead, self-liberated from the burden of forming words from their actions to give them consciousness.

“I don’t know if he meant women…” my mother responded.

“He ought to be more explicit with his sexism then.”

“I’ll ask him for you tomorrow. It would also depend on if the community allows it. It’s not just his masjid alone you know.”

I had prior arrangements to meet a friend for dinner and wasn’t able to attend the prayers at the masjid with her the day she sought an answer. After tarabee when my mother returned, I would let her rest and not disturb her. So, the soonest was Sunday morning when, stumbling downstairs half-asleep, too eager to bother waking up completely, I asked her whether I would be calling the azaan that night.

My mother is naturally soft-spoken, but this time, she made a point to lower her voice. “I asked the hafiz’s wife to ask him if you can call the azaan, and she responded that he said that since you were once a student of his, you should come to him so that he could explain to you why women can’t give the azaan, and you would understand.”

I never imagined I would, but I started to cry. I was so angry. I told her I would never go back (but for her, of course I did), that there was no reason for me to go to a place that doesn’t want me there, that I don’t want to hear his “explanations.” I’ve heard all of them before. On Fridays, my little brother uses my material for his khutbahs—because I can’t. I told her I would not speak to the imam.

“Please don’t be this way,” my mother pleaded. “Come with me. Stop crying; you are fasting and you cannot lose water.”

I could not stop. I didn’t care how much water I lost. It was an insignificant detail to what I felt and I was not thinking of it. There might have possibly been a very small part of me that genuinely believed I would call the azaan. How could a masjid situated in such a beautiful place, a place where the air shifted and somehow always felt misty, where there used to be a tire swing that would fill with water and that I’d run to as a child, be so unjust?

“How was the dinner yesterday?” my mother asked.

“It went well. I was allowed to speak during it. …It’s better than the masjid.” I began to cry again.

“You seem to be well-loved,” my mother said. “I mentioned that you were fond of a certain dish that was being served at the masjid and all of the aunties wanted to fill plates of it for me to take home to you.”

Vision still blurred with tears, I asked my friends to pray that I don’t burst into tears over a plate of samosas later that night at the masjid iftari. My mother returned to clarify that the imam’s actual words were, “Yes, she can. But… since she was once one of my students, tell her to come to me. I’ll explain to her why a woman can’t give the azaan.”

He might have been implying that it would create too much of an uproar in the community… even if it were the truth. But I didn’t care enough to find out what he’d meant.

Upon hearing all this, one of my two little brothers, three years my junior, who follows me around frequently to pester me with Islamic questions, texted me, “Am I a plagiarist?” I responded he was free to use my material as long as he acted according to the spirit of what he lectured. After all, I never protested before, even when he softened the blow of my words… which circumstance compelled of him, always.

The day before I decided to pray in the men’s section, my brother stood in the hallway outside my room with an awkward expression on his face. “They [some of the younger girls at the masjid] were telling me they weren’t allowed to pray on their periods,” he recounted to me, “and I told them, actually they could if they wanted. And they were like NO, you can’t. And I was like, but it’s not in the Qur’an; if you want to make something haraam you have to show the verse.”

My eyebrows furrowed in subtle protest of a man “educating” a woman on her menstrual cycle. At the same time it was unique that he was not disgusted with the subject. But I already knew where this was going. As admired a Quran reciter my brother was in the community, he did not have the power of age to pull this off.

He continued. “And they were like, my mom says you can’t. …And one of them went up to her mom and asked! And her mom said, no he’s wrong. And strange. Don’t talk to him. She told her not to talk to me!”

I laughed, “Well yeah, don’t bring up girls’ periods like you know better.”

“But I didn’t! They brought it up first! To me! They brought it up to me! It’s not like I was some random guy! But now I look like some random guy going up to women like, hey, did you know you could pray during your periods?”

I laughed a little harder. My brother had also been a student of the imam, and a much admired one by the community. He gave khutbahs (even if the materials were mine) and recitations. It was peculiar and hilarious to hear that he had weirded out masjid aunties.

We left earlier for the masjid than usual, almost as soon as I returned from the office. It was a Sunday, so we were expecting a crowd and few parking spaces. For iftar I had only a date. I’d gotten into the habit of eating very little for iftari. I don’t pray with the imam, because I don’t pray behind men, and certainly not behind walls, which act like the sutras that we place in front of us when we pray to prevent interruption of our prayers by those walking in front of us—therefore severing us from the imam leading on the other side, rending our prayers dismembered and incomplete. Instead, I finish the salah before the imam starts. This requires fast eating, or little to no eating. I go with the latter.

One time, I overheard a sister ask my mom, “What [prayer] is your daughter praying?” while the women were waiting for the imam to begin.

My mother had responded, “Oh no, she is praying maghrib… she…” —nervous laughter—“she just doesn’t think prayer should be hindered so she prays immediately after iftari.” This excuse was less controversial; it made me look like a quiet, pious young woman who was eager to pray immediately after iftar rather than a troublemaking feminist rebel.

There is nothing I could do to not be a spectacle. Although everyone at the masjid breaks their fast as the azaan starts, I always wait for it to finish. The first couple of times this happened, a few of the women repeated to me that it was time to break the fast. I smiled and said, “I’m listening to the azaan.” One of them gave me a strange look. “You don’t have to wait.”

“I know. I believe it’s nice.”

Since the masjid is under construction, we had iftari several feet away in a very large, spacious tent outside, so it was difficult to hear the azaan that was called from the inside. (Nevertheless, I was still not allowed to call it.) I waited, straining to hear that it had finished, consumed the date, and then quickly slipped out of the tent.

Some of the congregants who don’t fit inside spill out onto the deck, where the women pray behind the men (as opposed to an entirely separate room like the arrangement on the inside.) This is only a Sunday community iftar phenomenon, when the masjid is most packed.

As usual, I started praying maghrib long before the imam began—this time in the men’s section outside on the expansive deck, so that I would be finished before the rest of men came. The summer air was cool and lovely.

When I was almost done, with 2 rakat nafl left, a man attempted an aggressive “Excuse me!” but I started the takbeer for nafl before he could say anything else. Frustrated, he walked behind me to the sisters, who hadn’t been there when I’d begun but had gathered in a line in the back as I was finishing, and he said to them, “Excuse me, when she’s done can you make sure she moves back? We need this space.”

(There was plenty of space.)

One of sisters laughed and answered, “Uh, yeah, that’s why she’s, uh, yeah.”

I finished just as the imam started, turned to leave and saw 2 entire rows of women formed far in the back, staring wide-eyed at me across the safe gap they’d maintained, and I descended down the stairs as the rest of the men who’d been waiting for me to end the prayer ascended. In the sky, Saturn could be observed beneath the moon, and so could Venus and Jupiter. My heart leapt.

On the way home, I asked my mother in the car, “Are you mad at me?”

“No. Why would I be mad at you?”

I was straining her reputation, I knew it. Once, during maghrib, my hijab kept sliding off, because it was heavy and jeweled and the fabric shimmered, so I tossed it to the ground where it was inclined. I finished the prayer sans hijab, with my hair falling in dark curls around my neck during sejda. I did not look around to see who was gaping at me in disapproval. When I turned to bid salaam to the angels, I saw only that the women were preoccupied with themselves. MashAllah. My mother, though, had winced, as these behaviors are magnified when it is your own daughter, though she related that she understood the hijab would not stay.

But this, this was a whole new level of a transgression. It didn’t matter that I technically wasn’t in the way of the men, that I had started before the imam and finished before him so that the men only had to wait a few moments to start forming lines. (Regardless of the fact that they really didn’t have to wait, and it was their arrogance that prevented them from lining up beside me, even if on the other end of the same row, leaving a wide distance in between.) They missed no part of the prayer. What mattered was that I was a different creeping shariah—a quiet challenge, out of order, a threat. I’m too young to have the advantage of the masjid aunties, with whom no one messes, and they were not going to support me either.

The next morning, my brother reported to me, “My reputation is ruined.”

“Why?” I asked, thinking for a second it was because of me.

“I’m known as Menstrual Man.”

I laughed, “Who calls you Menstrual Man?”

“I call myself Menstrual Man. They call me Period Man.”

His renovation did have a better ring to it. He continued, meekly laughing at himself, “One of the girls showed me a hadith to prove that she was right, so I sent her some links to show that I was right too.”

I opened and closed my eyes.

“And my friend was like, dude, you went back?! And I said, yeah, I mean if they’re already going to ridicule me I might as well substantiate my perspective with some evidence. And he was like, yeah, go down a martyr.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Just tell them you got it from me and it won’t be so weird.”

“Well, you’re already a weirdo for wanting to do the azaan so I don’t know how much that would help.”

“I meant because I’m a girl, dunderhead,” I said crossly. “You have a sister, who menstruates.”

To justify women forced to the back, men cite a hadith by Abu Huraira, a renowned sexist and a liar. Imam Zarkashi in al-Ijaba writes, “They told ‘A’isha that Abu Hurayra was asserting that the Messenger of God said: ‘Three things bring bad luck: house, woman, and horse.’ ‘A’isha responded: ‘Abu Hurayra learned his lessons very badly. He came into our house when the Prophet was in the middle of a sentence. He heard only the end of it. What the Prophet said was: ‘May Allah refuse the Jews; they say three things bring bad luck: house, woman, and horse.’”

The same misogynist who was consistently refuted by an angry ‘A’isha reported that the Messenger said, “The best of the rows of men is the first and the worst is the last. And, the best of the rows of women is the last and the worst of them is the first.”

For men, attending the masjid prayers is emphasized as crucial; women are allowed the flexibility to pray at home if they wish. If the Prophet even ever said this, I believe he said it to mean that if women are in the front, it signifies that men were late to the prayer, and women were faster than them. It was meant to ensure that the men were prompt.

So if I get there first, I have a right to pray there. It does not mean that you should push me to the back to accommodate your tardiness. (Who’re you fooling? You weren’t there first.)

“Nahida,” said my mother gently after she called me to her bedroom. “I’m going to ask something of you and I hope very much that you’ll listen—”

I already knew what was happening. “No.”


“You want me to stop praying in the men’s section.”

She was quiet, and then she said, “Please.”

“Why? Do you care about what people say?”

“It’s not that. They already think we’re a dysfunctional mess… I don’t want to fuel it.” And here she did not even know about my brother the Menstrual Man. “Please, you can still pray without the imam.”

There are several times, regarding what I wore or where I traveled, during which I disregard my mother’s insistence and live as I please, but I would always ensure it did not hurt her. This time, I succumbed to her request.

“This is against my religion,” I said.

“I know.”

“And I’m right.”

“It doesn’t seem to matter.”

Where could I pray? I wracked my brain for possibilities. Not inside the women’s room, behind a wall. Not on the deck, behind men. Not in the tent, where I would need to wait for everyone to leave after iftari first and thus delay the prayer. Not in the wilderness I love, though it is ideally situated behind the masjid, in the direction all the men face so that I would be in front of them, where the qibla was closest, because at the thought of snakes after sunset, my mother would surely prevent me.

I didn’t mind the idea of a couple of snakebites, which frankly sound far more appealing than this. I didn’t mind the wild plants we as children had referred to as spiders’ eggs because they erupted what looked like tiny dead spider children either. But that was it. Those were all my options and I’d run out. There was no where for me to pray.

In my ideal masjid, families pray together. It seems anti-Islamic to tear them apart. These are parts of Islam that are integral to my being. I can not freely practice them. I thought of Ibrahim’s sacrifice, his defiance of his fathers who worshipped idols, of tradition, of patriarchy. I thought of his sacrifice of his son, whom he made sure consented. There are many more sacrifices, by women in the Quran, countless sacrifices, time and time again, that are not considered sacrifice—but just things to expect of women.

This would be one of them.


Yesterday I was requested to write about faith itself, rather than the interpretations of practices of it, from someone who wished to understand the significance of the Oneness of God, or why it is so important for Muslims that we are monotheists. A few days ago Khadeeja addressed this question of “Why does it matter so much that God is One?”–and why, as Muslims, it is something that we repeat to ourselves at every possible chance: There is no God but God, there is no God but God, there is no God but God. In times of hardship, passion, discontent, great joy, frustration, love, despair. It’s something we attempt to say as often as we breathe.

I could write entire books about the qualities of God, and still not begin to understand even myself the complete infinite nature of these qualities. But throughout the Qur’an it is the quality of Oneness that is most emphasized:

Worship God, and do not associate any others with God. (Qur’an 4:36)

Say: Surely God is one God; behold, far be it from me to ascribe divinity to aught beside God! (Qur’an 6:19)

Do not associate others with God; to associate others is a mighty wrong. (Qur’an 31:13)

Say: I have been commanded to worship God, and not to associate anything with God. (Qur’an 13:36)

because Oneness encompasses all things: by believing that God is One, we have a Single Ultimate Source of existence. That means that all forms of unjust discrimination we implement against each other is shirk, or associations with God. Because we are created with the breath of God, to say that one is any separate or different enough in nature than another to deserve lesser treatment is a great sin. “Masculinity” is often associated with God, with the “feminine” characteristics of God reduced or viewed as lesser in God’s creations what with the effects of global patriarchy, and this is a great sin. There are many forms of shirk, but essentially they are all the same.

When I was very young I didn’t understand why shirk was considered the greatest sin of all–a sin so destructive that it makes you stop being Muslim. Surely there are other sins that are greater? I thought. Like rape, torture, murder, and genocide. The answer is, of course, that these are all forms of shirk. You have wrongfully determined that these people are lesser forms of beings, thereby not only insulting the Oneness of God and God as the Only Source but associating yourself with God in asserting that you have the right to Judge and then carry out unjust punishments in accordance with your wrongful judgement.

Associating yourself with God, and saying–directly or indirectly–“follow me, and not God” is a very prevalent form of shirk. It frustrates me to no end when Muslims conclude their arguments regarding very restrictive religious laws with “God knows best” and have only cited hadith and not the Qur’an, placing the dictations of men at the level of that of God, or they use words of humility “I know nothing” but only to blanket their contempt, or misconstrue the practice of modesty to silence those who are oppressed with statements like “those who are knowledgable speak little and feel they know nothing”–again to blanket their own contempt in the most pretentious way possible, indirectly accusing the other of sin to avoid facing their own. It is dishonest and cruel, a way to stall righteousness under the guise of humility, and wholly immature with an underlying “I know this because I’m better than you.”

With this mentality, heinous crimes are committed against humanity. With this mentality, we distance ourselves from God and overturn what is compassionate and merciful within us, such a horrendous and destructive act. We overturn these qualities which God created into every human being with the breath of God. Heaven is the realm of those who have been true to their compassion and mercy, and Hell is the realm of those who have committed crimes against humanity and consequently have stopped being human.

But God is everywhere, such is the quality of Oneness–there cannot be an opposite. The devil is not the opposite of God–to say so is shirk because good is greater and more complete than evil and will always conquer evil. This is because

God is the light of the heavens and the earth (Qur’an 24:35)

and to this absolute light there is no absolute darkness (remember please, that light is not visible but is often invisible to the human eye; angels who are made of light, are often invisible to us) because there is nothing outside the existence of God and nothing without some amount of light. The devil, however, is darkness that is created. There is created darkness, and there is created light that is its oppsite–like the angels who were created–but there is only one God and only one Uncreated Eternal Good. The opposite of created good is created evil, but there is no opposite for God.

Praise belongs to God, who created the heavens and the earth and who made the darknesses and the light (Qur’an 6:1)

Notice that darknesses is plural but light is singular. Losing light, goodness or humanity, is distancing oneself from God.

And that, is a little of why There is One God is so important in Islam.

Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Hind bint Utbah

Actually, you have probably heard of Hind bint Utbah. She’s quite famous–or rather infamous–for allegedly eating the liver of Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib during the Battle of Uhud, a battle in which she was fighting against the Muslims. Because of her cruel and violent acts against Muslims before her conversion, many Muslims today challenge her status as a companion of the Prophet. Let it be noted that the status of Umar as a companion of the Prophet is never questioned, despite Umar killing his own daughter before his conversion, threatening to kill the Prophet himself, and even after his conversion threatening to burn down the house of Fatima–the daughter of the Prophet–with her in it once the Prophet died.

Hind bint Utbah, being a woman, does not inspire the same sympathy. Viciousness in a woman, that is a harpy. Viciousness in a man moves hearts to quiver.

In the Battle of Badr, an earlier battle in which the Muslims had defeated the Meccans, Hind’s father, brother, and uncle were all killed. Consequently, her anger at the Muslims was immense. She wailed and shrieked for days and wandered the desert pouring sand on her face and clothes, until her husband assured her that the death of her family would be avenged. She promised a reward for the one who could bring back to her the heart of Hamza, who was believed to have been the man who slaughtered her father and brother. In the Battle of Uhud, Hamza was struck with a spear, and after he died was ripped open–the liver was brought to Hind, who is reported to have eaten it.

When the Muslims conquered Mecca in 630 with comparatively little bloodshed, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb surrendered to them, much to Hind bint Utbah’s outrage. But something miraculous might have caused her heart to change, for when the time came for the official conversion she led a group of women to the Prophet cheerfully. And with the Prophet she had the following exchange:

“You shall have but one God.”

“We grant you that.”

“You shall not steal.”

“Abu Sufyan is a stingy man, I only stole provisions from him.”

“That is not theft. You shall not commit adultery.”

“Does a free woman commit adultery?”

“You will not kill your children by infanticide.”

“Have you left us any children that you did not kill at the Battle of Badr?”

Romanticization of the past is not only prevalent but normal, and not only among Muslims. And sometimes history is romanticized solely for redemption: the past couple of entries I’ve written about wars have been in remembrance of the women who fought in them, who are neglected and discredited often in this global patriarchy. But it is also important to remember that war is anything but glorious. People die, people are executed, in the most horrific ways imaginable. You would think, what monster could think up such a vile method of execution? Lives are destroyed. Most of the world isn’t good versus evil, but good versus good. And it is easy to judge and forget.

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with romanticizing the past, especially if it becomes like respiration: we need it, for identity that was stolen from us, for hope, for believing that it could be better because once–once!–it was better. As long as we know that these are exaggerations, glorifications, that the nature of truth has a reputation of being both simple and stranger than fiction, which amusingly enough makes it both complex and obvious, there is nothing wrong with romanticizing the past if it helps us live here in the present. As long as we don’t forget we’re lying, just a little, and that the world isn’t black and white.

God knows best.

Discrediting Feminists

If you haven’t heard already, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has confessed that originally, in traditional Islam, women are allowed to lead men in prayer.

When I wrote a paper on female prayer, because this was an issue a few years ago, years ago when I was a student in Mauritania, I remembered in a book that Ibn Ayman from the Malaki madhab considered female prayers was permissible, and I remember as a twenty-one year old student underlining that; and I actually went back to the book and found my underlining of that statement. When I studied the prayer issue, I was so stuck by the fact that not only was it debated early on, but there were multiple opinions. Imam Tabari considered it permissible for women to lead the prayer if they were more qualified than men – to lead men in prayer. Ibn Taymiyah himself permitted women to lead men in prayer if they were illiterate and she was literate. He just said that she should lead from the back because she might distract the men if she was leading from the front. Ibn Taymiyeh! Permitting a woman to lead men in prayer!

Oh, so he KNEW this! (Not surprising, even I knew this, and he’s a sheikh.) He knew this “a few years ago” in fact. Very interesting. And he didn’t think to let us know before? He didn’t think to defend Sheikha Amina Wadud when she was being harrassed because she was leading men in prayer? He didn’t think to say anything when a man shouted to the cameras, “If this were an Islamic state this woman would be hanged!”? (Doesn’t say that anywhere, by the way.)

I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of scholars to disclose the whole truth. I believe it is our responsibility, as believers, to study our religion. However, when scholars demand that we follow them in unthinking obedience, demand that we adhere to their advice without argument, invalidate all our interpretations on the basis that they are more learned, create a system in which this is socially enforced through fear and ostracism, and then withhold information while women are being harassed for practicing their own faith as it should be practiced–don’t expect me waive responsibility.

I like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. It hurts me to criticize him, especially after this, an absurd combination of bitterness and compassion. It should not be his responsibility to speak up–he doesn’t owe that to anyone, he’s just a person who changes and learns like the rest of us. But he has power. I was in tears of anger, relief, and happiness when I heard him say this, what I have always studied and known. I’m glad he recognizes this history and interpretation, and acknowledges it as valid, particularly considering all his previous statements of the contrary. God bless him.

He has not disclosed his own opinion on the matter.

Dr. Amina Wadud received death threats. She was denounced as heretic. Of course, with the adherents of patriarchy, I don’t expect women to suddenly magically be able to lead prayer everywhere because of Sheikh Hamza Yusuf acknowledging diverse scholarly opinions in the Islamic past. But it’s a start. And it’s very interesting, and very unremarkable, that when a woman acts as an agent to bring change to the current state of Islam and return it to its roots, restoring the power given to women by God, her reputation and credibility is destroyed.

Especially if, like Sheikha Amina Wadud, she calls herself a feminist.

That Islam doesn’t need “feminist interpretations” is the claim of pathetic sexist bigots who fear their own privilege challenged and are unwilling to credit those women with a sense of entitlement to their God-given rights. Instead they take it for themselves, a play with words and language–“Okay, okay women can lead prayer. BUT NOT BECAUSE OF THE FEMINISTS!”–in order to secure their own stolen power as soon as they feel a dangerous shift.

I didn’t need your permission. I have the permission of God. Amusing how important this is to you, clearly demonstrating that to you what’s right is not prioritized over pushing your own unIslamic ideology.

It’s a familiar perspective. I’ve heard it before, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “You should do this, because we gave you the right to vote. Maybe we should have never given you the vote!” You did not give me rights, asshat. I already had them, you were just preventing me from practicing them. You can’t keep something from me, allow me to use it after I fought for it to be respected as it should be, and then act like it was a gift of mercy and yours to distribute and I should forever worship your egotistical douchiness.

Feminism is inherent in Islam. Tabari’s interpretations regarding the permissibility of women to lead prayer are feminist. Islam is an egalitarian religion, not a patriarchal one. This discomfort with feminist interpretations, this assertion that they must be biased, is nothing other than a projection of the biased interpretive monopoly of patriarchy.

Muslim men rave about powerful Muslim women in the past. Feminist women. But it appears many of them only love empowered women in theory. Imagine, if those women were alive today!


Leading scholar, Hamza Yusuf, on women leading prayer — AltMuslimah
and commentary from Hijabman

I get the best commenters.

sophia said…
This post reminds me that reading can be a political act. It’s also an act that has ethical and moral implications.

I’m wary of readers who can’t think for themselves– who need a scholar to tell them how to read, what to read, and what to think about either.

Such an approach to reading a text is disingenuous, passive, and egotistical (egotistical when used to inform or chasten the “ignorant” from the mouths of those who have unwittingly labeled *themselves* fools in order to usurp the role of the scholar by conflating scholarly knowledge with their own: “I’ve read x who is smart, therefore I am smart. I’ve read x is who wise, righteous, and brilliant, therefore I am brilliant. I’ve read scholars on this matter and they all say x, I agree, therefore I know what I’m talking about.”

Besides being a theft and a fraudulent claim to knowledge, that method of reading breeds a rancid form of arrogant piety.

At its worst, how a reader interprets a text can absolve them of responsibility for their beliefs and actions. Of course, this is a repulsive phenomena. Readers have a choice. And whether or not they find themselves in the neighborhood of being absolved of responsibility depends on what a reader decides to do with what they’ve read.

That nature of that choice, I believe, is a question of character– not intellect.

It’s disturbing and wrong when unethical and immoral methods of reasoning and consequences arise from bad reading habits and scholarship.

It’s outrageous when bad reading habits and scholarship are endorsed as a way for arriving at conclusions that, at best, are problematic– not least of all when it seems that the conclusions and intepretations drawn from a text fail the test of reality and common sense.

Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed time and again in the realm of sacred and religious texts, readings and readers who are divorced from reality find themselves in a hermeneutical quandry. When coupled with power, that quandry tends to be resolved through means of elaborate theological and philosophical ruses, violence, oppression, priviledge, exclusion, coercion, harrassment, force, psychological aggression, guilt. On and on.

I don’t trust readings of any text that need the thought police or a goon squad in order to enlighten the rest of us.

I’m not a Muslim, but I do at least remember that the Qu’ran has the special status of being God’s direct, revealed word and speech.

With that in mind, I marvel that the Prophet Muhammad was apparently illiterate.

It seems to me that having credentials or a degree isn’t a pre-requisite for understanding the Qu’ran. Nor does it seem, outright, to be a pre-requisite for sharing one’s thoughts or ideas about the Qu’ran.

God’s revelation is to all of humanity (high and low)–not to a select group of scholars that have been asked to interpret it for the rest of us.

Rant over.
Sunday, August 28, 2011

Eid Mubarak

Speaking of love, there is an overused saying that insists, “Love is blind.” And to this I’ve consistently inwardly protested.

While research indicates that the saying is more than figurative (suggesting that critical thought areas in the brain are suppressed when we’re “feeling love”) I’ve always believed–always knew–that if “love is blind” it is not because it sees less, but because it sees more. Perhaps, likely even, that it sees too much.

And I don’t think I’m wistful or naive to believe this.

But maybe to some degree incompatible with this world. I’m very impatient–until I’m in love, at which point I find I have patience of an unlimited amount, and sometimes that may be dangerous, being such a faithful and passionate person, and such a stubborn one. It happens sincerely, freely, I’ve never had a close friend I didn’t love. If only love meant we saw more–on more than one side, or if only the entire world saw love. Either way, it doesn’t exclusively stifle our ability to act logically or sternly. And to shove it aside and dismiss it is absurdly illogical as emotional aspects are functioning areas of our brains and we need to utilize those more, not less.

This Ramadan has involved struggle, as is warranted, though through the arising of surprising and unexpected circumstances. I feel fortified, cleansed, and at the same time soft against the edge of a knife–there was a poem, what was the line?–“Were knowledge all, what were our need / to thrill and faint and sweetly bleed?” I feel like I can burst into blossom.

I can laugh easier, and deeper. And I can repent and regret, a blessing of the struggles of this past month. That’s another thing, a quote that never resonated with me: “No regrets.” I have regrets. I burn bridges and I don’t look back as they go up in flames, and sometimes I wish I had. I’m glad to say I wish I had, cleansed to have struggled and to know. I would say only fools have no regrets, but who am I to make that claim?

All that said, I am happy to be reunited with my red lipstick.

And I hope you all have a beautiful Eid, full of love, and full of genuinely few regrets.

Good night.