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.

Disregarded Verses: Deciding What is Halaal and Haraam

Lately, I have been reading scholars replying to the written concerns of practicing Muslims, and found that so many of these scholars violate the undeniable orders dictated in the Qur’an by forbidding that which God has not forbidden. And they do this through the use of hadith. As an example of these violations, I’ve already discussed music. And I believed at the time that I wouldn’t need to write about anything else unlawfully made forbidden, because that entry was clear about everything else made forbidden without Quranic evidence.

Apparently I was wrong. This gets a longer entry.

I might be joking about outlawing bananas, but some people aren’t when they declare things “Islamically” illegal in order to police the lives of others. Some people force their own biases into the text (e.g. dogs as pets are harram, supposedly [hint: they actually aren’t]) And unfortunately some of those people are scholars. The Qur’an warns us against them and commands us to question them:

Say: ‘Bring forward your witnesses to prove that God did forbid so and so!‘ And if they bear witness falsely, do not bear witness with them; and do not follow the errant views of those who have given the lie to Our messages, nor of those who believe not in the life to come, and who regard other powers as their Sustainer’s equals! (Qur’an 6:150)

Notice that the verse says God [emphasis mine, obviously; it’s a translation anyway]–not the Prophet and recorded hadith, not anyone else. Only God decides what is religiously forbidden. The verse then commands us not to credit those who lie about the message, because their views are errant. In fact, their views are so errant, that the very next line likens making lawful things unlawful and vice versa to worshipping other powers alongside God. This is scathing admonishment with the implication that these people aren’t even Muslim.

Say: ‘Have you considered the provision God has sent down for you, and you have made some of it unlawful, and some lawful?‘ Say: ‘Has God given you leave, or do you forge against God?‘ (Qur’an 10:59)

Well, has God given you leave? Demand this of your scholars. If they cannot prove with Quranic evidence and logical support that you are forbidden to listen to music, or that you may not keep dogs as pets, or that women may not call the adhan, they are wrong. And by making such laws, they are placing themselves above God and are treacherous with a hunger for power.

But say not – for any false thing that your tongues may put forth,- ‘This is lawful, and this is forbidden,’ thus attributing your own lying inventions to God: for, behold, they who attribute their own lying inventions to God will never attain to a happy state! (Qur’an 16:116)

Clearly, this verse warns us against forging the biases of others and the biases of ourselves over the word of God. You are allowed to have preferences–you are not allowed to force them on anyone else just because you have some kind of weird power fetish. And power is why scholars and imams become so defensive and insecure when they are argued against. Power is why they police us, why people police other people, and why they accuse us of straying from the right path when we disagree or live our lives as God commanded. What they mean is that we’ve strayed from worshipping them.

And, behold, there are indeed some among them who distort the Book with their tongues, so as to make you think that [what they say] is from the Book, the while it is not from the Book; and who say, “This is from God,” the while it is not from God: and thus do they tell a lie about God, being well aware [that it is a lie]. It is not conceivable that a human being unto whom God had granted revelation, and sound judgment, and prophethood, should thereafter have said unto people, “Worship me beside God”; but rather, “Be you masters in that you know the Book, and in that you study.” (Qur’an 3:78–79)

As I’ve stated before, Islam is against priesthood, and during the time of the Prophet the power of religious leaders was always kept in check through intense debate. Argument is glorious, and I’m completely ashamed of the ridiculous fallacies to which scholars now resort. Really, it’s insulting. If they don’t try the whole “because the Christians do it” thing, they bring up entirely irrelevant points and they list hadith after hadith–some of which even openly contradict each other–to “prove” that they are right. They will tell you they can do what only God can do and judge the strength of your faith and pretend to know what weakens it (music! shaking hands with the opposite sex! exposed hair!) so that they may police you. And if you’re a woman, they will tell you that you’re being immodest in what you do or say as though they can read your mind.

It is both a violation of Islam and an intrusive violation of you. Seriously, if I’m not allowed to recite the Qur’an in public because some guy gets off from me reciting the Qur’an, there is something very, very wrong with him. And he’s telling me this–he is openly announcing to the world the sexual nature of the effects of my voice on him and taking it a step forward to silence me–and it’s my modesty at stake?

How did we even get here? Some of these fatwas are ridiculous and funny, but others are horrendous. How did we arrive at this when debate was lively once, when the Qur’an clearly states that human beings are not allowed to make forbidden what God has made permissible.

Or make permissible what God has made forbidden at that. Khadeeja wrote a few days ago an article entitled Halal certification: Rituals are means to an end, not the end in themselves, in which she eloquently examines the direct defiance of the command to treat animals with kindess from those who declare permissible the meat that comes from tortured and battered animals, just because they were slaughtered in a halaal way in the end. This is a case in which what God has clearly made haraam is made halaal. The meat is not halaal unless the animal was treated kindly. And there are hundreds of other examples.

That, by the way, is how you determine that something is haraam or halaal. Buying dogs? Haraam. Adopt them instead. They suffer and starve because people breed them for money, therefore it is against Islam to participate in the infliction of this suffering, as God clearly commands us to be kind to animals and it is a sin to be cruel to them. Owning dogs? Halaal. And if a scholar informs you otherwise, demand Quranic evidence or logical argument derived from Quranic evidence, and make sure it’s not something ridiculous. (e.g. “Dogs are haraam because angels don’t come in your house if you have a dog. A hadith informs us of this. Another hadith says that the companions had dogs with them in a cave, and that hunting dogs are allowed. So I guess angels don’t come into your house if you have dogs, unless it is a hunting dog. Angels discriminate like that. Also, the hunting dog must have curly hair. No shabby hunting dogs. When you feed the dog you must be three steps away with a metal rod and then you must stand on your head for two hours because the devil dislikes it when blood flows to your brain. Another hadith tells us this. Hadith Akbar.”)

Islamic History and the Women You Never Hear About: Female Warriors

Muslim women participated fully in war during the early periods of Islam while the Prophet was alive. Some of them healed the wounded, some devised strategies, others were warriors, and others–still–recited war poetry to inspire the troops, (their weapons were words!) and a vast majority attended to all of the above. These stories are hardly unique, but of course, they have been kept hidden from us by jealous men who have lost all sense of their own modesty as they police ours, and as they and steal the rightful power given to us by God.

One such woman was Umm ‘Umara, whom our Prophet observed was a better fighter than any man. Her courage and mastery with weapons easily surpassed that of any of the male warriors. She continued to fight in battles throughout her life and even after the Prophet’s death, until she lost her hand. (Battle of ‘Uqraba) Another was Umm Hakim, who at the Battle of Marj al-Saffar single-handedly dispatched seven Byzantine soldiers. Seven. On her own. As well entire battalions of warriors on the other side.

In praising the brave women who fought beside the Prophet in wars, let us not forget the cunning strategists by whose plans some of these battles were won.

Azdah bint al-Harith bin Kaldah, who saw that they had been left defenseless as the troops awaited the enemy by the river, turned to the women at the base and said, “Our men are busy in combat with the enemy and I do not feel secure that the enemy might not turn back upon us, and we do not have anyone here to prevent them. And I also fear that the enemy may be too many for the Muslims and that they may defeat us.”

So instead of waiting with the possibility of attack and devastation suspended in the air, she devised a scheme. With the headscarves that the women used, together they created a banner, and with Azdah in the lead, the women charged toward the approaching enemy calling out war poetry.

Mistaking the women for reinforcement troops (it is unknown whether these women actually carried weapons) because of the banner over them, the enemy quickly retreated in the middle of the battle, and were promptly pursued. This particular ground was won.

After the Prophet’s death, with the various wars over political power that followed, men returned to their earlier lifestyles of atrocious patriarchal practices, abandoning the respectful ethics that Islam had instilled in them. How is it, that with so many women contributing to society and arguing viciously with leaders and writing law and fighting beside men in wars, that we have now come to this–silence, seclusion, and violations of our rightful freedoms? Once our beloved Prophet passed, men strayed almost immediately from Islamic lifestyles as they consumed themselves in patriarchy, especially with warfare, and opposed ji’had for women despite the precedent set by the Prophet. To discourage women from becoming warriors, men began to expose them in battle, ripping off their clothing and throwing them to the ground before killing them. We see repulsively sinful violations of Islamic war ethics today, even with comparatively smaller factors such as timeliness, as Muslims are not allowed to wage war four months out of twelve in the Islamic calendar with the obvious exception of urgent self-defense. And even before then, long before then, men began to “collect” women and describe them as objects to be “sampled” very shortly after the death of the Prophet.

As easy as it is to become discouraged, we need only to look at our own history for inspiration and assurance (or as much of it as we can find what with men erasing and rewriting it) for our revivalism. Our Prophet was a feminist, as were the women who came before us, and feminism is ji’had–our struggle–against corrupted, sexist men and their patriarchal projections on religious texts supposedly in the name of God. This is our personal struggle, and our struggle as a community, to retrieve with argument and education the egalitarian ways in which we were meant to live and the rights we deserve as Muslim women by the word of the Qur’an. And to ensure that our daughters are given the same freedoms as our sons, and that we can live peacefully both within ourselves and in beautiful coexistence with other faiths, and atheists.

Books! Read books!

"Why don’t you wear hijab?"

For the purpose of this post hijab will refer to the headscarf.

I didn’t think I’d ever write an entry about this, because I’m quite nonchalant on the matter of hijab and myself (and because I am thoroughly fatigued with the subject of hijab altogether.) But whattheheck, let’s get it out there. I highly suspect that there is an assumption that I don’t wear hijab for the same reason that I wear nail polish on my period: to make some sort of statement about my femininity–menstruation, in the case of nail polish. It isn’t true, exactly. I do get a kick out of pulling off my hijab as soon as I walk out of the prayer area and feeling my hair, unfolded by the brushing of the fabric, tumble down my waist from the bun in which it was previously wrapped–but the amusing glances of disapproval are just sort of something that comes along. I find the looks kind of hilarious, but they’re not the purpose. I take off the hijab as soon as I step out of the prayer area simply because I don’t wear it except when I pray five times a day. For me not wearing hijab in general is not a sign of rebellion, or a proclamation of my womanliness, or an act of reclamation–

There is no reason I don’t wear hijab.

There you go. I wish I could give you some complex, introspective explanation, but it is really that simple. There are things I do that are symbolic, that come with the intention of announcing a cause, and things I do that aren’t. I’ve mentioned wearing red lipstick in the mosque and the reaction I receive from it, because the reaction is there, not because I’m looking for it, and because the reaction is absurd. I wear red lipstick because I like wearing it, and I write about the reaction because it’s ridiculous and wrong–and yes, really funny. However, I wear nail polish as I menstruate because menstruating women are viewed as filthy, and wearing nail polish to announce my child-bearing capacity is an act of prideful reclamation.

Because I am a rather impulsive person, there will most likely come a day when I will wear hijab. But whatever change takes place inside of me, whatever prompts me to throw on that scarf, will be related to neither the expectations of others nor a difference in the quality of my faith. My faith is strong now, and inshaAllah it will remain strong then. It may be a difference in how I choose to express my faith, or maybe I just suddenly feel like wearing it and would just as suddenly stop. Maybe just that day, I needed an extra dosage of modesty, because I could feel myself becoming vain. This is something, I believe, that fluctuates. Maybe I’m wearing it and then months later I’m at the beach in a sundress or a one-piece bathing suit. You know what that probably means? That the bathing suit was convenient, and for whatever reason (financial, distance, pain to change out of, told myself I wasn’t going to swim and couldn’t resist the water so borrowed a friend’s, etc.) I couldn’t or didn’t get my hands on an Islamic one, and I don’t believe that’s a reason to keep myself from God’s ocean. Not necessarily that I’m taking a religious or political stance.

Hijab means something to me–in relation to my spiritual self, to modesty, and to God. If I get to a point where I take it on and then off a few months later it is reflective of the real relationship I am having with my faith, but it is only for me to evaluate. I will be the only one who knows what this means. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t understand this, and I don’t live in a vacuum, and the last thing I ever want to imply is that my sisters who consistently wear hijab and are harassed for it, or those who don’t and are harassed for it, have an easy decision on their hands. It’s not easy for anyone, and it’s not easy for me, no matter how many times others conclude it must be–“Why don’t you just take it off / put it on?” as though the responsibility lies with the one wearing it and not the actions of the offender, and as though there isn’t real value and connection in this practice. Because I am a woman and therefore all my actions are representative of my sex and my faith, I am mindful (I hope) to not carelessly belittle the struggles of my sisters with something with as much stigma as the hijab. For this, I don’t treat it in any way that can be inferred as meaningless–it’s either consistently worn or consistently not, with the exception of prayer of course. But that is in being respectful of my sisters, in consideration and in solidarity, and not out of avoiding the judgment of those who unlawfully police me.

By whatever definition we have now, I’m feminine on the gender spectrum. Sometimes I’m lazily feminine: I’ll roll out of bed and the only makeup I feel like slapping on is some concealer. But I set my own limits on how much I want people to see, and on how much I can express before I feel that I am crossing a line on modesty according to my faith. These limits have nothing to do with the concerns of other people, and everything to do with my own comfort zone and personal religious interpretation. In the context of my community, my femininity just happens to be rebellious. And sometimes–often–as in the example of nail polish, I have a very driven purpose of defying patriarchy, which I will enthusiastically pursue. But unless I blatantly declare a purpose, I am just living my life and making fun of the reactions of my community.

Your projections and judgments on what I wear are invalid, because it’s my body and I say so. And like your body does not represent your sex or your faith or anything unless you have that precise intention and make it known, neither does mine.

I cannot, and do not wish to, control the assumptions of others; what I care about is when these assumptions (“She is doing it because she is immodest! She is doing it because she is difficult! She is doing it for us! She is being disingenuous!”) are carried out in actions that infringe on my rights (“Let’s tell her where to pray and what to wear!”) that there is a real problem. I don’t wear red lipstick to be difficult. I do, however, wear nail polish to be difficult. (Actually, I wear it because I have a real message, but that won’t matter.) But guess what? I am practicing a right, and by telling me I shouldn’t and creating an environment in which you attempt to pressure me to not, you are infringing on one.

I am a whole person, and sometimes I am just living life or doing what I must to get through. I am not your representation of anything–I’m not your expectations or projections.

To assume that a woman is doing something must be related to a particular reason that is projected onto her without her input or despite her claims is very similar to the mentality that reduces and dehumanizes her into a billboard, into an object to the audience for whom she is supposedly “advertising.”

P.S. I am on my period right now and broke the fast today on the occasion. I will not be posting pictures of nail polish this month, because I feel tired and don’t have the patience to wait for it to dry. In spirit, feel free to view previous.

Interfaith Relations: Erasure

Because I’m a religious minority, it is always surprising and pleasant when there is some sort of friendly acknowledgement of my existence in everyday life, outside of depressing news stories. Receiving a Ramadan Mubarak or Ramadan Karim or simply “Happy Ramadan” from distant acquaintances and classmates when I’ve disclosed I’m on my way to break the fast feels like an incredible courtesy of immense kindness.

There are some things you don’t realize are absent until they’re suddenly presented to you.

The uneasy consequences of erasure are exposed to me in subtle ways. I’ve learned to wait for a Christian to say “Merry Christmas” to me before I return it, because in my experience offering the greeting first results in the person assuming I’m a Christian. (People of other faiths celebrate Christmas socially, yet somehow this assumption is made anyway.) And “I won’t be celebrating, but I hope you have a happy Christmas” sounds excessive. My religious identity is important to me, and being mistaken for anything else, especially since my voice as a Muslim–and a Muslim woman–is so often and thoughtlessly erased, leaves me in silent hurtful distress.

When others say Ramadan Karim I don’t just assume they’re Muslim. In fact, I don’t even assume that someone saying “Merry Christmas” is Christian. As a religious minority the thought doesn’t even occur to me.

Sometimes the ways in which I am erased are overt: if I argumentatively defend a religious practice or belief that I happen to share with Christianity, I’m immediately assumed to be Christian. It takes all my resistance to keep from saying, I suspected you were already erasing me before with the premise that only Christians practice this and it’s not important to any religious minority, but thanks for the confirmation! What’s also frustrating is the other end: when people assume that because Islam has some similarities with Christianity, everything else must be the same. Christianity and Islam have very different histories, consequently have developed very different structures of organization, and some of the approaches to spirituality and law are more than just nuanced. They are expansively different. You don’t automatically know Islam or an Islamic perspective or approach just because you know Christianity.

Please stop imposing.

When I’m not being engulfed in the dominant religion, there are some ways of erasure that are more tiresome than hurtful: on one occasion in which my identity was revealed from the beginning, in a classroom setting, I had to fight the assumption that I was stereotypically obsessed with it. The professor grabbed the opportunity to assign me a presentation of parts of the lesson related to Islam. In real life, I spend more time being Muslim than discussing it, and I do have other interests.

On the one hand, I appreciated that I was given a voice, and I was already nervous about someone else covering it and would have chosen the subject anyway. But I don’t want it pushed on me like that. I wanted to have had the choice like everyone else.

Often I feel like I’m asking something absurdly difficult of the world.

I wish I could tell someone Merry Christmas without being branded as Christian, because it is such a lovely and thoughtful thing to say. I wish I could write as often about irregular galaxies and about scorpions glowing in the dark under ultraviolet light and about light traveling at one hundred eighty-six thousand miles a second as I do about Islam. I wish I didn’t feel a sinking obligation to constantly defend my existence and explain myself to the world, to worry that if I don’t write about this someone else–someone terribly misinformed–will.

A wood duckling can jump off its nest in a high hollow tree and fall 40 feet without getting hurt, dammit.

I’m lucky to have enough religious privilege where I even have the opportunity to be heard. People are more likely to listen to a disadvantaged monotheist than an underprivileged polytheist, or an atheist.

My first year of university, there was a woman in my logic class who constantly brought up her religion, which was a sect of Christianity (though I don’t know which) and would openly ask things like, “What would this philosopher say about Jesus?” But she never pushed it on anyone (though some may argue constant proclamations are a little sketchy?) and yet it still made me a little uncomfortable. However, one of my very close friends is Buddhist, and she’s given me books on Buddhist poetry to read without asking if I’d be interested and I didn’t find it threatening at all. It was moving, in fact, as it felt like she wanted to share something very personal and significant with me.

Even while I wanted to support my classmate’s enthusiasm for her religion there was a possibility that she might assume I’m Christian if I do, since Christianity is the default–and that really, really feels like erasure. This was an opportunity to share what our religions have in common and to bond over these similarities, not on a political level but a personal one, since her faith clearly meant so much to her, but there was a likelihood that she would define my identity for me as Christian before I told her I’m Muslim. And there was a possibility that if the fact that I’m Muslim did come up, she wouldn’t take it very well.

My friend, however, is of another religious minority, knew very well that I’m Muslim, and most importantly knew me as a person.

What’s most disheartening is when disadvantaged religious minorities have hostile, oppressive attitudes toward each other, and the situation becomes difficult when the hostility is understandable. On my way back from France in high school I met an Israeli Jewish woman on the plane who was on her way to Berkeley. I really liked her. I still really like her. But a couple hours into our conversation, the topic of Palestine arose, and with it, Islam.

She doesn’t know I’m Muslim. It’s not really something I announce, and her religion came up first. She didn’t announce it either: we were discussing something (I’ve forgotten now–something about her family) that led to its revelation.

She lost family to these violent, horrific war events. The best I could do was console and comfort her as she bled and sobbed over me, and remain silent as she cursed all Muslims everywhere. I brought her napkins and water and hugged her and listened attentively. We keep in touch to this day, and she adores me and still doesn’t know I’m Muslim. It hasn’t come up, and now I’m afraid that if and when it does she’ll feel horribly betrayed.

Disregarded Verses: Women as Examples for Men

They are actually proclaimed in the Qur’an as examples for people, but to this day they are considered to have been meant for only women when believing men should also accept them as an ideal to strive toward. Shoshie, Jewish feminist, writes,

This shit happens a lot in Jewish commentaries. Women are erased. Exemptions for women turn into prohibitions. Restrictive laws for men fall out of practice but become more stringent for women. And it’s crap.

And we’ve seen here already that the same is true for translations and commentaries in the Qur’an. Women are deliberately ignored or erased, and there is a silent agreement in this global patriarchy that any mention of a woman in religious text is an example for women only, even when the text itself unarguably states that the example is for everyone.

And God cites an example for those who believe: the wife of Pharaoh when she said: “My Lord! Build for me a home with thee in the Garden, and deliver me from Pharaoh and his work, and deliver me from evildoing folk.” And Mary, daughter of Imran, whose body was chaste, therefor We breathed therein something of Our Spirit. And she put faith in the words of her Lord and the Scriptures, and was of the truly devout. (Qur’an 66:11–12)

Those who believe. Gender-neutral in both Arabic and English, and yet there is a consensus that these must be parables for only women.

Even through its literary beauty and eloquence, the Qur’an is essentially a book of morals, filled with examples and solid information. Nothing is without reason–diction, syntax, detail, everything serves a purpose to be examined. And the very reason the Qur’an is appropriate for all times and universally applicable is because it is contextual. If there is something in the Qur’an that is not appropriate to modern times, you have failed to understand it. If you are murdering every non-Muslim you see, you have failed to take the Qur’an in context, the very process through which it is universal. The Qur’an is the Last Book, meant to be relevant until the end of time. And within it, stories have specific characters in specific situations, and when we erase or completely ignore or misconstrue details we fail to understand the complete message. It becomes lost, consequently other verses appear disorderly, and everything drowns in noise. Properly interpreting the text with the standards dictated in the Qur’an as a whole picture becomes difficult.

For example, a reader would notice that in the Qur’an, when a woman is spoken of, she is related to a family member: ex. Mary, the daughter of Imran; furthermore, Mary is the only woman called by a name. The Queen of Sheba is referred to by her respectful titled–the Queen. To us, the latter is obvious that it signifies respect, because calling others by titles to respect them is something we still practice today. The former, of following the name of a woman with that of a relative, has for the most part died for our time and is even viewed as sexist, as the relative is nearly always male. However, when the Qur’an was revealed, this was a sign of deep respect: for someone to be related to a family or have a title was a mark of high reverence and adoration. A person was not called by his or her name without a title or family relation unless that person was close to the speaker, like a child or sibling or a spouse. That is why women in the Qur’an are not referred to by their names. The contexual message to be carried away here is the universal, timeless principle that women should be addressed respectfully by the standards of the given society and era.

The Qur’an also does not mention Jesus without son of Mary. Not even once, confirming that the respective title marks equal value in a matriarchal relation according to God.

Muhammad is referred to as the Prophet of God.

Concepts become concrete in the events the Qur’an describes, whether one takes a figurative or literal interpretation of these events. The characters and circumstances through which they struggle and the ramifications of the actions they take provide us with these guidelines. If certain characters who are meant to be role models for all believers of both sexes are incorrectly interpreted to be examples for solely women, it is a sign of oppression. And when translators, or a society high on its patriarchal self, erase details and ignore something as crucial as the women which God has selected to be examples for all of believers, regardless of sex–

that is a war against women, a strike of disrespectfulness, against the Word of God.