The Ramadan moon confusion

This year too there was much confusion over the first day of Ramadan.
PicMonkey-Collage-EidOn Friday, my family went to Turkey Run State Park in Indiana, and on our return, tired, sweaty, and hot, stumbled into the internet where Muslims and Muslim orgs were announcing the beginning of Ramadan on Saturday and Sunday. The moonsighters insisted that there would be no visibility Friday night, so Ramadan fasting would begin on Sunday. The astronomical calculations folks, including Fiqh Council of North America (and ISNA) say that the new moon was THERE, whether you could see it or not, and also, it’s Ramadan in Makkah, so it’s Ramadan NOW.

We decided, for about an hour, that we would be going with the moonsighters. Tradition! What is more rational than going with the moon? Also, why follow the Makkah Ramadan?! Crescentwatch, Chicago Hilal, and the Toronto Hilal folks all agreed with us. ISNA, FCNA, and our local Islamic Center, however, said, no, Ramadan was now, because the moonphases thingummy showed a new moon right now.

Reluctantly, though, I raised the question to Svend: are we going with the moonsighters because we believe they are right, or because we’re being lazy? Islamic law gurus say that it is okay to go with any valid opinion among the diverse opinions, but opportunistic hopping around is not cool. Since Svend and I normally go with the local community, and believe strongly in doing so, it would be opportunistic on our part to switch loyalties just in order to possibly skip one of the fasting days, or to delay the beginning of fasting, as tempting as it seemed.

I prayed two cycles of istikhara prayer, and asked for guidance. I also realized, as I was praying the istikhara, that I wanted God to tell me Sunday, not Saturday. So I asked protection from such weakness, and requested the strength to do the right thing, whatever it was.

I recalled, also, the words of Tehzeeb Auntie, who is my Sufi guide in many matters, and who says, “I make my decision and I ask God to bless it.”

Personally, I am extremely disinclined to take responsibility for my religious actions. (My shaikh even chuckled about this, and told me to just do a single istikhara prayer about ALL my twenty questions). I would really like someone to just tell me what to do at every step. A bright light could shine over the correct outfit to buy; the right baby name could appear in a dream — and so on. This is my preference, because I am chronically indecisive.

But this, as you know, doesn’t happen. At least not for me. My shaikh told me: “We guide people upwards with their eyes closed.” In other words, the tasty treats of visions, dreams, reassuring miracles, blinding signs, etc. are not handed out. We must abstain from the gluttony of such spiritual treats and move on upward simply because.

So, after the istikhara prayer, I was still feverishly checking my friends’ Facebook posts and a variety of organizational websites, and wishing someone would tell me what to do. I still kept coming up against the confusing barrage of a diversity of viewpoints. Why, why, why, I asked, why is our community so disorganized and so chaotic?

Ultimately, Svend and I made the (ethical?) decision to stick with our usual practice and to avoid what seemed to us to be sneaky opportunism, in our circumstances. It’s not what I’d tell anyone else to do, but it made sense to us.

As I was going to bed, setting my alarm (for freaking 3:12am), I realized that this several-times-a-year chaos of Muslims running around asking “What do we do? What will YOU do? What shall I do?” is actually a positive thing.

Despite my reluctance to do so, and despite the diversity of community opinions on this Issue, I eventually made my own private decision, in prayer and reflection, in consultation with God.

A new legacy on campus

Please check out my new article at the Ask Big Questions blog!

“Recent comments by Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy force us to acknowledge that America has a long, long way to go in embracing its diversity. On campuses, blackface andnoose incidents, the Phyllis Wise Twitter affair, and numerous other news-of-the-week stories demand we take a good hard look at campuses. It is clear that campuses, which are mirrors of American public life, are not what they should be. …” 

 

 

Checking on my heart on Palm Sunday

palm sundayPeace and blessings to Christian friends worldwide celebrating Palm Sunday today.

For all of us, whether Christian or not, this is a good time to – as Pope Francis said today -  look into our own hearts. It is a reminder to return to the “examined life” and to break with the somnolent continuity of apathy. I ask myself, along with Pope Francis, “has my life fallen asleep?” and whether I, like Pontius Pilate, faced with a complicated situation, wash my hands and turn away.

“Where is my heart?” I often ask myself – especially these days, when the survival of academics and scholars appears to rely on constantly endeavoring to generate likes, clicks, citations, and retweets. It is a struggle to foster and to enjoy the fruits of aloneness. And the Prophet Muhammad reminds me to look for my heart when I am alone. If I cannot find my heart in solitude, then – the Prophet urges me to “ask Allah to bless you with a heart, for indeed you have no heart.”  

Grief and hope: on bad news from the homeland

Today, I am grieving. I am exhausted with the flow of bad news from home.

Sometimes it feels like things are going from bad to worse. But today, just today, I refuse to let my heart be clogged with despair. Instead, I share with you a song from Junaid Jamshed’s solo career.

Yes, I’m familiar with Junaid Jamshed’s career. This is the land where a rock star can also be a global fashion entrepreneur and a religious leader. We want a land of many colors and possible futures. We refuse the monochromatic colors of small minded people who close their eyes to reality. We embrace today and we dance to the music of yesterday all the way into the future. We will submit to the embracing passion of the Merciful, to the Unity of Being, and the unity of creation – not to divisions, disunity, hatred, hierarchies. We open doors and welcome today. We will change the future, no matter how dark the present may seem. Prepare yourselves for change, because change is inevitable. We will make it so.  

Remember the dream that your gaze brought to mine
see that that dream is never shattered
And the traveler who returns after so many years
take care that he is not turned back sorrowful

The color in your cheeks today
is new to your face this spring
The wine in your voice
is new to your song this spring

Let our hearts come together for just a spell
and we will find a way somehow
The dust of sorrowful memories will be washed by the rain
And the miles between us will shrink and fall away

Remember the dream that your gaze brought to mine
see that that dream is never shattered
And the traveler who returns after so many years
take care that he is not turned back sorrowful

Home movies that destroy lives

While interviewing Pakistani women academics in 2012, I learned how technological advances offer freedoms as well as snares for women. My research participant “Tahira” told me how some Pakistani young women are lured by secret lovers into making  amateur “sex films,” but these men then proceed to share these films publicly on the internet. Reputations, lives, and families are ruined in the process.

There are, however, relatively innocent films that are posted publicly and cause similar devastation in conservative families.

I know that for many, the solution is for young women to do absolutely nothing that might bring shame upon their families. Perhaps, indeed, young women must wear chadors at all times and never get caught in a private moment where they appear erotic or attractive. I am, of course, being sarcastic.

In the unregulated jungles of the internet, there does not appear to be any available strategy that might protect people from the damage of being caught by strangers engaged in fun that does no one (else) any harm.

But perhaps, in our families, schools, colleges, and madrassahs, young men can be educated to think and speak of women with respect, as agents and not as objects, as persons who can speak and act, and not as things that can only be seen and spoken of. Muslim religiosity and conservative cultural norms certainly contain the seeds of compassion, humility, and understanding of human sexuality, complexity, and diversity. It’s time those seeds bear fruit. 

The book is here!

Photo on 11-16-13 at 5.36 PM Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity – my first full-length book – is here from the University of North Carolina Press.

This is a big day. I was struck by the fact that my editor, Elaine, reminded me in her letter to celebrate properly. I suspect Elaine knows academic authors too well. We see every accomplishment, every book, every journal article, and every award in the context of academic productivity.

So in this photograph, I am taking the time to celebrate “properly” with my esteemed co-author, my seven-year old daughter. It is Raihana’s sacrifice of a good deal of quality time as well as her raising of questions about being Muslim, American, Pakistani, and White all at the same time that have resulted in this book. I owe her big time.

The book is available at the University of North Carolina Press.

 

Lecture at Loyola University (Chicago)

Islamic World Studies Lecture Series Spring 2013

“Muslim Students on American College Campuses”

Shabana Mir

Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Global Issues and Anthropology, Millikin University

Shabana Mir received her Ph.D. in Education Policy Studies, with a minor in Anthropology and a concentration in Comparative and International Education from Indiana University. Her research was awarded the 2006 “Outstanding Dissertation Award” by the American Anthropological Association’s Council on Anthropology and Education. Her book “Constructing Third Spaces: American Muslim Undergraduate Women’s Hybrid Identity Construction” is forthcoming (2013) from the University of North Carolina Press.

Monday April 8, 2013
4 PM | Life Sciences Building 142 FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Sponsors include Theology, Political Science, Asian Studies, Women’s Studies and Gender Studies, the School of Education, Sociology, and Anthropology | With funding from the CAS Dean’s Special Events Fund

Interfaith marriages are here, but.

As I pointed out some time ago, interfaith marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men are definitely here to stay in the Muslim diaspora. While Muslim religious leaders have not generally come out endorsing interfaith marriages, a small trickle of leaders have begun supporting and counseling interfaith couples (and no, supporting and counseling doesn’t always mean converting the non-Muslim spouses). The fact is, it’s time to accept interfaith marriages, both for Muslim men and women. Sociologically, there is no alternative.

This is not to say that interfaith marriages are a simple matter, both theologically and socially, as Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl points out, or that general rules may be applied to all. Each individual must consider her individual circumstances in such decisions. For example, she must consider the question: how important is my faith to me? How ecumenical is my disposition? How much do I care about transmitting my faith to my offspring? How likely is a prospective spouse to be generous in the socialization of offspring? A few years into interfaith marriages, when children start elementary school, a spouse/s often experiences religious change, so that all bets are off. This, of course, can easily happen to a couple that professes the same faith, but I would bet that the chances of conflict on matters of raising children religiously are statistically higher for interfaith couples. In other words, individuals entering upon such a marriage ought to consider every possibility, including the possibility that the beloved will, a few years hence, become an intransigent opponent of his spouse’s faith. What then? Is the resulting compromise acceptable to her?

Consider this: according to Dr. Abou El Fadl, the rationale for the juristic consensus against Muslim women is based on potential religious coercion by the husband and on fact that traditionally, offspring inherit the father’s religion and last name. Today, while Western nations are patriarchal without a doubt, as are Muslim societies, what if such patriarchal lineage were to be disrupted? What if father and mother had equal power to socialize their offspring and pass on their respective faiths? Within such contexts, would the juristic consensus be different? For such individuals, even those within patriarchal societies, could a juristic alternative be imagined?

By and large Muslims do not seem overly concerned about Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women. In Western societies, where legal frameworks favor women in some cases, ought this juristic consensus (in favor of Muslim men marrying non-Muslim women) to be revoked?

For those who approach the debate in a de-contextualized fashion, a rule is a rule is a rule, no matter where it is being applied, and social realities are irrelevant. Islamic law does not function in this way. Still, scholarly consensus can be a useful tool for gendered fears and identity insecurities in non-Muslim majority societies.

Between American drones and Taliban guns

I should have predicted it, but it was a surprise to me. I was not quite done being overwhelmed by my emotional reaction to the shooting by Taliban of the 15-year old activist for girls’ education Malala Yousufzai.

And then I found a meme circulating on Facebook that pitted Malala against the victims of US drone attacks. The argument ran thus: Why is there such a unanimous outcry against the shooting of this one girl, when numerous girls have been crippled and killed by American drones in Afghanistan? Why are the lives of drone victims so cheap, but the life of Malala so significant?

As the argument progressed, I heard such phrases as “the BBC blogger,” which portrayed Malala Yousufzai as something of a Western plant. If she was fighting for girls’ education against Taliban (who were against the US military presence), surely she was in favor of the US/West. The images of little Afghan girls in wheelchairs (victims of US drones) and the radiant face of Malala Yousufzai swiftly became pitted against each other in a nauseating battle of pawns.

The meme reads: “Do you know this girl? Have you seen her story on CNN or the BBC? Have you seen any breaking news about her on Geo, Dunya and Express? Have you updated your Facebook status to mention her? Have you seen any tweets about her? Have you ever heard that she was transported to hospital in an army helicopter? No, right? Yes, never – because she was wounded in a drone attack.”

I understand the reaction, on some level. In a college classroom, while discussing the injustice of the French headscarf ban, I heard someone challenge my focus on Western secularism by reminding me of the Taliban attack on Malala. I had been heartbroken over the attack, but suddenly, I found that I was being asked to perform my outrage, to prove that I wasn’t just opposed to secular, Western oppression of young girls but that I was similarly (or more) angered by sexist Muslims opposed to the education of girls.

It is true, of course, that there are plentiful spaces in Western discourse for anti-Muslim fundamentalist outrage. There is reason for suspicion of the ideological machinery that constantly attacks Muslims as sexist and opposed to girls’ education. The Western imperialist project continues to use girls and women as pawns against the Islamic threat.It is likewise true that the victims of drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan are invisible, treated as collateral damage, yet embarrassing enough to be brushed under the carpet. Now we have virtual memes that actually shrug off such cases as that of Malala and challenge the so-called obsession of pro-Western discourse with gender equality.

Of course there are ideological spaces where such groups as the Pakistani Taliban proclaim their opposition to Malala and the “secularism” and “enlightened moderation” that she allegedly preaches. If she blogs against the Taliban role, the argument runs, she is (quite successfully!) whipping up people’s emotions against the mujahideen, so she is against Shariah and a legitimate target for said mujahideen. Apparently, in this argument, Taliban=mujahideen=Shariah=Islam.

In such a climate of constant ideological tussle, the task of upholding equality and opposing oppression becomes charged with unintended meanings. American military and political agendas infect the framing of all postcolonial struggles and debates. And within postcolonial contexts, anti-imperialist agendas constantly hijack the struggles of girls, women, minorities, and the poor. If you are outraged about the treatment of Christians in Pakistan, you must be pro-American; if you are suspicious of gender activism, you must be pro-fundamentalist. Activism for girls’ education or anti-imperialist political activism? Which memes will you post at your Facebook page? Which will you choose?

Meantime, people in Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan struggle to make lives of meaning and dignity. Between American drones and Taliban guns, forced to choose sides, they find themselves to be mere pawns – mere objects, mere jpegs in a Facebook meme.