Have Muslims lost their conscience? The answer is an unqualified “yes!”
The dictionary defines conscience as a “moral sense of right from wrong.” Losing conscience means total indifference between these two opposites.
Just last Monday July 20, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of human landing on the moon. This historic achievement was singularly credited to Americans. Since then, the Russians, Chinese, Japanese and Indians have launched unmanned space probes to bring back priceless data.
A lunar landing heralds ultimate triumph in rocketry, avionics, health science, miniaturization, telecommunication, computerized instrumentation and control, astronomy, material science, fluid dynamics, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and a plethora of associated disciplines that must be done to precision with no margin of error.
The net spin-off of all this is jobs, research and uncharted new opportunities of discoveries.
It only began with a vision and a challenge by one man who was neither a movie celebrity, an industrial giant, a sport champion, a super-hero of any description.
JFK was just a WW2 naval PT boat commander before entering politics to run for Presidency. He understood what his nation needed and found the magic wand to turn everyone on.
Against that backdrop, I have been unable to find a reputable brand name motor car, or even a motorbike, made by a Muslim nation. Is it mere coincidence? How can a nation be built if there is not basic skill or ambition to build even an object? Please help me here.
How much longer do we intend to free ride, like parasites, on the back of others ? As 20% of global population and 90% ownership of world oil output, Muslims should own up to their share in the society with dignity, pride and confidence. We have what it takes.
In the animal world, a mother’s protective instinct for her vulnerable newborn is legendary. It is only when the offspring is ready, will it be allowed to fend for itself. True that it may not be a ”conscience” that dictates this behavior, it still is nature’s way of ensuring a fair shake for the continuation of the species. If in distress, the baby will be clutched protectively for solace and given safe shelter. It is a no-brainer.
Since the 1948 Israelis State establishment followed by the 1967 conflict, Palestinians have been displaced from their homes and fled everywhere they could.
Likewise for the Afghans who have seen their homeland first ravaged by the invading Soviets, then mutilated further by warring warlords, replaced by the Talibans, and today under the occupation of the NATO Allies.
Among the lucky ones who managed to escape, what is the ratio of refugees accepted by non-Muslim compared to Muslims host countries ? That tells a story in itself.
In the lastest release of the 200 Guantanamo alleged “jihad inmates”, only 4 Uighur brothers managed to find asylum in Bermuda, a non-Muslim country.
There is something egregiously deviant when Muslim nations would deny basic comfort and hospitality to fellow Muslims in plight, which is an act even below animal instinct. Void of compassion, any boasting of brotherhood and solidarity rings hollow with reality.
A matador arrogant enough to enter the bullfighting ring with one hand tied behind is destined for death to pay for his idiocy.
Knowledge and talents are neither gender specific, nor related to age, family heritage, economic background, and other abitrary attributes.
So then why are Muslims encountering modernity with such an antiquated mentality by for example, excluding Muslim women’s sisters contributions, especially those with increasingly higher education. Lets start embracing them in their enthusiasm to take part.
Muslims vying to enter paradise upon death by fulfilling the five pillars of daily prayers, reciting Quran, fasting during Ramadan, giving Zakat to poor, and performing the Hajj or Umra, possess no higher aspiration than a student studying hard just in order to pass year-end examinations.
They are like inferior candidates seeking leadership positions in their places of employment due to self-limited narrow selfish initiatives. It adds zero value to the organization on the whole.
The same principle should apply to those who add zero value to Islam if they are not honoring their faith. They only way that can be done is through a sincere desire to act upon their conscience.
Stocking up on lunch snacks at Costco, I saw a book that immediately grabbed my attention. It had a picture of a woman wearing a niqab, a face covering worn by a minority of Muslim women.
Intrigued, I bought the book, mentally congratulating the publisher for having squeezed $20 out of my pocket. They know only too well that the niqab sells, grabs headlines and diverts attention. It is also a lightening rod for emotions and fear.
A few months ago, the debate raged among Canadian politicians whether wearing the niqab and voting could jibe, and whether women would be allowed to wear the veil in legal proceedings. It has been discussed in Quebec, England, the Netherlands, Italy and many other parts of the world, usually spun to create false controversy by right-wing politicians.
Predictably, this issue is making the rounds again, this time in France, a country in the midst of identity crises. President Nicolas Sarkozy is making the burqa — a full-body covering with a screen over the face — his flavour of the month to deflect attention from his plunging popularity. Amid raucous applause from his fellow parliamentarians, he said:
“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity … it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.”
They know that fear will easily buy votes among a population who feel increasingly vulnerable to the growing number of Muslims, and who will embrace laws which provide a false sense of security in preserving their identity. In 2004, Muslim women were the targets of this strategy through a law banning headscarves from French public schools.
U.S. President Barack Obama addressed this in his Cairo speech two weeks ago: “… it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.”
In defending his words, Obama stated, “I will tell you that in the U.S., our basic attitude is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear.”
He gets it. Unfortunately, the people who lash out at the niqab or burqa are usually those who feel the most uncomfortable with it: journalists, politicians, intellectuals and feminists. Under the pretense of defending freedom of thought, they are actually legitimizing hate, thus generating the exact opposite of what they claim to defend.
Ironically, they don’t seem to be particularly attentive to those whom they are supposedly defending. In speaking for these women, they assume they are oppressed idiots who can only be spoken to, about, or for but never with.
Muslim women wear the face covering for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, we never hear their voices, their stories, their choices, how they negotiate the challenges, how it impacts their integration and how they feel.
Sahar Ullah, a Chicago graduate student, voices her experience of wearing the niqab in an online blog, “Most people who had an opinion about niqab never asked me why I wore it although they were willing to express their opinion …” adding “It was actually Muslims that were the cruelest. They insisted that niqab was wrong, I felt more defensive about having the right to make my own choices.”
The laundry list of assumptions people had about her intentions included: ideology; adherence to law; a method of escape; entrapment; pretentiousness; performance of piety; heroism; fear of men; desire to seduce; covered naughtiness; anti-social behaviour; a vain call for attention; a passport to marriage; desire to be silent; an oppressive father; and the classic — anxiety about being too dark.
Perhaps it is time we reassess the biases that are fuelling this debate. To fear means that we lack confidence in ourselves and in others. By allowing this fear to infiltrate our societies, we are entertaining the most serious illusions about our freedom, putting in danger our notions of what a truly democratic society is.
The organization Human Rights Watch concurs: “The ban on the veil violates human rights and stigmatizes and marginalizes women who wear it. The freedom to express religion and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights … and such a ban would send a signal to many French Muslims that they are not welcome in their own country.”
It has been announced that an official commission in France will be created to assess the question of the burqa over the next six months. It smells suspiciously patriarchal.
In looking at the context and origins of the niqab, the majority of Muslim scholars do not view it as compulsory. For the minority who see it as a religious requirement, they should be, under freedom of religion provisions, afforded the right to wear the niqab.
Within Muslim communities, there are growing discussions about Islamic feminism — the struggle for women’s rights within the Islamic terms of reference, against cultural discrimination and a literalist approach to the texts.
These grassroots conversations are an important avenue to reiterate that women should not be forced to do anything against their will. But also that choices made through personal conviction need to be respected — a right embedded in most democracies.
This dialogue had already started during the Prophet Muhammad’s time. He strongly encouraged the active role of women in early Islamic society, insisting that they should never confuse modesty with disappearing from the political, scholarly, religious, social, economic or even military sphere. In other words, Muslim women were the actors of their own destinies.
In concluding his speech, Sarkozy stated that the burqa “will not be welcome on our territory.”
Hopefully he will come to understand that a potential law banning a piece of clothing won’t change anything except outward appearances. True emancipation and empowerment of Muslim women to be free, autonomous and engaged will only occur when they are afforded the right to speak on their own terms, not for someone else’s political agenda.
Shelina Merani is the spokesperson for the network Muslim Presence and has recently launched the local/global website www.muslimpresence.com.
Stocking up on lunch snacks at Costco, I saw a book that grabbed my attention. It had a picture of a woman wearing the niqab, a veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women.
Intrigued, I bought it, mentally congratulating the publisher for having squeezed $20 out of my pocket. They know the niqab sells, grabs headlines and diverts attention. It has also become a lightening rod for debate, emotional reaction and fear.
A few months ago, the debate raged among Canadian politicians whether wearing the niqab and voting jived. It’s been discussed in Quebec, Netherlands and many other parts of the world.
Predictably, the niqab controversy is making the rounds again, this time in France where president Nicholas Sarkozy or Sarko as he is `affectionately` called in certain quarters, deflected attention from plunging popularity by making pronouncements on the niqab.
“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity…it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.”
The extended applause among his fellow parliamentarians must have felt good. They were probably envisioning how easily fear can buy cheap votes amongst the masses.
The last time Sarko targeted Muslim women was in his 2004 law banning the Islamic headscarf and other highly visible religious symbols from French public schools.
President Barack Obama addressed this ban in his speech in Cairo two weeks ago:
`… it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit – for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.`
In defending his words, Obama stated, “I will tell you that in the US, our basic attitude is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear.”
He’s got the right approach. Unfortunately, the people who speak about the niqab are usually the ones who feel the most uncomfortable with it: journalists, politicians, intellectuals and feminists.
Under the pretence of defending freedom of thought, they are actually legitimizing hate, thus generating exactly the opposite of what they claim to defend.
And they don’t seem to be particularly attentive to those whom they are defending.
There are many reasons that Muslim women wear niqab. Unfortunately, we never hear from them, their voices, their stories, their choices, how it impacts their integration within their societies, how they feel.
In speaking for them, we assume that they lack humanity, that they are oppressed idiots who can only be spoken to, about, for but not with.
Perhaps its time we reassess our own reaction to the niqab. To fear means that we are lacking confidence in ourselves and in others. It is therefore our own own biases that are fuelling this debate more than anything else.
By allowing this fear to infiltrate our societies, we are entertaining the most serious illusions about our freedom and putting into danger our notion of a truly democratic society.
The organization for the defence of human rights, Human Rights Watch (HWR) agrees, `The ban on the veil violates human rights and stigmatizes and marginalize women who wear it. The freedom to express religion and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights…and such a ban would send a signal to many French Muslims: they are not welcome in their own country.”
Treading carefully, it has been announced that an official commission will be created to assess the question of the niqab over the next six months, mainly made up of men.
It smells suspiciously patriarchal.
In looking at the context of where the niqab came from, we know that it was specific to the Prophet’s wives and not to all women – more of a cultural practice than an Islamic prescription.
And what the question of the niqab is bringing to the fore within Muslim communities is the notion of Islamic feminism, a struggle for the rights of women in the name of Islam against two kinds of discrimination: cultural discrimination, and the literalist approach to the text.
For example, the Prophet Muhammad emphasized the active role of women in early Islamic society, and insisted that modesty should never be confused with “disappearing from the social, political, economic or even military sphere”. In other words, Muslim women should have a voice.
And this is why it is important to have an intra-community dialogue about veiling the face - to emphasize that women should not be forced to wear it, but that we also have to respect the choices women make on how they wish to dress, a right that is embedded in most democracies.
In concluding his speech, Sarko states that the niqab, “will not be welcome on our territory.”
However he needs to understand that a law banning the niqab won’t change anything except outward appearance. It most certainly won’t emancipate anyone.
Emancipation will only occur fom within when women are able to speak for themselves- not through edicts on someone’s elses terms or agenda.
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Buses roll by outside, the day unfolding in a succession of sirens and shouts, and in her small flat in west London, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is discussing how she came to find her husband.
Janmohamed is better known as spirit21, a blogger who has provided a unique perspective on the life of a British Muslim woman over the last three years, addressing issues that range from the political role of Turkey to Jack Straw’s comments about women who wear the veil. She is also now author of Love in a Headscarf, a book that hovers somewhere between chick-lit and memoir, as it follows Janmohamed’s journey through the process of arranged marriage.
The memoir is irreverent and feminine: perhaps not the most conventional tone for discussing this topic. “I love chick lit,” she says. “I noticed when I started reading it that it was very much about ‘How do you find the prince?’ And what I wanted to do was tell that universal story, but from the perspective of being a Muslim woman.”
Janmohamed was always aware that her marriage would be arranged, and is frustrated by the common misconception that such unions bypass the desires of the bride and groom. “The Islamic view on marriage is that the man or woman should make an active choice as to who they want to marry,” she says. “And there’s no long-term dating procedure, but it’s essential that the two people have met, that they’ve had as much discussion as they like and that they feel comfortable with each other.”
Introductions are usually organised by parents and a designated matchmaker, but there was, she recalls, “a lot of frank discussion about what I would want in a partner” beforehand. She credits this with helping her to make an informed choice and teaching her about herself. “You look at your list and you think, ‘Gosh, I’m so shallow!’” she laughs, “because it’s ‘good-looking, tall, handsome …’”
In her memoir, Janmohamed focuses on the intersection between the cultural representations of love and the reality. “The big question I ask is, ‘What is love?’” she says. “Because we all watch lots of Hollywood films, and it’s always Prince Charming and you live happily ever after. And I still watch them, and I swoon at the hero, and I wish life was like that. But when you come from an Asian background it’s different – it’s all practical and serious, and if you fall in love at the end then that’s very good, dear.”
In the book’s opening chapter, Janmohamed is introduced to her first prospective husband, and her expectation is that he is destined to be “Mr Right” – that the arranged marriage can exist in tandem with the rom-com. But as her search continues, she begins to recognise the disparity between these two ideas of love. “I think as you grow up and things don’t work out as you think they will you get pushed to ask the questions – is my paradigm of the world something that is true? Are we shortchanged today because all we think about is romance? Or is the Asian tradition perhaps too staid?”
Janmohamed is keenly aware of how non-Muslims tend to view arranged marriage and Muslim women in general. She recalls visits to bookshops where she would find “shelves and shelves of misery memoir and all these women in black veils with camels walking in the background and titles like I Was Sold Into Marriage.” She smiles flatly. “And the only other stories that we saw were of Muslim women who had somehow broken through this oppression, had decided that Islam was the source of it and had rejected it, and had gone off to be – and the only way to put this is in quotation marks – ‘liberated’. And you know, this is a really serious issue, the idea that women don’t get to exercise their free choice and are pushed into areas of life that they shouldn’t be forced into: that does need to be addressed. But I think it’s really important that as part of that wider picture of what it is like to be a Muslim woman there are some positive stories told.” She lifts her hands. “I like being a Muslim woman!”
Janmohamed’s parents emigrated from Tanzania in 1964, arriving with two suitcases, one son and £75 to their name. Their daughter followed soon afterwards, and was brought up in a fairly liberal north London home, familiar with her parents’ culture and faith, while attending a local girls’ school and mixing with people from different backgrounds. For many years she kept the three strands of her life – school, home and the mosque – quite separate, but finally began to reconcile them in her search for a husband.
This search began when she was 19 and studying at Oxford. The issue of education was an uncomfortable one, she recalls. Her parents had always encouraged her studies, “but there were people around saying ‘Well, just make sure that you’re not too educated because the men will be scared of you.’” Still, she stresses, this is another example of the universality of her story. “I think women generally have this idea that they have to giggle at men’s jokes,” she says, “and can’t be too smart and can’t make men feel like they don’t know enough.”
It took Janmohamed a decade to find the man she would marry, but today she hesitates to talk about her husband; she smiles nervously and explains that she doesn’t want to reveal too much about the end of the novel. “What I will say is that he went through the whole process like all the others.” During the years of her search she was introduced to more suitors than she can even remember, and the book recounts those would-be husbands who most influenced her thinking. “One of the fascinating things is that because the timescale is so shortened, you have to reveal yourself immediately. So within two or three meetings you would be saying, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life? How many children do you want to have?’ And actually I think that’s very liberating; you know somebody very quickly.
“So there were men I would meet who were running very late and not think anything of it, not even an apology; and so you would think, ‘That person clearly doesn’t have any respect for me.’ Or people who didn’t want to spend any money, and I thought, ‘Well, if you’re not even going to spend any money to impress me at this stage, you’re clearly not going to be very generous when we get married.’”
More startling were the suitors who asked if she would consider not wearing a headscarf. “I found that quite shocking,” she says, “because I wasn’t forced to wear it, I’d taken that choice as an independent woman, and I expected of all the people in the world who would respect that choice it would be my husband.”
The discussion of faith in Britain is, she believes, only just beginning. “I think in Britain it has taken a long time to be able to talk about these subjects – in the 60s and 70s it was about race, and you had to be very careful how you framed discussions about race. And now as we come into the 21st century that discourse is about faith. As Muslim women we seem to get stuck in the middle of this – because we look different,” she says. “And I get really fed up with reading stories in the papers about how all Muslim women are oppressed. Even when I tell people I have a job and I’m educated and I travel round on my own, people still say, ‘Well, you’re still oppressed, you just don’t know it.’”
“When Islam was first brought here in the seventh century it was extremely radical – which is a naughty word, you’re not allowed to say the word ‘radical’ if you’re a Muslim, because it means you’re going to blow something up – but Islam was radical because the Prophet Mohammed said women are equal to men, black people are equal to white people, rich people are equal to poor people,” she says. “I think Muslims look back to that and say to women, ‘Look, you had rights that no one had anywhere in the world!’ And that’s right, but most Muslim women’s lives are not like that. So Muslim women are caught in a gap; they’re either told they’re oppressed or they’re not oppressed. But no one asks Muslim women what they think. And in the grand scale of literature, the voices Muslim women have are very few.”
It was this want of a voice that convinced her to begin her blog, while working for a mobile telecoms company. “I started writing because I couldn’t find anyone that was expressing a view based on critical thinking,” she explains. “There’s this view that the Islamic world is violent, oppressed and anti-democracy and all the other stereotypes. And then there’s a view within the Muslim community – and we have to be honest about this – that says, ‘The west is bad.’ But I’m a British Muslim; I’m a Muslim and I’m from the west.”
The success of the blog prompted people to suggest she write a book about being a Muslim woman. “And I would think, yes, I must, and it’s very worthy. And when I sat down to write it I realised I didn’t want to write a story that was ‘This is Islam and these are the pillars . . .’ People can read that in a text book. I thought I wanted to tell a universal story and the best story to tell is the story of love”.
Originally published in the Guardian