Home » religion

Category Archives: religion

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

‘Christian Science Monitor’ article

Read this ‘Christian Science Monitor’ article “Islam, the American Way.” I was interviewed for it, and am quoted.

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.

Representing Muslims: ‘All-American Muslim’

After the first day, the new TLC show ‘All-American Muslim’ raised quite a few Muslim hackles in my social circle. Among other things, some were offended by its focus on liberal Arab Muslims. ‘What about the rest of us?’ some religious Muslims asked. ‘Why do we have to be assimilated, almost-Whites for us to be on TV? Why can’t our exemplary Muslim lives [er] be represented so we can show how we can be normal AND religious?’

Many Muslims’ desire to have good Muslims (not in Mahmood Mamdani’s sense of moderate, palatable, liberal Westerners who eat falafel) represented on TV was frustrated. Many like myself simply desired a diversity of images; in the case of minority groups, images are few and far between, and most such images are politicized.

Representation is fraught with complexity. Who represents? The bellydancer or the hijabi physician? The Pakistani college student or the Somali taxi-driver? The beer-drinking football fan or the mosque imam? And who is the audience? Liberal secular America, with its fears of all forms of religiosity? For such, their fears might be assuaged by Muslims who behave almost entirely like them.

Perhaps the audience is the right-wing person who donates to Church missions to Muslim lands, fervently believing that the presence of Muslims in America (rather than among the audience of international missions) is a cancer, an offense to the Christian character of the American nation. For such, neither positive nor neutral form of representation or visibility will be either acceptable or palatable. Representation of religious Muslims (whatever that is) will be infuriating, and representation of irreligious Muslims (whatever that is) will be perceived as an insidious attempt at normalizing Muslims.

Then the Facebook page calling for a boycott of TLC was born. And now, under pressure of such organizations as the Florida Family Association, Lowes has pulled its advertising from the show. “All-American Muslim is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” the Florida Family Association claimed, also saying “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”

Essentializing, it appears, is a desire shared by both Islamophobes who want bad Muslims in the show and some religious Muslims who want only good, observant Muslims represented. Both sides wish to represent Muslims in a specific way. Since there is no such thing as ‘reality’ in Reality TV, the choices are important. The Florida Family Association would prefer TLC to feature Muslim hijackers in training, or Muslims on death row for rape and murder (preferably for honor killing) – extraordinary rather than ‘ordinary folks,’ Muslims who threaten American values of liberty. Perhaps the opposition of ‘All-American Muslim’ would like to feature a dark, bearded Muslim father with a strong accent, who mandates black veils for his wife (wives?) and daughters, and will not permit his family to drink or to date.

But I wonder where the right-wing Christian organizations would ally themselves on the issue of sexual freedom. Perhaps a Muslim father who forbade his wife from getting an abortion on her seventh pregnancy? Would that help or hinder the cause of representing really bad Muslims? Or would it unnecessarily complicate the picture and cause confusion?

Images are inherently confusing. They never really do what we want them to do.

The ubiquity of visual technologies and our ability to share images globally has rendered the gaze central to our religious and political lives and identities. How people are represented in entertainment media galvanizes individuals, organizations, churches, mosques, corporations, and large quantities of monies. At the heart of most religion, however, is the Divine – the human being alone with God. This aloneness is an uneasy bedfellow, embroiled in an unwilling orgy with our anxieties – indeed, our obsessions – with showing, representing, seeing, preventing-from-showing, adamantly-not-seeing or preventing-from-seeing in the media.

The Gay Damascus Girl Blog-Hoax

In the good old days, charlatans had to perfect a performance. The routine had to be complete with artifacts and props, ointments and sheep-heads. Frauds had to learn how to face their challengers, and respond to them. You would have to look in the eyes of your dupes and earn their conviction.

No longer. Today, frauds and charlatans only need a computer and internet access. Or just a trip to the library to use their computers. Voila. You have a persona. A whole new life. A political cause. You can BE a beloved political and personal cause. Have your face splashed on placards and flyers, your words in the hearts of your supporters – except their your lies. The expense of fraud has gone down so terribly that the miracle today is that there are still plenty of people in the world who tell the truth. People who are true to themselves – somewhat.

The case study of Tom McMaster the Syrian Lesbian demonstrates any number of issues: try the Western fascination with Muslim women’s victimhood; or the gullible eagerness to buy into Middle Eastern brutality and human rights violations; perhaps the ease of easing into new personae; the nature of human connection in this era, the fragile hold on reality – the revision of the very nature of ‘reality.’ I’m supposed to be working on a book manuscript, so I’ll let you continue to develop the list of issues that the Gay Damascus Girl blog-hoax generates.

And you may either continue to reflect on that hoax in the virtual corridor, or you may go back to your own job, family, or online shopping. Enjoy.

Details on the “Syrian Lesbian” here, here and here, thanks to Fatemeh Fakhraie.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 84 other followers