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  • Feminism and Islam

    by Zohra
    9th February, 2007 at 4:28 am    

    [This is based on a talk hosted by the LSE Student Union's Islamic and Feminist Societies on 22nd January 2007]

    From a personal perspective, I identify as both a Muslim and a feminist and I don’t see this as in any way contradictory. To this end, I’d like to discuss five potential challenges to a reconciliation between feminism and Islam.

    From a professional perspective, I am interested in how policy can support Muslim women’s rights and interests accepting that the term ‘Muslim women’ includes myriad of people not all of whom agree with each other.

    1) Theory vs reality
    As a Muslim, I have very little criticism to make of the Qu’ran in terms of its treatment of women. As a doctrinal text, it did indeed widen women’s options, and enshrined rights that women did not previously have. It is, I think, entirely accurate to say that the Qu’ran was an advocate for women’s liberation.

    The practice of Islam all over the world, with some exceptions of course, is generally one of active policing of Muslim women, our bodies, our autonomy. In this country, we do have forced marriage, we do have murder in the name of honour, and we do have female genital cutting or mutilation within the Muslim community, and using Islam as a justification.

    We can argue about the validity of those interpretations of the Message of course, but the reality is that those interpretations exist. They are real, whatever the theory of how things ought to be.

    I know that one defence against this would be to say that there is Islam the religion and Muslims the people, but I don’t think that’s good enough. Because it is Muslims as people that need to be ensuring that Islam the religion fulfils its potential. I think it has been too easy for some people to excuse the oppression of Muslim women by Muslims by claiming that the ‘true’ version of Islam isn’t so sexist.

    2) History vs present
    We seem to be a bit stuck in the past when it comes to finding inspiring Muslim women to learn from. We have definitely had some inspiring Muslim women in the past. But have there been no inspiring women in the last millennia? What have Muslim women been doing for 1000 years that we can’t seem to find them? I raise this point because Bibi Khadija (Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) first wife) and other women of her time are regularly referred to as evidence of Islam’s progressive approach to the woman question. And they are excellent examples of, in my opinion, feminist Muslim women.

    But I think that we have also had some inspiring Muslim women in our lifetimes. Shireen Ibadi and Fatema Mernissi are two current examples and there are many others if you don’t happen to agree with their take on things.

    Just as Bibi Khadija challenged the way women were perceived in her time by taking on roles that were the purview of men, so too are there Muslim women challenging prevailing social norms and trying to reframe what options are open to Muslim women in the present. I would like to see more Muslims, especially Muslim men, embracing these trailblazing women as examples of:
    - excellent Muslim leaders, for all Muslims
    - inspiring Muslim women for those interested in Muslim women’s rights

    3) Sex and gender
    There does seem to be a tension between some of the fundamentals of feminism and some of the core ideas within Islam. Feminism is very much about understanding and then redefining gender roles and relations. Although feminists disagree about many things, they are committed to equality and freedom for women.

    Related to this is the idea of choice. Thus most feminists subscribe to the idea that women should have the right to choose whether and how they should fulfil roles such as wife, child carer and bread-earner. Feminism separates biological sex from socialized gender. In this understanding men can be the primary carers of children while the mother works more outside of the home in paid labour.

    Islam on the other hand has more difficulty with the idea that gender is a social construct. Gender roles are seen to be derivative of biological sex and are therefore not so flexible. Motherhood, and caring for children and the domestic sphere generally, is understood to be one of the most important, if not the only, responsibilities of a woman.

    That is not to say that a Muslim woman cannot join the paid labour market. But I do think there is deep resistance to the idea that a father could take up more of the caring responsibilities when this happens so that the division of labour in the home is more balanced. Individual men do of course do this, and it is a process of negotiation that is ongoing and ever-changing.

    But the status of motherhood is very high in Islam which I think presents a challenge to the idea that it is a gender role that is socially constructed and not a biological fact. So the circumstances where men are doing more of the care work I think are very much the exception and not seen as the ideal situation.

    4) The role of men
    A lot of Muslims and a lot of feminists seem to be quite obsessed with the position of Muslim women in Islam. That’s great for me of course. But how helpful is it really in terms of advancing my interests to be the object of constant battle, debate, and discourse? Is the issue really about ‘Muslim women’ in these discussions?

    Feminism talks about gender inequality as much as it talk about women’s rights. And, perhaps most importantly, feminists emphasise gender relations as a primary vehicle for the oppression of women.

    But the important point to take away from it is that feminists care about men. The way to liberating women is to engage with men. What men are doing matters. Women can only be un-oppressed if we understand who is gaining from the oppression, why, how they are doing the oppressing, etc. Men are a part of the conversation about why women lack power in society.

    Islam does also recognize the equal importance of men I’d say, but I don’t think as Muslims we follow that opportunity through in our debates. We are perhaps too happy talking about Muslim women, and Muslim women are the battleground of so many of our conversations and debates about what is right and proper and halal. But why don’t we talk about what is going on with Muslim men?

    5) Rights and law
    Both feminism and Islam have a healthy preoccupation with women’s rights. They differ, however, in how they attempt to realize these rights. Feminism’s purpose is to change society using law when necessary. They see women as agents and subjects. They strive to embody the ethos and politics of feminism, and they are the emancipators - doing the actual changing of society so women have more equality.

    Islam’s purpose is to change society as well, but its agent of focus is often the individual. It seeks to encourage individuals to be ethical and just from within an understanding of the Divine. It has guidelines about how we should eat, speak, dress, pray, relate to each other, etc. and it is through this self-regulation of individual behaviour that an ethical society could then be built.

    Muslims do also flirt with establishing norms in law for example through Shariah. But it is when these guidelines about self-conduct become codified in law that difficulties arise because a central tenant of Islam is that there is no compulsion in religion. If I choose to drink or eat pork, it is my potential sin and my soul that could suffer. It is up to me to take responsibility for my choices to stay on or stray off the Path.

    Establishing law when we’re talking about murder is understandable. When we’re speaking of other areas such as dress, individual choice is a more acceptable guiding principle. If there is no compulsion in religion I should not be forced to wear the hijab. But I’m not sure how well Muslims have been grappling with choice in this country. Are we really ok with women choosing not to wear the hijab?

    In these discussions amongst Muslims, I find that we don’t use the language of ‘rights’ to make our points. More often I hear the language of ‘dignity’ used, as in “we want to preserve the dignity of Muslim women”. And ‘dignity’ is used interchangeably with ‘modesty’. In this narrative, Muslim women are treated more as objects rather than agents or subjects. And the purpose is not to change society, but to change individuals, to change individual Muslim women.

    What I would like to see is:
    - Muslims embodying the faith: living righteously and ethically.
    - Muslims acting as emancipators: engaging more actively with women’s rights.

    It’s not enough to say that there’s nothing contradictory between feminism and Islam. Muslims must be an active, proactive force for change against the clear, sustained and grave oppression of Muslim women.

    zohra is Policy Officer for Race & Gender at the Fawcett Society. She coordinates Fawcett’s new ‘Seeing Double’ project on ethnic minority women. This article follows on from the roundtable Fawcett hosted in December called ‘The veil, feminism and Muslim women’. A report on the discussions is available on the Fawcett website.

    This is a guest post.

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    Filed in: Religion,Sex equality

    154 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs
    1. Yakoub Islam

      Joanne Marie dropped a comment promo-ing her "Korana" on a 2007 Pickled Politics post: (c-148)

    2. Alexis

      @msnaughty Re. feminism and Islam, a couple of links: @kittystryker

    1. El Cid — on 9th February, 2007 at 8:50 am  

      Nice post Zohra — don’t you sleep?
      I went to an open day at my local mosque in Finsbury Park — not that one, the other one — after the Madrid bombings. I was a bit upset but I didn’t want to give in to hate. So I took my entire family.
      I learnt there that the Quran was indeed a female Magna Carta insofar as it included a list of unequivocal female rights. I can’t remember what they were exactly but they included rights to property, divorce, etc, which at the time put the Islamic world ahead of the Christendom. But that was 1,000 years ago and this is now.
      Good luck with your efforts

    2. Sahil — on 9th February, 2007 at 11:21 am  

      “I think it has been too easy for some people to excuse the oppression of Muslim women by Muslims by claiming that the ‘true’ version of Islam isn’t so sexist.”

      I think that has been one of my biases, because my friends and family I feel have met the theory and adjusted their understanding of Islam to meet the current modern realities. There is also a question of the spirit of the Quran: it was highly feminist in 7 century AD, thus it should continue to set a progessive agenda for women’s rights and means. But like you said, the practical implementation has been more cycnical and dogmatic than the spirit of the text.

      I also agree with the difference between the seperation between gender and sex. In many Islamic communities, I see the rather bizzare situation where many women become highly skilled individuals, often with college degrees, and usually with good grades. But it seems that her education is not a means for her to enter the job market or the means to purse her ambitions, rather it provides her family with a signal to send potential suitors about the status of the family. This needs to stop now! On a purely economic standpoint, Islamic societies are only using half their potential and they cannot hope to compete on a global stage if they waste half their resources.

      I think the reason we don’t talk about muslim men and their problems in Western countries is that most people have a caricature about them. Many people believe that most of the family resources are spent on the boy (which certainly has a ring of truth in it), and that it is the girls who are oppressed by their male relatives. Logically: if the males are disempowered or the females empowered, things will improve for all. But I don’t think this approach is ever going to be useful. It makes for a zero-sum game rather than one which could lead to a bigger pie for all parties involved.

      Lastly the issue of how the practical implementation of Islam occurs: it is highly difficult due to the decentralised nature of the religion. There is no Pope in Islam. That said however, more and more Imams and taking it upon themselves to issue laws, that have little basis in the Quran. And bizzarely, the older generation of Muslims, take these laws seriously when they know that there is no basis for such edicts. It seems that whilst Islam is becoming more popular amongst the younger generation, they prefer the lazy route i.e. Whabbi nonsense Islam. I feel that the younger generation wants to have a group to belong to, but heading towards a lazy analysis of Islam is the danger. Many of them piously follow what their Imams say, BUT, the actual interpretation is wrong, and the ethical implications are dire.

    3. douglas clark — on 9th February, 2007 at 1:17 pm  


      That’s an interesting perspective. I sometimes wonder what Jesus would have made of Christianity. Similar sentiment amongst Muslims might be appropriate?

    4. Kingmaker — on 9th February, 2007 at 1:31 pm  

      “But the important point to take away from it is that feminists care about men. ”


    5. bananabrain — on 9th February, 2007 at 1:44 pm  

      has anyone seen this?

      i think this woman has a lot to say about it from a grass-roots level.



    6. Kismet Hardy — on 9th February, 2007 at 2:28 pm  

      Can a Muslim woman have four husbands?

      Can Muslim women walk into any mosque to pray to her god?

      Is there a single example in the Qu’ran where the author is aiming the contents of the text at a female reader?

      Where are the female prophets and apostles?

      Islam is a religion for men. Like the African slaves who got indtroctinated into Christianity in America, you are nothing but a convert that’s trying to see where you fit in

      You are borne of woman. If you must worship, worship your goddess

    7. shiraz — on 9th February, 2007 at 2:57 pm  

      kismet hardy, the first person to become a muslim was a woman.

      a woman is regarded as the third source of islam.

      also there are examples in the quran where the author (god) is aiming the contents of the text at a female reader. I think you will find examples on every page.

      If islam was a religion for men, why is it that islam gives more rights to a woman than a man?

      will reply to your article later zohra.

    8. Kismet Hardy — on 9th February, 2007 at 3:18 pm  

      Why do women have to cover up so men are not led to temptation?

      Why does the woman suffer if he gets a stiffy? Why isn’t the man punished when she gets fired up?

      And yeah, the first person to convert to Islam was a woman. Because her husband said so. Power to her!

    9. lithcol — on 9th February, 2007 at 5:53 pm  

      I had to pinch myself. Am I in the 21st century, or have I been transported to some distant century in the past.
      Clearly there are problems in Countries where the majority are Muslim and many males quite literally consider women to be inferior because religeous sources say they are.
      Here in Britain and the West, it should be a given that we are all equal under the law. Yes there are those who would argue that women are inferior, however man (sic) made laws have advanced equality and will continue to do so, not only for women.
      Religeous beliefs and arguments based on arcane beliefs from wherever have no place in modern democratic societies.
      Obviously I am not a believer in a supreme being, always male, and would certainly refute any religeous texts based on the supposed relevation of such a being to a privaleged human (male).
      It is curious to me that males in the middle east are the only ones who received the wisdom of this so called god ( Jews, Christians and Muslims), telling them that they are the mirror image of this deity and the only ones who are trully worthy.
      Get real, we are alone and it is we and only we who shape our destiny. Secular states are the only ones that give true freedom of thought, and the only ones that have advanced, warts and all.

    10. Nyrone — on 9th February, 2007 at 7:54 pm  

      Just to add a couple of points to Kismet’s excellent post. Please clarify:

      Why are 2 female witnesses are equal to one.

      Why is a divorce is much easier for a man than a woman in Islam?

      Why are women prevented from reaching their educational/intellectual apex?

      Why are their some verses in the Quran that seem to imply women are ‘impure’ or ‘unclean’?

      Why is the woman entitled to 50% less property than the man?

      Why are women portrayed as temptresess? who ‘lure the men asrtay’?

      Why cant the men wear veils instead of the women?

      Why is a husband allowed to smack his wife? Is she a child or something?

      Why is there a worse punishment for a woman committing adultry than a man?

      Why is it always Eve’s fault?

      Please accept my questions in the spirit of sincere curiosity…these kinds of questions are always spinning around in my head and telling me that the treatment of men and women in Islam seems kind of unfair, please enlighten me…

    11. lithcol — on 9th February, 2007 at 8:18 pm  

      What a load of subserviant rubish. Why not read Gina Khan

      Now there is a free thinking individual. A real human being.

    12. Sahil — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:02 pm  

      “Now there is a free thinking individual. A real human being.”

      Do you realise that Gina Khan still considers herself a muslim and actually deals with many of the questions in the blog, and has some similar conclusions? If you actually also read the others post, you’d realise BananaBrain already posted that story.

      BTW Zohra is a isn’t a fictional character from the land of nod, she is a ‘real human being’.

    13. raz — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:17 pm  

      LOL at Gina Khan dressing in jeans. Where’s the miniskirts?

    14. Zemz — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:20 pm  

      Do you realise that Gina Khan still considers herself a muslim and actually deals with many of the questions in the blog, and has some similar conclusions?

      Exactly! Such a shame that ignorant and deeply stupid bigots like lithcol cannot see this through their red mist of hatred. But then the world will always be full of twats.

      Sadly, bigots like him will always use people like Gina Khan as a shield for their bigotry, it is a hazard that they have to face in speaking out. I guess they’ll just have to address it somewhere in their speeches, or spell it out even further so that bigoted frothing at the mouth cretins like lithcol understand more clearly.

    15. shiraz — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:22 pm  

      Why do women have to cover up so men are not led to temptation?
      Recent studies have shown men are more likely to cheat than women. So if you put an attractive married man and attractive married woman in front of each other and asked them both would you cheat with the other person? Who would you think would be more likely to say yes?
      Women don’t have to ‘cover up’ they are asked to preserve their modesty to a certain extent. Covering of the hair makes a massive difference to the appearance of a person, also not wearing clothing that reveals the shape of the body.
      People like kismet get so wound up with not being able to perve on every woman that crosses their path. Next time you see a nun ask her why she is covered up please.
      He first person to convert to Islam converted through her own will, yes keep swallowing the bitter pill.

      Lithcol, you are once again confusing culture with religion. Show where the inferiority comes from in the Quran. and please don’t praise the equality of women, go back a 100 years and a woman voting would make old men wee themselves and the current inequality that exists in organisations is still apparent.. Your also confusing the jews, muslims and Christians talking about them being the mirror image of god. Lithcol religious beliefs do have a place in modern society, do you expect the 2 million muslims to wake up in the UK one day and just go omg I was wrong. No don’t think so.

    16. shiraz — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:23 pm  

      raz is gina khan fit?

    17. shiraz — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:29 pm  

      Why are women prevented from reaching their educational/intellectual apex?
      They are not some of the greatest scholars in Islam had female teachers and there were even female scholars in Islam
      Why are women portrayed as temptresess? who ‘lure the men asrtay’?
      Cost they are FIT!
      Why is a husband allowed to smack his wife? Is she a child or something?
      Beating is allowed in Islam! Oh yeh! But only with a twig with light tapping :( and its not allowed to leave a bruise.

      id answer more but i got exam papers to mark :(

    18. Freejay — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:36 pm  

      Doesnt it clearly state in the Quran that hell is full of women?

    19. susan_mayer — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:43 pm  

      Nyrone, your questions are the same kind of questions that have perplexed me but I have to admit many of these questions are based on what I have heard because not being of any particular faith, I haven’t read the Koran. I am inquisitive by nature..I don’t wish to offend!

      After asking questions about inheritance I have been told that the woman is in a better position than a man, as a woman would inherit from both her father and her husband while a man just from his father. This 50% then allows for an ‘equal share’. Fair enough I say.

      The answers to my other questions including that of the veiling of women have not been quite as clear cut. I’ve had both men and women give very different accounts for the reasons that some women (and not men) wear the veil, some due to ‘modesty’ issues and others because it ‘empowers’ women so that they are not seen as sexual objects and the focus is on their mind. My objection lies in why it is only women who must conceal themeselves lest be leered at by men. Men can be just as sexually alluring…Maybe all human beings should walk around veiled from head to toe…hmmmmm

      As for it always being Eve’s fault.. This is not a question which can be aimed just at Islam. If Adam tempted Eve how different would society be? Would women priests be seen as such a contentiuos issue? Would women who showed an ounce of independent thought be burned at the stake, accused of witchcraft?

      It seems that the repercussions of such a notion has extended beyond that of Eve/women being seen as temptresses; it seems to have justified a whole raft of other unfair practices which have allowed women to be viewed and treated as subordinate.

      It is unfair to suggest that Islam doesn’t address women’s rights at all. Its just that it is difficult to offset the rights a women has to protect her wealth through a pre-nuptial agreement, against the so-called role that a women is expected to fulfill primarily as a mother and in the domestic sphere. Islam protects women in one sense financially but takes away in terms of setting out a clearly defined gender role, one that not all women can be expected to fulfill. Not all women wish to have children, and furthermore in my case not all women are ‘domesticated’! ( I leave all that cleaning & tidying to those with OCD!)

      I look forward to some of Nyrone’s and Kismet’s questions being answered. Apologies if I have gone off on a tangent, I just thought I’d say my piece!

      Great article by the way Zohra!

    20. susan_mayer — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:58 pm  

      PS… I don’t think men ‘beating’ women, with anything including a twig can be justified. In fact to be beaten with a twig sounds like its a punishment designed to humiliate which in my opinion is on par with leaving a bruise.

      Maybe I would find less fault with some of this stuff if there was equality full stop. Equality in punishment (so if i wish i could beat my bloke with a twig-without leaving a bruise of course-) and I could have more than one husband if the one I had wasn’t performing(!) well enough and men would be expected to cover up just as much as women are and help look after the kids (again 50-50, I wouldn’t want the bloke to do more than his fair share)etc etc etc… I dunno just a thought.

    21. shiraz — on 9th February, 2007 at 9:59 pm  

      A very interesting and balanced view susan. quite refreshing to read. I have tried to answer some of the shorter questions. the other questions require a more detailed response.

    22. Sahil — on 9th February, 2007 at 10:03 pm  

      “People like kismet get so wound up with not being able to perve on every woman that crosses their path.”

      Shiraz, please don’t make assumptions about Kismet, if you hang around here you’ll see what people are about. The questions being asked here are legitimate and need to be discussed.

      Susan, I think a good way of looking about Islam in this context (or more generally) is to look at the roles and rights on women in ‘Arabia’ before and after Islam. Before the situation was even more dire, and after the prophet, the rights extended were quite massive. However after the 14th century, that sense of progessiveness and liberal values has been slowly eroded and now we are stuck with something puritanical and dogmatic. As ever religion is in the eye of the beholder.

    23. lithcol — on 9th February, 2007 at 10:35 pm  

      Shiraz, I didn’t say modern society in Britain was perfect. It is however progressive. Rights for all have progressed over the last 100 years, especially for women.
      You appear to believe that men cannot have self control when confronted by an uncovered woman.
      How pathetic. Sexual molestation and rape occur in predominately Muslim countries as well, where I assume the women are covered.. The fault is entirely due to the immature, unsocialized impulses of the males involved and should be punished.. Instead, what do we find? The woman is blamed and called a whore etc.
      I would of course not expect anyone to wake up one day and abandon their belief systems. I was born into a nominally Christian household, however it took approximately 15 years before I finally rejected the belief in a supreme being.
      At least I was free to do it.
      Your religion appears to be your culture, defining your values, your politics. Unchanging for ever, given that you believe it to be the literal words of your god. All other beliefs being inferior or just plain mythical.. Come on the world is rich in its diversity , and it must be said progressive.
      By the way your pseudonym appears misplaced. - Shiraz—the city of flowers, wine and poetry. Producing good wine until the mad Mullahs sent Iran back to the stone age. You can have wine in heaven but not here on earth. Great.

    24. susan_mayer — on 9th February, 2007 at 10:48 pm  

      Thanks Sahil, I think I understand what you are saying. That the changes were radical and progressive at the time. But as we know the world we live has changed dramatically and how is it that the roles and rights of women should stay the same?

      The changes are evident in my own family. Between my grandmother’s and mother’s generation and that of my own. My grandmother married young, looked after 5 kids and her husband; my mother had an education, found herself a good job, got married at an older age and had fewer kids. Me? I dunno I have just completed the education part and thankfully my lack of domestic skills means that I haven’t yet been pestered to make someone a good wife(!) But all this shows that in 50 yrs in my family at least there have been huge changes in the role that women play.

      It is therefore difficult to see how in a thousand and even a hundred years a women’s role and her rights can remain static.

      Islam as I understand has not stood in the way of progress in science something which was evident at the emergence of the faith and I’m interested to see if the acceptance of progress can be applied to gender roles and rights. Are these seen as final and not up for discussion?

    25. El Cid — on 9th February, 2007 at 10:48 pm  

      I would just like to throw the following into the mix:

      “But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ. Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head-it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or to be shaved, she should wear a veil. For a man ought not to have his head veiled, since he is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. (Corinthians 11:3-10)

      “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (Corinthians 14:33-35)

    26. lithcol — on 9th February, 2007 at 11:13 pm  

      Precisely El-Cid

      Zemz, you clearly have a problem and I won’t aggravate it by giving a long reasoned reply to your outburst. In short, I have problems with the way all extant religions, past and present, treat women as second class beings. If that is bigoted, so be it.

      As to hiding behind another and not speaking out, that is certainly not true. Fortunately we are free to express our opinions in this country, and criticize any belief system ( and I don’t mean making hate speech threatening death etc to others, for which you should be punished).
      Perhaps Zemz thinks I am an infidel and so must also be a bigot. My Christian friends certainly think I am a heathen, but would never accuse me of bigotry because I argue against their beliefs.
      Finally Zemz, I have never experienced the red mist of hatred. I dislike and take a strong stand. Hate is a self defeating motivation and not something a civilized human being should express.

    27. ramon — on 9th February, 2007 at 11:45 pm  

      anyone arround here heard of male chauvinistic cristian colonialism? which over the las 200y has seriuosly agressed and sabotaged all muslim countries?
      any progressive, feminist thinkers in muslim countries have been mismanaged to a good extent by the post colonial elites, at the service of good busines and control for the former master
      it is a power , not a religious debate, rich muslims (eg women) can be free poor cristians (eg women)are as opressed and repressed as poor muslims

    28. Bert Preast — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:50 am  

      Ah, this makes me nostalgic for MPAC.

    29. loblollyboy — on 10th February, 2007 at 3:01 am  

      If you want to prevent a society from ever attaining its maturity, give the men power over women and say God said so; then both are enslaved: one by power, the other by its lack. The yoke lies heavy on both, and neither shall be free of it until each are fully equal to each other, especially under the law. So far, the only societies that seem to have understood this sufficiently enough to put it into practice are those which are both secular and liberal. (Coincidentally, these societies reside in democratic countries with the broadest bases of economic prosperity and the greatest personal freedoms. Which leads to the intuition that a good deal of the hatred of the West currently being fomented by less responsible clericals is in great degree energy diverted from a suppressed envy of the West.) If history is a guide, societies which refuse to allow complete economic, legal and social equality and opportunity to women so hinder their own development that they will never be anything more than second- or third-tier societies.

    30. jinnzaman — on 10th February, 2007 at 7:27 am  

      I made a post about this recently:

    31. douglas clark — on 10th February, 2007 at 9:55 am  


      What about China? I know there are human rights abuses etc, but they seem to be equal opportunity oppressive? And most certainly don’t meet the democratic model.

    32. ZinZin — on 10th February, 2007 at 12:04 pm  

      Thats Ayaan Hirsi-Ali’s argument. The other part is that secular societies are more successful than religious societies.

    33. Katy — on 10th February, 2007 at 12:50 pm  

      Women don’t have to ‘cover up’ they are asked to preserve their modesty to a certain extent. Covering of the hair makes a massive difference to the appearance of a person, also not wearing clothing that reveals the shape of the body.

      Oh, now I understand. Covering your hair and wearing clothes that don’t reveal the shape of your body is completely different from “covering up”.

      Beating is allowed in Islam! Oh yeh! But only with a twig with light tapping :( and its not allowed to leave a bruise.

      Oh, well, that’s all right then.

      People like kismet get so wound up with not being able to perve on every woman that crosses their path.

      There is nothing pervy about finding women attractive.

      Next time you see a nun ask her why she is covered up please.

      The way nuns dress is an obsolete remnant of a time when mainstream Christianity also believed that women were under a duty to cover themselves to avoid inflaming men, who at that time were not expected to control themselves. Most (but not all) of Christianity has got past that now.

    34. William — on 10th February, 2007 at 12:51 pm  

      Surely it is just human and obvious that women deserve equality in the world along with men. Humans deserve to be free the main restraint is whether any kind of freedom harms other.

      There is a lot of talk some of it deeply scholarly about how religious text should be interpreted. That is what is the correct interpretation but the validity of that text is still seen as valid. Sometimes is it time to question the very source of that text itself. At one time there were about 30 versions of the gospels. Which ones were kept depended a lot on debate and interpretation and could easily have involved political factors.

      I am not an Islamic scholar so forgive me if I get things wrong. The creation of the Quran involved Muhammad reciting what the angel Gabriel said to him. That is, it’s a form of channelling. The were multiple instances of recitings in many places. Some were long some were shorter. These channellings were written down on all kinds of things such as bits of paper, cloth and even palm leaves. When the Qoran was put together all this stuff had to be collected, ordered organised authenticated etc. This situation is what can effectively be called an editors nightmare. Further the only person who claimed that he was being spoken to by the angel (or god via the angel) was Muhammad himself. Throughout history there have been many people who claim they can hear angels or spirits talking to them. There are hundreds of people in the West and even in this country who would claim the same.
      The point is there is no more reason to believe in the angel Gabriel than Doris Stokes could hear spirits. If we choose to believe in the authenticity of the Qoran then it is a matter of personal choice having nothing to do with science or true evidence.

      The point is what do we really know and how can we really know what is true for sure. Some of us are still relying on ancient text studying it almost in the hope that our interpretations will come up trumps with what we want in order to validate our own struggles instead of just applying reason to modern day situations. Even if we still access scripture etc if we have more awareness of our uncertainties would a minority of us still choose to be dogmatic and heavy handed about how received instructions of what is right and wrong influence our behaviour.

      I agree wholeheartedly with Kismets point about why can’t women have more than one husband. This question can also be put to Mormon polygamists.

    35. Katy — on 10th February, 2007 at 12:51 pm  

      I thought that Zohra’s post was very good, and that many of her points were applicable to other religions too.

    36. William — on 10th February, 2007 at 12:57 pm  

      I will just add a bit of a dislaimer to the above just in case it sounds too cynical. I am actually open minded about the phenomena of divine inspiration, channeling etc. It is just that there are many angles and questions surrounding the subject. There is a bit of a devils advocate to the points.

    37. Chairwoman — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:06 pm  

      Ahem - Actually nuns are wearing the everyday dress of aristocratic mediaeval ladies. The habit is indeed a habit.

    38. Sahil — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:28 pm  

      I also second Katy’s post #32, as well. Can we please have a discussion about balantant human abuse without the usual stances i.e, Hirsi Ali VS Bin Laden.

      Actually can all women just agree to wear bikinis (except the ugly ones of course) and promise all us guys a lot of sex. Is that too unacceptable? We all just want free love as well, like the 60s no?

    39. Chairwoman — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:33 pm  

      Ah yes the 60s.

      Happy days. How we cavorted naked in the streets. Oh those chance casual encounters. Those nameless sexual unions. Those….

      Yeah, right.

    40. Sahil — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:37 pm  

      HAHAHAHAHA, well I’m only saying what you baby boomers told me. I’m supposedly part of the boring generation. Apparently we have no creativity, not to mention a crap sex drive. You guys had way more fun. And Katy did say your freind kissed Jimmy Hendrix, when would that ever happen now, BTW where is your Led Zep post?? Its required learning us bass players you know. :D

    41. Chairwoman — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:49 pm  

      Yes, I know I promised.

      If you’re serious about the bass, go for a Fender Jazz Bass.

    42. Chairwoman — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:51 pm  

      Zohra - i apologise for de-railing your excellent and informative post.

    43. Sahil — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:54 pm  

      No!! I got a Yamaha, Spelling DAMMIT, with active pickups that’s pretty good. Plus I have little cash at the moment. But the Fender is beautiful, and I also love the Hammer Edge Q and that’s what I would get. I just wish I could get that kind of ability and creativity and then sleep with loads of pretty girls, AND have intelligent girls also interested. :D

    44. Sahil — on 10th February, 2007 at 1:58 pm  

      If anyone is interested in my old band, I was 16, let me know, I can try and get some track online, BUT only by popular demand.

    45. Chairwoman — on 10th February, 2007 at 2:01 pm  

      Why do you think most musicians become musicians.

      Robbie Williams put it very succinctly. ‘I’m here to make money and get laid’.

      BTW the late Chairman said that Yamaha instruments were always an excellent choice if one couldn’t afford the top of the range item. Reliable and good quality. We have a Yamaha CP70 piano ourselves.

      And intelligent girls like ‘musos’ too :-)

    46. Refresh — on 10th February, 2007 at 2:49 pm  

      William, interesting post. What I Think you are suggesting is that we should question the whole concept of prophethood going right back. which probably also includes philosophers who’s concepts and doctrines are the basis of many societies.

      For the purposes of the subject in question (and then by extension all else) We need to assess the concepts and practices based on outcomes. I genuinely think the currently understood ideas of equality are just that - good ideas. What really matters are outcomes.

      In one form or another the empowerment Of women has been at best patchy. On the whole its been delivered on a class basis. A good test is the REDUCED social mobility we have over the last few years and the concept of the underclass. The price paid at the impoverished end of the social scale is (much) higher for woman in almost all respects.

      Bottom line is that we don’t have equality and we will not under the current system. I would consider, for example, equality in sport not by whether boys and girls can play competitive sports on the same playing field, but by whether girls netball could take a prime slot on Saturday evening as the match of the day.

    47. Sahil — on 10th February, 2007 at 3:18 pm  

      Hey hold one, mwhy is my song not comong on:

    48. Woodchopper — on 10th February, 2007 at 3:27 pm  

      Shiraz stated “Why do women have to cover up so men are not led to temptation?
      Recent studies have shown men are more likely to cheat than women.”

      This is complete rubbish. Who are the men cheating with? With women. The only difference between men and women is that men tend to exaggerate their sexual conquests and women will underestimate them. But logically, hetrosexual men are having exactly the same amount of sex as hetrosexual women.

    49. Electro — on 10th February, 2007 at 7:35 pm  

      Islam is fatally flawed when it comes to women’s rights.

      If a beleif systeme denies the right for women to remain single, to remain chidless or to form free associations with like-minded women (ie nuns), then what rights for women can such a belief systeme really have?

      Think about that a moment.

      The right of women to remain childess and single to associate with other women of a similar bent is essential, without which no TRUE reform will ever come about.

      The dearth of ANY notable female figures in Islam’s history bears this out.

      Magna Carta of women’s rights my ass!
      Where are the empresses like Irene and Theodora?
      Where are the powerful female political figures such as Isabelle of spain, Catherine De Medici, Elenor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth the 1st or Catherine The Great?

      Why is the islamic world completely unable to offer up some female equivalents to what one finds in just about ANY other culture?

      We’ve ONE lone figure, “Fatima”, and her only claim to fame comes from an accident of birth; she just happens to be Mohammed’s daughter. She was a model of the “good” daughter and the “good” wife…….

      Without the right to remain single and celibate, women are soon reduced to a mere life-support systeme for a uterus, and so you simply don’t get an Elizabeth the 1st.

      There are, thus, no significant female historical figures in Islam because Islam’s core texts make NO ROOM for them.

    50. Clairwil — on 10th February, 2007 at 8:07 pm  

      I’m rather fond of this this ‘highly esteemed’ single, childless Muslim woman

      The question is would such an independent life style be widely accepted on today?

    51. Electro — on 10th February, 2007 at 9:00 pm  

      The answer to your question, Clairwil, is a resounding “no”.

      Also, the fact that you had to go all the way back to the 700s merely reinforces what I said in my comment above.

      Could you not find someone a little more contemporary….like say from the 10th century?

      One other thing needs to be said. Basra and what is now known as Iraq remained majority Christian well into the 9th century.

      Rabia, thus, may have merely “kited” her celibacy off the majority Christian community surrounding her.

      Islam considers celibacy, and in particular female celibacy, to be the “enemy” of god.

      Years ago my mom had a book on women in the world’s great religions. There were abundant representatives from Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and other faiths as well.

      Under “Islam”, though, there was but one lonely entry. A women who early on had attempted to establish an order of Muslim nuns. I’ve been searching around for info on her, but haven’t yet found any on line.

      She was arrested, charged, tried and then beheaded.

      “Celibacy”, the sharia judge thundered, after barely ten minutes of deliberation, “is the enemy of god”.

      There are no Rachels, no Devorahs and no Ruths here.

      No queens and no empresses either.

    52. impeachbushjr — on 10th February, 2007 at 9:30 pm  

      i am a muslim woman who would like to express this:

      there are tons of women who were role models in muslim societies during and after the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): wives (Asia), mothers (asmaa, hajir), businesswomen (khadija),queens who ruled (shajjaret aldur in egypt),soldiers (khoula), nurses (aisha, nusayba),tons of female clerics who taught the now famous male clerics (one proudly announced he was tutored by 12 female clerics) ….remember, while the Prophet was still alive, it was his wife aisha who was the primary tutor of men in all religious matters …no man surpassed her knowledge…there was no sexism….that we got from the western colonialists who rammed their values on our societies

      but we muslims have gone backwards since then. while we still keep the commandments and pray, etc., we have suffered under western colonization and post independence dictatorships….religion cannot thrive under oppression and it is our dictators that make the rules …. it is only recently that women have been encouraged to be educated when before they were great scholars. muslim men are also oppressed. we make a big deal about women not being allowed to vote in some countries, but you forget most men can’t vote either in the same places. and if you can vote, the elections are rigged, so what’s the point?

      there is equality….in oppression. we need to get rid of these U.S. backed puppets (they back them for the sake of cheap oil and to prevent anti-american democracies from flourishing)and bring back the golden age when muslim advances in sciences spurred a renaissaince in a europe that was previously occupied by muslims.

      granted we may not get back our edge but we have many scientists and academians to be proud of who would flourish under a democracy. our economies would also flourish when petro-dollars go to the people not the dictators

      religion does not oppress women….men do. men are oppressing, raping, molesting, murdering, starting wars, pimping, trafficking women for sex,denying us votes, a voice, rights,…and we can only fight back through education and invoking our divine God given rights.

      eve did not tempt adam….the muslim version is that the devil fooled both of them together. and if we take the christian version that the devil fooled eve who led adam astray…then it serves him right for being dumb enough to listen to her in the first place.

    53. Clairwil — on 10th February, 2007 at 10:16 pm  

      To be honest I’m not totally clear what it is your looking for. You dismiss Fatima because she was Mohammed’s daughter but esteem Elizabeth 1st and so on who, whatever their impressive personal achievements and struggles were born to royalty.

      To make my motives clear and avoid any confusion. I am not a Muslim or trying to argue that any one religious tradition is better than any other. I’m just not comfortable with dismissing the achievements of Muslim woman as Darcy is or wishing to cram them into another narrow category by only valuing celibate women. For me the issue is choice whether one chooses to be one of three wives, single or a wife and mother. That choice is sadly lacking today in the Muslim world and I favour any historical example however old that inspires women to take control of their lives.

      I am a little uncomfortable with the notion of becoming a nun as one of liberation. Whilst the convent did liberate many women, lets not forget that it was also used as a dumping ground for unmarried daughters. Let’s also remember the complicity of nuns in enforcing misogynist views of women in the Magdalen Laundries and so on. The women of my own Catholic family could certainly add their testimony to that sorry tradition. Their experiences of nuns were largely as either child abusers or assisting and facilitating the physical abuse of children. I’m not dismissing the convent tradition at all just asking you to remember what it meant in practice before advocating other religions take it up.

      Like I say I’m not sure what your parameters are but does Irshad Manji count. A hugely controversial figure sure but I think the debates she has started are valuable, even if her position is likely to remain a minority one.

      If there have been no female Muslim leaders can you clarify what this book is based on
      ‘I pity England - on the road to ruin due to unchecked Muslim immigration’
      I’m unclear why a comment on immigration in England is relevant here. The topic for discussion is Islam and feminism.

      You both might like to explain to me why ALL the women here

      and here

      should be dismissed.

      There hasn’t been a man or woman born that I would point to as a complete and ideal example to anyone but from my secular perspective I wholeheartedly support the efforts of ALL religious women of any faith to make their religion and culture relevant empowering and meaningful to them.

    54. Sunny — on 10th February, 2007 at 10:21 pm  

      “Celibacy”, the sharia judge thundered, after barely ten minutes of deliberation, “is the enemy of god”.

      Islam isn’t the only religion against celibacy. Although some Sikh groups do practice it, the Gurus were advocates of people living the ‘householder’ lifestyle.

      There are no Rachels, no Devorahs and no Ruths here.

      No queens and no empresses either.

      Electro, I’m going to try and engage meaningfully with you, but if your agenda is simply to spout ill-informed prejudiced views you will get banned. One of the reasons why its so difficult for Muslim women to get heard is because everytime they speak out against patriarchy, people such as you take it as a re-affirmation of your orientalist views.

      Anyway, the existence of queens in itself doesn’t mean much. This country has had lots of queens but women’s social liberation didn’t come until the last 100 years or so. And we are talking about a religion, Christianity, that is over 2000 years old. So don’t get too ahead of yourself.

      The Indian-subcontinent has had more women political leaders than any other part of the world, so one could make the assumption its great for political equality, going by your standards. But it’s not.

      Political and social equality generally comes from economic well-being. The richer you are, the more equal the society. Although all this seems to have evaded the Japanese despite their wealth. Hmmmm..

    55. raz — on 10th February, 2007 at 10:23 pm  

      Haven’t Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia all had female leaders in the very recent past?

    56. impeachbushjr — on 10th February, 2007 at 10:50 pm  

      to darcy:

      if you believe in freedom of speech, then don’t attack those who voice opinions different than yours.

      there were many examples of muslim advances in the sciences (ibn alnafees) and even philosophy (avaceni is latin for ibn sena and avaroos is ibn rushd) also maths (aljabr gave the world algebra, which is still named after him today, etc…i cannot write everything here, you would have to read it yourself…this was all while europe was in the dark ages. the largest library in europe was that of andalusia during the muslim reign in spain…and when the christian kingdoms of castella attacked putting spain under isabella and ferndinad it was burned to the ground…a tremendous loss for humanity

      what do you mean “al taqiyyah”? you are misusing an arabic word…if you show me what you meant i can give you the correct arabic word. it is silly to criticize someone in a language foreign to you and native to the one you criticize (i’m an arab), but it did give me a good laugh. thank you

      what makes you think i fear to tread on the subject of honor killings or fgm? they merely weren’t the subject of my debate.

      i (a female) happen to work as a volunteer in an agency that educates women about the dangers and inhumanity of these practices. but the women are not to be blamed alone when many men refuse to marry uncircumcised women, forcing women to fgm their daughters to ensure they marry. you think we can solve these problems with a magic wand, but it takes a long time to change society’s opinions/perceptions.

      honor killings go against islam, but they are a part of traditions and customs in some countries which is why some people tolerate them. they are also illegal in every single muslim country, but because people tolerate it, culprits go unreported and judges are hesitant to give harsh punishments since laws aren’t specific when it comes to sentencing. these things need to be fought through education because we don’t have the democratic institutions that allow us to change laws. everything is at the whim of our dictators.. the bottom line is that just because something happens doesn’t mean it’s a religious practice….just like christianity frowns on pre-martial sex, but looking at today’s christians you would think otherwise…you cannot blame religion for the flaws of people.

      fgm is another practice that is wrongly attributed to religion in order to ensure it stays. we are making progress in eradicating the practice in the present generation and future ones, but it will take ages before it disappears completely. laws prohibit it, but people do it covertly, again, with no one reporting the incident, you cannot make arrests. and laws cannot change what people think…that takes work.

      what makes you think i live in the west?! (another good laugh) my good english? it is a product of education. you seem to be a very hostile person bordering on prejudice. if you could, you would probably deport muslims from your country even if they are citizens. i say this because you want me to leave the west even though I AM NOT IN ANY WESTERN COUNTRY. SORRY IF MY ENGLISH GAVE YOU THE IMPRESSION. I AM IN THE MIDDLE EAST TYPING THIS IN THE PRIVACY OF MY HOME. YOU SHOULD COME VISIT. YOU SEEM TO THINK WE LIVE IN TENTS AND RIDE CAMELS.

      if you ever want people to respect your opinions you have to respect theirs and not be so hostile when expressing yourself….i imagined living in a democracy teaches these things…i stand corrected…

    57. Clairwil — on 10th February, 2007 at 11:01 pm  

      I reckon Darcy is just a troll. He clearly doesn’t put a lot of thought into his remarks if he thinks I of all people would be interested in English immigration. Or is Darcy the sort of moron that thinks Britain is England?

      Some excellent and welcome comments from you. If you don’t mind me asking where are you based?

    58. William — on 10th February, 2007 at 11:10 pm  

      Clairwill #50#53

      My freinds and I know a childless single Muslim woman who goes to our interfaith group. She is about 40 years old I think. It seems she has not had much hassle and still goes to Mosque and fasts etc. Not sure if she will be just one of the few however.

      I have read Irshad Manji’s stuff. Yes she is controversal and she is still for Islam but wants reform. She is very brave and I am surprised she hasn’t been harmed. She puts forward lots of questions worth thinking about. It was through her
      that I first read about the concept of itjihad
      (critical questioning, thinking for oneself etc)
      in Islam.

      Electro #51

      You mention about great women in other religions. I do not know much about all religions. However one of the religions you mentioned was Buddhism. The last couple of years I have had a wake up discovering how much sexism has existed in Buddhism. For example

      Women can’t attain enlightenment their best hope is to be born a man

      Women have to walk backwards in temples, bow to men

      Women having fewer material resources than men in terms of sangha etc places of worship.

      Hierarchies in places and practices etc.

      Recently the Dalai Lama had promised change at least
      in Tibetan Buddhism. All this was after reading a book by Tenzin Palmo “Cave in the Snow”.

      there is lots of stuff

      There is a lot of work to be done all over the world in terms of equal right for women not just in Islam.

    59. impeachbushjr — on 10th February, 2007 at 11:18 pm  



      you were right on when you said part of the reason that muslim women find it hard to get heard is because when they do there is sometimes some form of backlash. i cannot tell you how disappointed some western (white) men and women who meet me in the international conferences here in the middle east are when i tell them i proudly wear my headscarf or that my religion doesn’t oppress me. they only want me to say how oppressed i am and what a shame my religion is holding me back from realising my potential. i don’t know what they watch on tv or hear about us, but our grievances are political and economical. i also can’t tell you how many times i have joined a discussion llike this online hoping to foster understanding only to get attacked for my opinions. i am surprised how hostile people living in democracies are to contrasting opinions. they also have a tendancy to look down on people of other races and faiths (this from the people who gave my people slavery and colonisation).

      i can only say that dialogue and respect are the only way forward if we are to share this planet in a civil manner. otherwise the terorists will win by capitalising on the hatred and venom we spew at each other. their worst nightmare is that we will one day get along.

    60. Electro — on 10th February, 2007 at 11:55 pm  

      Yes, Turkey, Pakistan AND Blangladesh have all had female political leaders recently.

      Tansit Ciller was western educated. Bhutto, who is half Persian, spent her formative years being taught by Irish nuns. I know nothing of the background of Bangladesh’s Prime Minister.

      Sunny: I’ve no interest whatsoever in engaging in idle slander. I realise that just about ALL of the world’s religions have given women the short end of the stick, but this thread is about Islam and women, is it not?

      If I may just point something out concerning the article.

      The author begins, chest puffed out, by promising to take the bull by the horns, but then promptly kicks off the exercise by telling us all there isn’t any bull!

      Consider the following statement.

      As a Muslim, I have very little criticism to make of the Qu’ran in terms of its treatment of women. As a doctrinal text, it did indeed widen women’s options, and enshrined rights that women did not previously have. It is, I think, entirely accurate to say that the Qu’ran was an advocate for women’s liberation

      How can any sensible person let such twadle off the hook without a challenge, a single peep of protest?

      If Islam’s core texts have played no role whatsoever in the status assigned to women across whole swaths of the Islamic world, then goodness, gracious what on earth has?


      By that one simple statement, Zohra demonstrates that she isn’t stepping up to the plate to find answers; rather she sets herself up, right from the get-go, for a heaping helping of smooth soothing denial.

      Forgive me for appearing somewhat braindead, but what is the point, exactly, of ELABORATING on “feminism and Islam”, if Islam, according to this author, has had no detrimental effects at all on the living conditions of women and the weak male/female power relations so prevalent in the Muslim world?

      What’s the point, here?

      Both the Koran and Hadith clearly and unequivocally assign women the status of *inferior*; there’s simply no way over, around or under that fact.

      Now Sunny, you speak of banning individuals for making unflattering comments about relgion, but what of following statement penned by Clairwil about the Catholic church: Their experiences of nuns were largely as either child abusers or assisting and facilitating the physical abuse of children.

      Geez, what was the name of the order, Clairwil?

      The Little Sisters of Perpetual Pain?

      Shame on you! Tsk! ( Don’t ban her )

      Were I to make similarly coloured statements about abuses that take place in Madrassas, my comments would be banned.

      Clairwil, though, gets a pass.

      It’s not fair!

      Lastly, this little gem: Anyway, the existence of queens in itself doesn’t mean much.

      For some, Sunny, being a queen means everything…

    61. lithcol — on 10th February, 2007 at 11:57 pm  

      The modern world is essentially a product of Western Civilization. Science, rationality and the freedom of the individual, tempered by laws arrived at by common agreement, have led to an immense improvement in the lot of the individual and the human race in general.

      However, there are parts of the world where the lack of general acceptance of the above constrains development and leaves whole populations mired in ignorance and poverty. The ruling elites are only too aware of the advantages.

      In many of the posts I find people looking backwards and seeking to blame others for their current problems.

      Grow up. My grandfather had few rights and my grandmother even fewer. Poor pay, poor nutrition, poor housing etc. My parents argued for better conditions, sometimes to their detriment. However things improved and I benifited.

      My children are doing even better. All in the space of 100 years.

      Societies can and do improve, but not by harking back to the past. Certainly not by arguing about the meaning of texts written at a time so distant from modernity that their very contemplation by a modern mind finds frankly farcical.

    62. Clairwil — on 11th February, 2007 at 12:26 am  

      ‘Their experiences of nuns were largely as either child abusers or assisting and facilitating the physical abuse of children.

      Geez, what was the name of the order, Clairwil?

      The Little Sisters of Perpetual Pain?’

      How the hell dare you belittle what my family went through? What evidence do you have? How dare you. You are nothing but a despicable little piece of shit and I pray I’m granted the strength to forgive you. The women in my family abused by the Catholic church were far better and more intelligent than your showing here suggests you are. Their experiences were all too real. You are not even fit to lace their boots, yet you think you can laugh at their experiences. Damn you to hell and I hope you rot.

      I have no idea what the the name of the order of nuns concerned was but I have no reason to suspect my family of lying. If you have it, lets hear the evidence against the abuse that took place in Lourdes and St Joseph’s. Let’s also hear the evidence against the abuse that too place in the Magdalene Laundries and other Irish Catholic institutions.

      Now we see your true colours! You have no interest in women’s rights except where they allow you to score points against Islam.

      Up until now I was willing to debate with you but your scorn for the suffering of women speaks volumes. I have no idea what your agenda for women is but I suspect that you regard us as a good stick with which to attack Muslims.

      You are beneath contempt.

    63. ZinZin — on 11th February, 2007 at 12:34 am  

      How dare you give credit to someone else for my post.

      Womens rights and religion they are not compatible so forget about it.

    64. Electro — on 11th February, 2007 at 1:19 am  

      Clairwil, spare me your “Angela’s Ashes” spiel, would you?

      To glibly state that “nuns facilitate child abuse” amounts to little more than cheap slander.

      It might interest you to know, before you go right off the deep end, that I’m half Irish myself, and so know a little about ‘em.

      Your relatives are probably full of whiskey-blasted blarney when it comes to Catholic horror tales; the stories they recount are exaggerated and embellished only so that they can wear them like badges of honour.

      The Irish can be full of shit.

      One other thing, any abuse they underwent came more from “Irishness” than anything Catholic.

      And like all *progressives* of a certain generation, you can engage in anti-Catholic bigotry…..the only acceptable form of anti-religious sentiment still permitted…. without a second thought.

      Both the tone and volotility of your outburst reminds me a great deal of my Irish grandmother; a bitter, mean-spirited women given to such outbursts and a women my siblings and I referred to as “the witch”.

      Now we see your true colours! You have no interest in women’s rights except where they allow you to score points against Islam

      Precious……and predictable.

      If that’s the best you can do, I certainly understand why your relatives need help with their boots.

    65. Sunny — on 11th February, 2007 at 1:26 am  

      How can any sensible person let such twadle off the hook without a challenge, a single peep of protest?

      She addresses that by pointing out that there is a difference between theory and reality, and that Muslims need to do more to turn that theory into reality.

      Besides, that is her interpretation, and unless you have a direct discussion with her, you cannot know how exactly she interprets her religion and is happy with its guidance.

      Forgive me for appearing somewhat braindead, but what is the point, exactly, of ELABORATING on “feminism and Islam”, if Islam, according to this author, has had no detrimental effects at all on the living conditions of women and the weak male/female power relations so prevalent in the Muslim world?

      Don’t think you’re reading that properly. It is an exploration of tension between the two. It’s difficult to say what impact the religion has had. Sikhism for example goes even further in according equality between men and women, and yet Sikhs are very far behind in manifesting that.

      So culture, history, political struggle, economic status etc all have an impact too.

      Clailwil’s point isn’t theological but about people’s experiences. You notice we don’t ban people for posting links to articles where people talk of their experiences.

    66. Sunny — on 11th February, 2007 at 1:29 am  

      Precious……and predictable.

      Really, that describes you more than anyone else Electro. As Clairwil points out, you don’t care about womens rights, only scoring cheap points with some flaky bits of history picked up from various websites. You’re as sad and predictable as Old Pickler. Go away please, you’ve sullied this place enough already.

    67. Clairwil — on 11th February, 2007 at 1:48 am  

      Here’s the thing I don’t dismiss Catholicism or Christianity because of it’s excesses. You know nothing about my family and have no business rubbishing them as an ‘Angela’s Ashes’ cliche. Why not try explaining their welts and scars?

      You dismiss me as a bitter Irish cliche. Very well can you also explain the strong Scots and Scots- Irish Protestant influence on my beliefs and in my genetic make up? Can you explain the Muslim and Hindu beliefs I’ve absorbed from other family members? Can you also explain and dismiss my belief in Theosophy on the basis of ‘Irish heritage’?

      Like I said before you are not even fit to lick the soles of my ancestors boots let alone help lace them. Or can you tell me what was wrong with all our scholarship boys and girls that got to university despite having no money? Can you tell me why our war dead were inferior? Can you tell me why all those who lived and toiled were beneath you?

      I don’t even compare my self to my forbears. I’m not fit. I just feel privileged to have any connection to them at all.

      So like I say how dare you rubbish them?
      I’d love to be as enlightened and intelligent as they were.

    68. douglas clark — on 11th February, 2007 at 10:44 am  


      Are you saying that ‘Angela’s Ashes’ was not based on the truth? There have been a lot of criminal cases worldwide of priests being prosecuted for child abuse. Seems a bit of handy denial on your part.

      I’ve been reading a particularily boring book called ‘The Tipping Point’, that suggests that nearly anyone put into a position of power will abuse it. And that’s not even in a religious context.

      Unlike you, I thought Zhora made a good, and it must be said, honest, case for change in attitudes. Here, for instance:

      “It’s not enough to say that there’s nothing contradictory between feminism and Islam. Muslims must be an active, proactive force for change against the clear, sustained and grave oppression of Muslim women.”

      Did you miss the words ‘grave oppression’? Not everyone subscribes to your, ‘lets throw the baby out with the bathwater’ style of debate. Zhora is clearly a bit more nuanced than you.

      Given the sad fact that liberals of whatever colour cannot change society without people being willing to change themselves, your arguement falls.

      The emancipation of women is one of the high spots of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. It was gained against a huge degree of clerical resistance, which reflected in turn male societal attitudes. If you care to reflect on the Age of Enlightenment, it is pretty clear that female liberation came late in the process.

      Hopefully the rest of the world will not make the same mistake.

    69. sonia — on 11th February, 2007 at 6:47 pm  

      i would say zohra makes a crucial point when she refers to the policing of what muslim women are up to. basically this is what people - i.e. the traditional males ( and older females etc.) seem to want to focus on - who is wearing what and doing what with their bodies. till we can get away from this obsession there is going to be difficulty with gaining any kind of freedom for women who happen to be muslim.

    70. sonia — on 11th February, 2007 at 6:57 pm  

      “Muslims embodying the faith: living righteously and ethically.”

      well there you have it - another significant point. if you are an independent woman making your choices and living your life then too often the accusation is ‘oh you’re not islamic’

      yeah - by who’s definition? is what i always say. the trouble with this business of ‘embodying’ the faith is it comes down to whose idea of the faith people should be embodying. and the hoo ha about muslim women and dress and modesty is that for a lot of people that’s what the muslim faith embodies. outer signs, not inner spirituality. people ( both male and female - in fact i d say a lot of the women are worse in this way) are so judgemental about what you wear - they seem to think they can tell about what kind of person you are.

    71. sonia — on 11th February, 2007 at 7:09 pm  

      you’d think God was an old Muslim man if you listen to what the Mullahs tell you.

      They really do like to set themselves up as ‘intermediaries’. and you know..that’s always what seems to happen with ‘organized’ understanding of ‘religion’ - no clergy - yes - so why the mullahs? its going to end up that way with some people wanting authority. unless someone is going to be able to translate for themselves i don’t know that one can rely on such male-dominated translations.

    72. j0nz — on 11th February, 2007 at 11:24 pm  

      Islam say lots of lovely things about women

      And for balance there’s quite a bit of misogyny in the Old Testament too

    73. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 12th February, 2007 at 2:32 am  

      I have a problem with people arguing against the idea that men are indeed turned on my women when its a womans body, never a man, that is used to sell everything from cars to hamburgers. This isnt an issue of eqaulity between men and women but difference between men and women. It is because men and women are different physically that women cover and men dont. More importantly Muslim women cover because we have been instructed by our creator to do so, and it was an example sent by the best females of mankind.

      Also there is nothing worse than shameless Muslims trying to justify why Muslim women have to cover themselves. Yes the hijab can prevent men from raising their gaze but if it doesnt will women refuse to wear the hijab? Hope not. As I have said before the main reason, the first reason, the only reason that a woman covers is because it has been made obligatory upon her by her creator. Whatever ease, or difficulty is accompanied by wearing the hijab should be enjoyed or endured with patience and love for Allah.

      p.s. and yes there is ease and difficulty in wearing the hijab. But there is ease and difficulty in doing alot of other things that we wouldnt suggest not doing, i.e. school, work, being a parent, I could go on and on.

    74. bikhair aka taqiyyah — on 12th February, 2007 at 2:34 am  

      I’d like to add that Muslims shoudlnt be trying to appeal to the sensibilities (Those sensibilities being immediate gratification) of the disbelievers when explaining why Muslims do this or that. If it isnt sufficient that we do it because we are slaves to and love Allah, too bad.

    75. Jack Atherton — on 12th February, 2007 at 3:13 am  

      I spent 7 years in Saudi Arabia. The women were not allowed to drive (they might use cars to meet men). They could not go into many establishments (Juice stands, music shops, etc) They had separate waiting rooms at the dentist and the doctor and the hospital. Men had to bargain with the woman’s relatives to secure a wife. There was no equality. When a female is born you kill one sheep. Two for a boy. The inequalities are endless.

      Once two Filipinos stopped me on the street and told me they were Muslims. They asked me what I thought of Islam. I said I thought it was Medieval. The discriptions is still apt.

    76. sonia — on 12th February, 2007 at 11:29 am  

      hello j0nz!

      “are we really okay with women choosing not to wear the hijab”

      of course we are - why shouldn’t we be? ‘who’ isn’t okay with women not wearing hijab - is the question that needs to be asked - actually. Mullahs? yes we know about them - who else? I can see the hijab question seems to be prominent in the minds of many muslim women in some countries - like say France or the UK - but it ain’t on too many people’s minds say in bangladesh. the diasporic angle seems to be one which plays quite an important role. muslims who are growing up in non-muslim countries seem to have more issues about all this stuff. which obviously has it’s own context.

      i can safely say that not too many people i’ve met have gone on about me not wearing a hijab. interestingly, the only place it has happened has been over here. {i do find it funny how people go all religious because they’re ‘away from the homeland’. Heh - they should take a closer look at the ‘homeland’. Of course - they might be thinking of saudi arabia when they think that - so goodness knows.}

      the fact that none of us can get away from is that whilst Saudi Arabia goes around thinking it can enact the kind of ridiculous policies they are doing with regards to women - then it’s going to be very difficult for people to dismiss the kind of comments one hears about ‘mediaeval islam’. Yes it’s all very good us saying well that’s them and their dodgy interpretation - but it clearly has a lot of influence on people around the world. and plus - it is a fact that we cannot ignore that whilst compared to the medieval world ‘islamic’ laws of inheritance - say- and property rights for women - were wonderful and all progressive and what have you - but we’re not in a medieval world anymore. so if you stick to the traditional inheritance rules - the sons inherit more than the daughters. now why would a modern woman consider that fairer than say - secular laws of inheritance which do not discriminate on basis of gender?

    77. sonia — on 12th February, 2007 at 11:34 am  

      33. Katy - good points.

      bikhair - yep it’s clear that considering women sexual objects and nothing beyond that is something the advertising industry and mullahs share. the difference is how they deal with it - one says ‘strip!’ and the other shouts ‘cover up’! :-) and that’s it. Insisting on women covering up to the extent that they do - is wholly ‘sexualising’ women. and yeah - you can go around fully zipped up to ‘protect’ yourself - the flip side of that is does encourage people to think that the onus of avoiding ‘hassle’ is on the women more than men. what does this mean? was there more rape in medieval societies? you bet there was. Covering up in my opinion changes the social standards - and it seems to make rape more acceptable.

    78. sonia — on 12th February, 2007 at 11:43 am  

      cos people have an ‘excuse’ - oh she inflamed me! temptress that she was! oh i couldn’t control myself poor little man that i am!

      disgusting - thoroughly disgusting.

      i watched this incredibly annoying little man called dr. zakir naik go on and on about rape and alcohol. ( you wonder at the minds of these men I tell you). his thesis was that if you drink, you become inhibited (*all fine to this point) - and so! for men - this is very dangerous. WHy? because - clearly - in his opinion - men are all rapists waiting to lunge - and if they drink - why there would be more raping going on etc.

      So according to him - if men in the USA drank less - there would be less rape. If i were in the audience - I would have put one question to him - ‘ so how do you explain rape in muslim societies then?hmmm? ‘ And he would be most disappointed to meet all the normal blokes in the world who go to the pub and don’t rape anyone. see its’ men like this dr.naik that go around : a) casting slurs on men in general and b) making muslim men look like a bunch of thugs with no self-respect and self-control and c) finding opportunities to blame women and other ‘externalities’.

      Hardly surprising there is a ‘caricature’ of muslim men floating around…its these fellows like Naik perpetuating it!

      and one has to wonder - about the kind of moral philosophical implications to all this sort of thing. It really implies that - > if we are faced with temptation, well it wasn’t our fault. In order to fulfill the requirements of our religion - we need to go into a cave - or something - to be away from the ‘temptations of this world’.
      So - why not blame God for ‘putting temptation’ in front of you? ‘Oh it’s a test’. Well if it’s a test - then it’s cheating …isn’t it..running away from the ‘temptation’ ( or forcing the temptation into a sack)


    79. sonia — on 12th February, 2007 at 11:49 am  

      And - before I retire - let me make the other point to this crap about the men focusing on women’s bodies. It harks back to the victorian notion that women aren’t interested in sex and that men don’t arouse interest in women. And frankly - that’s crap - complete bull - and i think we ALL know this. The mullahs will have you thinking this same kind of nonsense - one-sided sexuality - but what do they know!?? Next thing you know they’ll be saying ‘I’m God - i know - i created your body’ ! Grrr..

      **really makes me mad***

    80. Sahil — on 12th February, 2007 at 12:44 pm  

      How dare you give credit to someone else for my post.

      Womens rights and religion they are not compatible so forget about it.”

      Huh, which post are you talking about, this one:

      “has anyone seen this?

      i think this woman has a lot to say about it from a grass-roots level.



      If you posted the link before, why didn’t you just post it on this topic?

    81. shiraz — on 12th February, 2007 at 1:34 pm  

      sahil, the comment about kismet being a perve wasnt a personal attack on him. it was more of a joke, its like my english friend is annoyed at all the muslim women covering up gives him less opportunity to perve you see lol

      women do have urges just like men. But I beleive they are able to control them more. they just eat chocolate instead.

      as for muslim mullahs, they are the biggest perves i tells ya!

    82. Leon — on 12th February, 2007 at 1:38 pm  

      But I beleive they are able to control them more. they just eat chocolate instead.


    83. Misogynist and atheist — on 12th February, 2007 at 3:17 pm  

      A moslem and feminist: Chuckie you are a screaming nut case on two very important countscounts

    84. sonia — on 12th February, 2007 at 3:33 pm  

      i know - chocolate eh? :-)
      anyway it’s all moot - who cares who’s attracted to whom more, why is it for some men ( not just any man by the way..) to say who should do what, who’s like what, etc. et.c

      i think the whole thing that gets missed time and time again is this business about ‘religious authority’ or authority full stop. ( yes i know anarcho bells ringing again) who gives whom authority? it’s all about challenging this said authority. the thing is that a lot of people contribute to the social legitimacy of mullahs as religious authority. so say even if someone is not an ‘islamic scholar’ if they’ve got enough ‘moral and social’ authority, people will listen to them and give them that authority.

    85. douglas clark — on 12th February, 2007 at 4:36 pm  


      You and I are apparently reading different articles in parallel universes.

      Zohra says: “The practice of Islam all over the world, with some exceptions of course, is generally one of active policing of Muslim women, our bodies, our autonomy. In this country, we do have forced marriage, we do have murder in the name of honour, and we do have female genital cutting or mutilation within the Muslim community, and using Islam as a justification.”

      Did you get the impression from that that she thought that was a correct interpretation of the Qu’ran? I certainly read it as a criticism of these practices, which ran under the sub-heading “Theory v Reality”.


      “Establishing law when we’re talking about murder is understandable. When we’re speaking of other areas such as dress, individual choice is a more acceptable guiding principle. If there is no compulsion in religion I should not be forced to wear the hijab. But I’m not sure how well Muslims have been grappling with choice in this country. Are we really ok with women choosing not to wear the hijab?”

      Which seems to me to be a pretty fundamental question.

      It is probably worth pointing out that it is not all that long ago that Christian women were expected to wear a hat in Church.

      Contrary to the opinion of some, nothing is set in stone.

      The article is about tension, it seems to me, and it is interesting to see.

      Cutting remarks about the nature of Islam, or any other religion come to that, is unlikely in the extreme to influence anybody who feels defined by it. Gentle criticism of social constructs which hide behind a religion are, in my view, more likely to effect actual change for the better.

    86. Katherine — on 13th February, 2007 at 10:40 am  

      Let’s just face it - none of the major religions treat women fairly or equally in their basic texts. Some are better than others, but this seems to depend on their cultural surroundings. That is the history of gender relations in humanity, not just the history of religion. Neither the Bible nor the Quran are what you might call compatible with feminism.

      Religions are always interpreted anew by each generation. Every single one. Christians aren’t the same now as they were in medieval times and neither are Muslims.

    87. sonia — on 13th February, 2007 at 11:05 am  

      makes sense what you say Katherine…

    88. Edward the Bonobo — on 13th February, 2007 at 12:18 pm  

      Excellent post. I have to say that I’m coming at this as an Atheist Fundamentalist - but one who is ever willing to challenge the disgusting wave of misinformed Islamophobia that’s sweeping society.

      Myself, I can’t really understand how any political philosophy can be grounded in faith. But I can except that many sincere Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. etc. etc. are ‘on the side of the angels’. But, then, many religious people are reactionary bigots, too. So I can fully understand that there can be inspirational, feminist readings of the Qu’ran. However, where I’m coming from is that religion is fundamentally irrational. I don’t necessarily mean this in a perjorative sense (OK…I do), but that the religious would say that faith has a greater power than mere rationality. The trouble with this is that mysogynistic readings of the Qu’ran are also possible - and the religious can have no rational argument against these. “It’s all a matter of interpretation.”

      In the end, isn’t the position of women in Islamic - and non-Islamic - societies culturally determined? Isn’t the religion interpreted in the light of the prevailing contemporary culture?

    89. sonia — on 13th February, 2007 at 2:31 pm  

      i think edward de bonobo makes complete sense- “Isn’t the religion interpreted in the light of the prevailing contemporary culture”? precisely. and the problem with the mullahs and the patriarchal establishment is that they’re trying to hang onto their patriarchy and are obviously interpreting religion in that light and attempting to keep their power!

    90. Amir — on 13th February, 2007 at 3:12 pm  


      Sunny’s commitment to free speech is, in most cases, commendable. I respect him for it. But when it comes to Islam, he’ll delete anything that contradicts the much-vaunted benefits of “diversity”. The palpable tensions between Moslems and non-Moslems will only get worse; and will gradually disintegrate into sporadic violence and sectarian politics. Europeans have enjoyed a comfy ride for the last 60 years – but the very fact that they don’t want it to stop increases their rage and sense of being besieged by Muslim minorities they’ve long refused to assimilate (and which no longer want to assimilate).

    91. zohra — on 13th February, 2007 at 4:10 pm  

      Hello everyone

      I’ve read all the posts and would like to contribute three points in response (but it’s a bit of a trick as there are sub-points):

      1. Asking challenging questions of Muslims about Islam can be a constructive form of engagement. Demanding that Muslims justify certain interpretations of the Qu’ran/Sunna/etc forces many Muslims into a defensive position - even where they might otherwise have similar questions. This is a waste of people’s energy.

      Electro, you:
      (a) have mis-read/misunderstood my post (e.g. saying I have said that Islam ‘has had no detrimental effects at all on the living conditions of women’ when I haven’t)
      (b) have not done enough reading (e.g. ‘dirth of any notable female figures in Islam’s history’)

      2. The Qu’ran is long, complicated, and in Arabic. Taking parts of it out of context and then judging them is poor analysis (eg. the idea that men can have four wives is complicated elsewhere when it says that this can only happen if a man can treat all wives equally, and then repealed elsewhere where it says no man would be able to treat all wives equally).

      I’d suggest the Qu’ran could be engaged with by understanding it more (though not necessarily solely) as literature where:

      (a) you get something different out of each subsequent reading
      (b) there is text and subtext
      (c) as you develop/gain experience, your reading of it develops as well even though you’ve read the same lines 10 times before
      (d) everyone interprets its meanings and messages from their particular contexts

      lithcol (#61), you argue that societies can’t improve ‘by arguing about the meaning of texts written at a time so distant from modernity that their very contemplation by a modern mind finds frankly farcical’ - where does that leave Socrates or Homer in western society? It’s not it’s publication date that matters in terms of determining the relevancy of a text, but whether that text resonates with current issues or raises questions we still seek answers to, etc.

      3. There are definitely some advantages to living in England vs living in some other countries. But it is a delusion to insist that:

      (a) ‘equality’ or ‘progress’ have been achieved in this country
      (b) it is secular

      I agree that it is interesting to explore the links between politics, economic well-being and equality, but I’m not sure I agree with the strictly causal relationship that others have proposed. The key I think is how economic well-being translates for the masses for what we have in Britain today is a situation where increasing wealth leads to increasing economic inequality (ie. the the gap between rich and poor is getting wider, though absoulte poverty is falling).

      More importantly, it is too simplistic to equate a desire to be Muslim with the desire or need to live in a Muslim/non-secular state.

    92. Arif — on 13th February, 2007 at 5:44 pm  

      Really appreciated your last post zohra, I hope you contribute more to Pickled Politics discussions.

      I feel there are so many ways of being a Muslim and so many ways of being a feminist, that it doesn’t help people understand anything you say (unless you are talking to another Muslim feminist). In your original article as well, the point I get is that if you can emancipate people through Islamic language or feminist language, then so much the better for all of us. We shouldn’t get hung up on trying to get everyone to be liberated in exactly the same way and using the same language to understand it.

      The problem we face (I’m putting us on the same side, I hope you don’t mind) is there seems to be a kind of reflex among many Muslims and opponents of Islam that if you say you are a Muslim, you must also be x,y, or z otherwise you aren’t really a Muslim. And the same dynamic attaches to feminism. But they are both huge traditions with many intellectual streams and currents, which I feel most of us only dabble in where we are comfortable. I think the streams I find myself exploring don’t look at all like the polluted river in a lot of other people’s imaginations when I say “Muslim” or “Feminist”.

      There’s a lot of educating to do, and I appreciate your effort to do it.

    93. justforfun — on 13th February, 2007 at 7:22 pm  

      Edward the Bonobo - brilliant name - I’m now so envious. My mind now can’t get me to actually say ‘Edward de Bono’ anymore!!

      Irrationality and Faith - so true - both need each other -flip side of the same coin. Who ever heard of having faith in the rational. Ther’s just not needed is there?.

      Only the “Devil” would have a use for ‘Faith’ - a concept so powerful it can distort or steal our freewill and ability to think for ourselves.

      Ever heard the saying “Don’t piss on my back and tell me its raining” - well that is the basis of all faith based religions. From a young age children are told it’s ‘rain’ that is falling down on humanity and its the big cheese’s munificience. We can analyse these gifts and commandments ’till we all drown, but someone with more faith will always find away convincing us to remain faithfull and accept that it is rain and not piss.

      If only we can lose our faith we can then break free and turn around. We will of course be risking a face full of piss but then we might just find out it’s rain afterall and there is no-one behind us. It was all just a big con conceived by our forefathers to stop us looking around.

      If it is God of course, just reliving himeself, then we can stop believing in him and - poooof - he will disappear.

      Thank mother nature for genetics, because if we got all our wisdoms from the our parents and their parents and their all powerfull god then we would truely be f****.

      I pull the same trick on my children - they never walk on the cracks in the pavement. They have of course got complete faith in me as I told them once the devil was lurking in the cracks. I hope they pass this useful bit of knowledge on to their children, and so forth for generations to come - even after pavements cease to exist. There nothing quite like faith in the irrational.

      Edward the bonobo - I just can’t stop laughing at you brilliant name.


      Sonia - how was the holiday - no pics on your blog yet?

    94. El Cid — on 13th February, 2007 at 9:09 pm  

      Post #90 sounds compelling. The logic is impeccable (did I spell that right?). But the assumptions are flawed IMHO. At least I hope so.
      The essential difference between left- and right-wing political attitudes can sometimes be boiled down to different views of human nature. Jesus, J.S. Mill, Karl Marx were essentially optimists. Others think life can be nasty, brutish and short. Both groups are right — but neither have a monopoly on truth.

    95. lithcol — on 13th February, 2007 at 10:04 pm  

      Zohra, thanks for the mention.
      I have read both Socrates and Homer, unfortunately only in translation since I do not understand classical Greek. But then who of those who read the Qua’an read it in the original classical Arabic. Further, even if they do they are so far removed from the cultural mindset of the time they would find it very difficult to understanding the meaning.
      I am an avid reader of that great Victorian philosopher and social reformer John Stuart Mill, who as you know was a passionate advocated for the emancipation of women, however I find it difficult to get into his social mindset because society then was so different to our experience today.
      I do not agree that it is a delusion to believe that ;
      a) ‘equality’ or ‘progress’ have been achieved in this country
      b) (b) it is secular

      Progress is never achieved as an end point, it is something to be aimed for. Equality of opportunity has never been better, but there is a way to go.
      As to being secular, I think we are. That is our greatest strength. There are of course various religious lobbies that would seek to bias the law to favour their particular points of view, Invariably they fail.

      Gaps in wealth. They have always existed, however for the majority in the UK life has never been better and more equitable . My parents grew up in the 1930’s and they know what it is to be really poor in this country. They gripe about pensions etc. but they know from bitter experience that life now is infinitely better.

      I don’t care what people want to believe in their private lives, however when they seek to impose on others in the public sphere their particular beliefs and do it by referring to some inviolable religious or other text, then I am afraid I will argue the absurdity of their beliefs.

      One of the greatest tragedies of modern times was the adoption and implementation of Marxist ideology ( corrupted in many cases). I am sure Marx himself would have been mortified by the death and destruction reeked by the fascists who like religious absolutist sought to implement his ideas to their own ends against the wishes of the majority.

      We need free and open debate. At the very least every human being should be treated equally under the law.

      If you have a religious belief OK, but do not expect it to carry extra weight in an argument because you believe it to be the word or will of god, because many people will believe you are in error.

      African Christians, and peoples of other faiths find it difficult to accept that their cherished beliefs are given scant regard. As did the Catholic church recently on the adoption laws.

      I am optimistic for the future. In the short term, mine or your lifetime, everything looks problematical. Looking back over the last hundred years there have been dramatic changes in the UK. There are persistent problems, but life for the majority now is incalculably better than it was for the majority of Victorians.

    96. Sunny — on 14th February, 2007 at 12:05 am  

      Glad this discussion continues to be civil.

      Arif unfortunately I don’t think she’ll contribute as much as she’d like to. She hates confrontation even more than you!

    97. Kobayashi Khan — on 14th February, 2007 at 7:51 am  

      Zohro - 2. The Qu’ran is long, complicated, and in Arabic. Taking parts of it out of context and then judging them is poor analysis (eg. the idea that men can have four wives is complicated elsewhere when it says that this can only happen if a man can treat all wives equally, and then repealed elsewhere where it says no man would be able to treat all wives equally).

      Me - Same bromidic excuses. The Quran claims it is anything but complicated or difficult to understand:

      ” O mankind! verily there hath come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: For We have sent unto you a light (that is) manifest (nooran mubeenan)” [4:174]

      “These are verses of the Book that makes (things) clear.(alkitabialmubeeni) ” [26:2]

      “We have not instructed the (Prophet) in Poetry, nor is it meet for him: this is no less than a Message and a Qur’an making things clear: (qur-anun mubeenun)” [36:69]

      “We have already sent down to you verses making things clear (ayatinmubayyinatin) , an illustration from (the story of) people who passed away before you, and an admonition for those who fear (Allah).” [24:34]

      “Now, behold, this Qur’an is the Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. The trustworthy Ruh (angel Gabriel) has brought it down. Upon your heart (O Prophet), so that you may be of the Warners. In the perspicuous Arabic language.(AAarabiyyin mubeenin)” [26:192-195]

    98. sonia — on 14th February, 2007 at 11:33 am  

      Kobayashi - im confused by what your point is in saying about the Quran claiming it’s not complicated. well that’s all very good - it’s patently not the case in reality is it! ‘making things clear’ - what are the ‘things’ - not very clear is it? things is a very general word. and what was the original arabic?! Maybe not complicated from Gods’ point of view - but clearly human beings are finding it difficult! i know mullahs maybe like to pretend its all so straightforward but frankly that’s bollocks. it makes you think that we are all computers and we’ve been given some program to follow that’s oh so simple. well it ain’t simple. all the existential angst out and about in the world makes that pretty obvious. the fact that we all have free will is ‘unstraightforward’ in itself ! people may well ask if God wanted us to do x y and z why didn’t he just make us do it, if he’s so powerful etc. Which is of course what a lot of atheists say - and can you blame ‘em.

      None of this stuff is ‘simple’ - it’s highly simplistic to claim that it is. How does anyone know we’re not following false prophets for example? They don’t do they - hence the whole point about ‘belief’

      perhaps it’s a sign our maker didn’t realize how dumb we all are? no doubt thinking along these lines is what’s considered ‘blasphemous’ but my point is very simple. im no expert but as far as i can see, we’re supposed to use our own brains to work out what’s best for us and find our own morals/ethics - and we’re responsible for our own actions and the agency we as individuals have. so this means it might be all very well and good mr. mullah in mid-18th century thought i should do x y and z, but the bottom line is it’s my life and im not in the mid 18th century, i have the agency and its my brain that needs to be guiding my decisions. ( after all i’m the person- according to these religions - who’s going to have to ‘account’ for her actions on judgement day - right? so it’s not much use bleating “but the mullahs said”…) so of course it comes down to individual interpretation which is necessarily going to be different from person to person. if the quran is clear about anything - i think that’s it - that its’ the individual’s responsibility to find their way. and as far as i know - there aren’t too many details of ‘how to find the way’. im fully aware a lot of crap is talked about detail ( yes people clearly get hung up on the letter of the law and not the spirit - this seems pretty clear) and people point to the Hadiths and what have you but again you come back to the point of interpretation. i.e. we do have to use our own brains.

    99. sonia — on 14th February, 2007 at 12:06 pm  

      I have to say lithcol in no. 95 is making a lot of sense to me. I think personally if a lot of these ‘prophets’
      (or people looked up to as ‘prophets’ e.g. i’d say Marx falls into that category for a lot of people) would get nasty shocks when they saw what people were upto - ‘not in my name’! might be what’s on their minds.

      justforfun - hiya! :-) ive been so slack with updating my blog - you’re right there are no pics yet - i’ll put some up shortly. i didn’t take any pics myself - but there are plenty of random people dressed up in saris etc. :-) it was brilliant actually - and the swimming around Kashid Beach was ok - though quite wavy..i noted not too many indian people were getting in the water!

      i think what Arif says in the first paragraph of his post makes sense - for me that’s really what’s crucial. so many different people mean different things about ‘feminism’ etc. - and i think arif expresses it really well.

      douglas clark - 85 - “It is probably worth pointing out that it is not all that long ago that Christian women were expected to wear a hat in Church.” yep - and also useful to note that in the early 20th century women who went outside without a bonnet were considered ‘prostitutes’ or - certainly not a ‘gentlewoman’. so yeah we can see similar social constructs in different situations - and i think when you say ” Gentle criticism of social constructs which hide behind a religion are, in my view, more likely to effect actual change for the better.” you’re making the key point - i.e. the focus on the social constructs. Religion as an enforcer/legitimizer of certain social constructs is also a useful way of thinking about these things.

    100. sonia — on 14th February, 2007 at 12:25 pm  

      again - arif hits the nail on the head ->

      “The problem we face (I’m putting us on the same side, I hope you don’t mind) is there seems to be a kind of reflex among many Muslims and opponents of Islam that if you say you are a Muslim, you must also be x,y, or z otherwise you aren’t really a Muslim.”

      yes precisely, it’s this that is a big problem!
      ( all linked in with the whole obsession about being a homogenous bounded group - in my opinion)

      i think Zohra’s comment about “More importantly, it is too simplistic to equate a desire to be Muslim with the desire or need to live in a Muslim/non-secular state.” is also linked in with this. Yes it is too simplistic, and this is why it’s unfortunate that for a lot of people being Muslim means that they think they must support an Islamic state ( for example) - i.e. basically whatever their local ‘guru’ tells them being Muslim is all about. I think is also where the issue of being ‘patriotic’ comes in.

    101. sonia — on 14th February, 2007 at 1:28 pm  

      on a lighter note - happy valentine’s everyone!

    102. Edward the Bonobo — on 14th February, 2007 at 3:45 pm  

      Thanks to the two people who namechecked me. It’s good to see that a name made up on the sur of the moment when registering with another site has caused so much amusiment. And I swear I didn’t know the one thing that everyone else seems to know about bonobos at the time.

      Addressing Zohra’s point:
      I’d suggest the Qu’ran could be engaged with by understanding it more (though not necessarily solely) as literature where:

      (a) you get something different out of each subsequent reading
      (b) there is text and subtext
      (c) as you develop/gain experience, your reading of it develops as well even though you’ve read the same lines 10 times before
      (d) everyone interprets its meanings and messages from their particular contexts

      Understood. But are these really strengths? Can anyone be sure that the particular meeting that anyone gets out of The Qu’ran at anyone time is what The Prophet (pbuh) intentended? (Or, if I understand the true meaning of his recitation correctly, how he interpreted the wordless revelations he claimed to have been given by God. Is that close?) So if someone truly, sincerely insists on a patriarchal, oppressive reading - and some seemingly claim to, I’m afraid - who’s to say that this is not what God intends?

      Or to put it another way…why the Qu’ran? Why not, say, meditation or reading tea leaves? I don’t see the value of those methods either. The danger is of giving irrational, sacred value to subjective projections.

      So…why not cut to the chase? Go back to first principles and make rational, secular, human-centred arguments for feminism.

      btw - I’m really glad that I’ve found a place where I can discuss these issues with Muslims. As you’ll be far more aware than me, the quality of debate with non Muslims has a tendency to degenerate quite quickly.

    103. Edward the Bonobo — on 14th February, 2007 at 3:48 pm  

      Supplementary post:

      Can an engagement with the Qu’ran include “Well - I don’t agree with that bit!”?

    104. Alsoknownas — on 14th February, 2007 at 8:43 pm  

      103 - Perhaps this is really the point.

      Above there are quotes showing that the Bible is probably every bit as chauvanist as the Quran, but a comparison between “Chrisondom” and the Islamic world today does not reflect that. The question must therefore be why the difference.
      The implication that colonialism forced patriarchy on the Muslim world from without (suggested in comments such as 27 and 52)simply does not cut it. Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Ireland both became independent countries in the early 20th century after long periods of colonial interference. Despite illiberal Irish abortion laws (adopted by referendum) there is a world of difference between womens rights in the two countries.
      My suspicion is that the contrast is in large part due to different attitudes about the flexibility and fallibility of holy scripture. I have no doubt that the rigid attitude of those such as the Christian right in America and the majority of Islamic scholars about holy texts is dangerous in the modern world. What I am less sure of is what how such attitudes can be changed in a world where criticism can understandably lead to defensiveness and mistrust.
      Ultimately it is a question for the religious to solve. Answers must come from within the traditions of Islam yet seek to change it.

    105. Don — on 14th February, 2007 at 8:53 pm  


      ‘My suspicion is that the contrast is in large part due to different attitudes about the flexibility and fallibility of holy scripture. I have no doubt that the rigid attitude of those such as the Christian right in America and the majority of Islamic scholars about holy texts is dangerous in the modern world.’

      A good analysis, except for ‘Ultimately it is a question for the religious to solve.’

      It would be, if it didn’t affect the rest of us quite so much. Theists haven’t exactly shown much ability in that area ( one or two well meaning groups notwithstanding) so I think a little nudge might be appropriate.

    106. Alsoknownas — on 14th February, 2007 at 9:19 pm  

      I didn`t make myself very clear and your point is a valid one. I fully agree that we all need to debate these issues vigourously as they affect us all - I set up a secular society at university and arranged debates and talks about issues like this, sometimes in cooperation with religious societies. But while non-theists can give that nudge in the right direction, only muslims can develop a form of Islam consistent with feminism and other products of modernity.

    107. Arif — on 15th February, 2007 at 10:24 am  

      There are so many points being made and I’d like to discuss all of them, but so little time!

      Why Islam, why not reading tea leaves… fair point that I can’t really answer. If tea leaves help you make sense of your life and challenges you to develop yourself, then I should respect the role it has in your life. But I’ve had different experiences and developed a different worldview and find myself somewhere else. I learn from religious and non-religious texts from all sorts of other traditions, and I entertain all the doubts that people raise on this site, but so far they have added to my perspective without removing me from Islam (at least in my own eyes!).

      Feminism struck me as the most profound political and philosophical tradition in the west (when I was studying at a western university). Feminist ideas also spoke to me as much as tea leaves might speak to someone else. But like Islam (and possibly also tea leaf reading), it’s adherents go in many directions and it seems to me the meaning it has for me can be twisted by some others into its opposite - from a discourse on emancipation, to an excuse for imposing your values on others. Sometimes self righteously, and sometimes with genuine concern to protect those others from perceived abuse or danger.

      So some Muslims hate Feminists. Some Feminists hate Muslims. My reading of both traditions is that they are natural allies. Some Muslims like me are heavily influenced by feminist ideas. But I approached feminism from a philosophical angle and applied it to my own worldview. Other Muslims no doubt approach it from a political angle, where they are trying to defend their own identities from being stigmatised and their ways of life made difficult by people who believe they are thereby promoting women’s rights.

      I can say to both sides that there is a misunderstanding which they can easily resolve by listening to each other sympathetically. But most respond that I am the one who has misunderstood the real motives of their enemies. So that is why I am so appreciative of Zohra’s piece, as she shows a patience to engage despite so few seeming to want to listen. Perhaps she moves in more open-minded circles than I do!

    108. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 11:17 am  

      alsoknownas ->
      “I have no doubt that the rigid attitude of those such as the Christian right in America and the majority of Islamic scholars about holy texts is dangerous in the modern world”


      The thing some of you others are saying that i wanted to pick up on - there seems to be dividing of people into two camps -’religious’ people and atheists. It’s not that simple for a lot of people actually - by that i mean the people in the ‘middle’.

      the way i see it, often very religious people and atheists have one thing in common - conviction of belief : one lot are like - yeah man God exists and this is what he wants us to do - and the other lot are convinced there is no such thing as God etc.

      there’s a big middle ground for people who don’t know, don’t particularly care, might think about spirituality and philosophy but are turned off by organized religion and ideology per se and what have you. there is usually a spectrum of opinion on most matters and i think the polarization into two camps on each end is part of the problem. the religious people won’t leave you alone unless you’re a hundred percent with them ( or will call you an apostate) and increasingly you find a similar same thing from a lot of atheists with firm convictions, querying why if you’re slightly hesitant about something why you don’t just dismiss the lot.

      wwhat’s one to do? it would be nice to be left alone as individuals to make up your own mind as you go on in life. (It’s hardly simple stuff - i feel both sides make it seem simpler than it all is. it’s like there’s a race - quick make up your mind, stick to it! then go about proclaiming it)

      But thinking about this kind of stuff is made pretty difficult by the polarization, and the way that organized religion has turned out - i.e. if you’ve ‘grown up’ in a family which adheres to some religion or other - sot that even if you’re not necessarily ‘religious’ being an environment where other people are ( i.e. your family) means it can become a difficult issue. Face it, it’s not as if some kid who’s grown up into e.g. a muslim family can easily come home and say ‘aw mum you carry on with your religion, im not into it’, without sparking off a giant crisis with cries of ‘apostasy’ and what have you. The point im making in a long roundabout way is that there are lots of people affected by organized religion - the kind ofthing that ends up placing an emphasis on a strong group loyalty, a strong group belonging - i.e. ‘something’ you’re actually ‘in’ (I find that very bizarre way of categorizing things personally - and this is the problem i have with organized religions in general.) In any case, it boils down to a matter of choice -and for a lot of ‘religious communities’ there is simply no consideration given to the fact that people’s kids etc. might want to make their own minds to the extent to which they choose to be religious.

      If you aren’t able to conform, basically you’re in some sort of shit - ostracization, people emotionally blackmailing you -whatever. I think this is the crux of the matter - and it goes back to the ‘policing’ aspect of religion that Zohra brought up.

      The overall problem seems to me to be precisely the ‘policing’ and ‘enforcing’ aspect of religion - which doesn’t leave much room for individual independent choice. Rigid dogma of course makes this an even bigger
      problem. freedom of religion is meant to be fundamental - but where do we see this reflected? everyone seems to hold it up in the abstract - then have a go at their kids for having their own minds - and seem to think that’s perfectly normal. if you behave in a manner that suggests you’re not bound by the same religious constraints those in your family are - you receive
      some sort of censure which seems to me to be all about ‘opting out of the group’. Rather than not being happy with some particular ethical point. And that is what disturbs me so much. So much about religion appears to be about group loyalty. Hence if we want to have a debate is about querying particulars of the ‘ideology’ that said group has adopted - i think we will find a strong link between this and how rigid the idea of a group identity. With a rigid group identity, we’ll find it very hard to question the prevailing dogma - after all - they feed off each other.

    109. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 11:23 am  

      Arif - you’re so modest :-) A great insightful post ->

      “If tea leaves help you make sense of your life and challenges you to develop yourself, then I should respect the role it has in your life”


    110. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 12:00 pm  

      Durkheim’s work on the sociology of religion is really pertinent in the context of this discussion.

    111. Arif — on 15th February, 2007 at 12:24 pm  

      Durkheim’s sociology of religion. Hmmmmm. I guess just because someone is not religious, it doesn’t mean they escape the sociology of religion - since we must regulate our lives in some way to avoid anomie.

      I don’t think his semi-prediction/recommendation that occupational functions would become our new religions seems to have happened. And the idea that we can have rational gratitude to our society (instead of religious bonds) by recognising that it constitutes us is debatable. Remember “there is no such thing as society”… I felt I understood what Maggie was getting at. Society is a construct which we can’t agree on just like the idea of the individual (which Maggie didn’t challenge), the rational and the nature of God.

      We are all getting along with all sorts of imagined bonds which help us make sense of ourselves, correct behaviour and where we stand in different arguments. And it offends us if people who we have an imagined bond with don’t have the same bond in their own heads. They can seem like they are dangerous in the same way that atheists were thought to have no moral boundaries by many Christians of his time.

      Kafirs, infidels, self-haters, barbarians, nihilists, fascists, apologists the lot of us - in someone’s earnest point of view. Is that what you are getting at sonia?

    112. Edward the Bonobo — on 15th February, 2007 at 12:25 pm  

      Durkheim, you say? I have a son named after him! (Not quite true. We just liked the name - but he was the first Emil we thought of. Although it turns Durkheim actually spelled his name the French way, not the German that we used. Not like Emil Hesky, who everyone else thought of.) But I digress…

      I can say to both sides that there is a misunderstanding which they can easily resolve by listening to each other sympathetically. But most respond that I am the one who has misunderstood the real motives of their enemies.

      Yes, good…but as an Atheist, I don’t need Islam to do that. I am capable of understanding that humans come from things at different angles according to their culture, psychology and individual experience. While the Qu’ran might make some useful suggestions about that, I can’t really see how it would be any more useful than, say, the works of Dostoevsky. But we don’t have people who define themselves as Dostoevskyists.

      I hope I’m not coming over as someone who wants to denigrate Islam (although, hand on heart, I’m an Atheist Fundamentalist who really doesn’t hold with any species of religious/spiritual thinking.) I’m simply trying, sincerely, to understand “What’s so special about Islam?” What am I missing? Especially in the context of, eg, Feminism where it seems that Islam can inspire just as much misogyny and patriarchy as it can Feminism.

      And note that…
      My suspicion is that the contrast [between Christianity and Islam]is in large part due to different attitudes about the flexibility and fallibility of holy scripture.

      I really don’t see that contrast…although I’d welcome more Muslim comments about the flexibility and fallibility of the Qu’ran. I suspect it’s a meaningless question. Am I right in thinking of it as a revelation of the will of God? The precise understanding of God’s will is speculation (zanna is that the right word?) So flexibility and fallibility are attributes of the human interpreter. Am I close?

    113. Arif — on 15th February, 2007 at 1:07 pm  

      Edward, hi. To try to honestly answer your questions I can only give a very personal answer - because I don’t think most Muslims and Feminsts do see their movements as allied.

      On the point about listening to both sides. I don’t see it as something intrinsic to being a Muslim that I want to do this, but (referring to your other point about interpretation) the way that I am personally affected by reading the Qur’an probably has some influence on my level of patience.

      I can’t tell you what is so special about Islam for other people. I don’t see it as special in the sense that it gives me a depth of self-understanding or anything that is unavailable to people of other religions or none. I see it as my particular route. I don’t bar others from it and don’t feel barred from other people’s routes either.

      But when regulating my own behaviour, I find that just as sayings of Jesus, Gandhi, my parents, other people I respect and so on can make me check my behaviour and evaluate my sincerity, the Qur’an also does so - in challenging and insistent ways. But it probably only does so partly due to my approach to it, which itself is conditioned by factors which I assume I did not consciously choose. The possible factors that people sometimes ascribe do not ring true. Probably due to other factors beyond my conscious control.

      How I engage in thinking about these things is anyway conditioned by the Qur’an. I may not express my reasons for acting as I do by reference to the Qur’an (especially in non-Muslim forums) because I can’t expect non-Muslims to share my sense of its validity. And even among other Muslims, I can’t expect them to have the same sense of its relevance in particular situations.

      But in the context of feminism, Islam has some connections (not to deny the may differences as well). No compulsion in faith, all are responsible for our own actions (no priestly intermediary), the morality of care/compassion, averting the gaze, internal struggle to control your own feelings, Adam and Eve equally responsible for the fall, opposition to oppression and domination… But also the role of women in promoting Islam within my community and the role of religion as a tool used by women in my community to oppose oppressive cultural practices.

      Feminism also offers useful ways of reading the Qur’an - critically regarding why parts assume the hearers are male, why parts give women fewer inheritance rights, why parts refer to duties men and women have for one another and why they are expressed differently - asking questions that help develop a more conscious understanding. And answering them often leads to exploration within Islamic traditions which ends up with a believer being even more enmeshed in the religion than before. But often also more critical of existing practices among present-day Muslims, looking for allies within both the wider feminist and Muslim movements, but finding incomprehension instead.

    114. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 2:14 pm  

      what im getting at arif is simply this: for a large no. of people the fact they are part of something - part of a collective band of people worshipping the same thing - seems to be pretty important psychologically
      (whether we are willing to admit this or not) i do not think this necessarily negates the thing they believe in. ( though some would differ on this point and have done, in terms of the ‘function’ of religion and religion not being needed if there are other types of belonging )

      But I do think that as individuals who live in social circumstances and are subject to some sort of group religious influence it is something to be aware of. Particularly in the questioning of dogma and who gets to decide who is authority and the social legitimacy needed for that authority to have any real meaning.

      When i mentioned Durkheim - one can choose to agree or disagree with his ultimate conclusions and recommendations - naturally - as with any thinker on any subject area - what i find interesting is his study and interest in of the ‘collective’ or communal aspect of religion over the individual. i think this makes sense to me in my own empirical observations on social relations in general and in particular the effect diasporas can have on religious beliefs.

      in general - i think that not too many people seem to be interested in studying religions for the kinds of social regulation and norms they embody as corresponding to those norms and regulation in other forms of ‘collectives’. Well let me rephrase that - i think a lot of people who quite rightly criticize these aspects of religions - point to it, a lot of atheists use this argument for example - but you generally don’t see much acknowledgement of the role of social norms and regulation in religion - from people who are ‘within’ religions. if you get what i mean. ** ill think up an example of this for my next post**

      I think if we are going to be able to make sense of religion/religious texts for our own individual interpretations minus whatever negative influence of groups ( ok i accept for some of us the group thing is positive ) then we need to evaluate the issue of group loyalty as well - i don’t think it is very easy to do one without - at the very least - being aware of how the other affects that.

      to sum up - i think what is interesting about the study of the social aspects/implications of organized religion is the similarity with the social aspects/implications of say - patriotism in the context of a country/nation-state. or a particular ethnic group ‘loyalty’. or any group loyalty/belonging situation. in my mind - the social processes and social psychology of how individuals relate to a group - the beliefs they have about their group and their role in it - is what is interesting.

      perhaps i view it somewhat clinically, but whether the belief involves a deity, or not, is irrelevant- in my opinion - if the subject of study is the relationship between the individual and the group and how it affects that bond. the belief is only relevant in as much as how it affects behaviour - of the individual - and in the context of the group.

      ok this is all possibly boring for folks not interested in social psychology, but hey, given given the amount of influence it has in our lives - peer pressure! i think it’s pretty crucial stuff.

    115. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 2:30 pm  

      i think your questions Edward make sense to me - why not think for yourself and read lots of texts? or just use your own brain cells? why call yourself ‘something’ like a Muslim? Well quite - and I would say ( though this may not make sense to you ) that a large aspect of that is down to what ive been going about - the group thing.

      (And the interesting thing about your point about Dostoyevsky - well what about readers of Marx? They do call themselves Marxists and seem to behave like they think it’s a religion!)

    116. Arif — on 15th February, 2007 at 3:10 pm  

      I agree sonia, I also think in that sort of way - surely it shouldn’t be hard to understand why a Muslim is attached to their identity in such a way, since we are all attached to our identities - we are all capable of lashing out for the sake of an abstract identity or community, having double-standards depending on what we think other people’s identities consist of or feeling an innocent victim to the other’s evil agenda, while our own inadvertant insensitivity is unfairly used to stigmatise us…..

      Social psychologists can point this out, as do novelists, religious texts and our mates in an argument. Is it a stunning insight or a common cliche? We all seem to be aware of the absurdity of rationalising our unchosen conditioning at some level, and yet stay prey to it all the time. I think you point it out regularly, yet it is still relevant in every discussion, because we can’t seem to get beyond thinking in stereotypes. I think I also point it out all the time, and it’s probably part of my own stereotype that its all I go on about. Like Anas pouncing on any insensitivity to Palestinian dispossession.

      Social psychology is the way forward to understand identity formation, but maybe not in all circumstances. Sometimes we carry over identities and react differently to others under similar pressures. It doesn’t always explain why identity x and not y. Why is economic class identity less conscious than religious identity for so many people? Why national identity and not linguistic identity in one situation and vice versa elsewhere. Rational Choice theorists tell me it is down to perceived economic interests which help us calculate which identity would be to greatest advantage. That theory doesn’t ring true to me - so when I try to explain why, am I merely rationalising my opposition to the group of rational choice theorists because of my own absurd conditioned commitments and fears?

      Maybe, but I do it anyway, and have to struggle to keep my opposition in perspective. Perhaps with a seemingly absurd prayer to remember that none of these worldly identities and arguments are as important as compassionate conduct. Perhaps with postmodern irony: “my identity and yours are just strategic, but we have to take them as real to interact”. What can we do against what seems like human nature?

    117. Alsoknownas — on 15th February, 2007 at 3:12 pm  

      Ed de B - I am not a Muslim but have studied this a bit and tried to answer your question. If any Muslims or people who have studied this more deeply think I am barking up the wrong tree please feel free to correct me.

      As wikipedia says “Muslims believe the Qur’ān, in its original Arabic, to be the literal word of God that was revealed to Muhammad over a period of several years”. (NB. The Hadiths are different)

      The same cannot be said of the Bible, which was written over a period of hundreds of years by multiple authors. Even after all of the texts had been written, the process of defining an agreed canon took hundreds of years more. Once the cannon had been established, the Catholic Church atempted to define a single “correct” interpretation, but its authority to do this was challenged and partially overthrown in the reformation.

      Such a revolutionary change in views about who has the authority to interpret the Quran is far less likely since authority to interpret is the privilage (or responsabilety)of a large number of Quranic scholars, all building on the judgements of those who have gone before.

      Ironically for liberal reformists, those who have been most keen to radically reinterpret the Quran, and break away from the conservative scholarly tradition, are the islamists. Many central islamist tenets were developed in the last 80 years and have little foundation in traditional thought, such as the idea that the vast majority of “Muslims” have been so corrupted should not be considered Muslim at all (a radical reinterpretation of the concept of Jahiliyyah, i.e. “living in darkness”).

      Am I right in thinking that liberal attempts to reinterpret the Quran have had a harder time from conservatives than islamist attempts, and if so why? Or is it simply that islamism, with its revolutionary anti-colonial rhetoric, has proven more attractive to than liberalism with all its western (perhaps even christian) connotations?

    118. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 4:05 pm  

      good points arif. quite - common cliche? absolutely.

      i don’t think social psychology has ever attempted to explain definitively why one particular identity over another - but simply demonstrate experimentally that as an individual one may think something when you’re by yourself, and that may change dramatically when in the presence of a group. naturally it is acknowledged that will depend on a huge range of other factors - namely the importance you place on the group and what they think of you. which in turn is going to be affected by a whole different set of variables. what group means what to each person is necessarily not something prescriptive - hardly - and will depend entirely on circumstances. I would say very simply the contribution of social psychology - again - is nothing necessarily earth-shattering - but simply scientific affirmation of this crucial aspect of social interaction. what kind of peer pressure we may be more vulnerable to is necessarily going to depend on our individual context.

      the reason in any case i brought up the aspect of the social with respect to religion i.e. that of conformity - is that it seems to me people overlook the fact that if everyone followed one’s ancestors all the time, well then, we wouldn’t have say Sikhism or Islam or Christianity. It’s just ab interesting irony i’ve always thought. Leader or prophet comes along, rejects or re-interpreststhe traditions of their society or re-interprets something, starts a ‘cult’/religion/whatever you want to call it, next thing you know, few generations down the line, everyone’s like..hey why are you ignoring all the wisdom that’s been around for generations? your elders and betters have followed this for ages..why isn’t it good for yoU?

    119. justforfun — on 15th February, 2007 at 4:36 pm  

      Sonia - 114. Well put - you’re on form today. It would be interesting to understand the dynamics of ‘loyalty to groups’ etc that you mention - and your parallel with patriotism - from an academic point of view. Are there any “…… for Dummies” I can read? But after academic investigations, come the engineering implementation of the science/knowledge acquired. I suppose in this case the engineering is not the nuts and bolts sort , but rather political implementation based on the knowledge gained. Of course politics should have to have a goal, a purpose. Hypothetically speaking, if we knew what drives these human desires of “loyalty to a group”, what purpose would you envisage for this knowledge. (temper your response , of course allowing for the MI5 monitoring of this site :-) )

      You often mention your concern about the nation state ,and hence I understand your parallel to patriotism and its relavance. Would you think that this sort of knowledge needs to be gained because the future world looks like making the nation state redundant and therefore we need to know how to organise ourselves in the future. Personally I think so. The nation state as we know its not tenable in a future, just world and we need to be able to adapt to its slow decline and meaning. That is why I have become a recent convert to the EU, because although by no means perfect and full of many flaws, on a stategic and literally global level it is the only social experiment in town that has the possibility of succeding using the topical “ink spot” theory. I often think of the “Republic of India” in these terms as well as a sort of EU like grouping of states - but but that is another issue.

      Personally I think religion has already lost its purpose, its just its not become apparent to all. My ‘leap of faith’ I suppose, and I’m sure many will say religion is back on the rise. My retort would be “It may be in news all the time, but if we are being brutally honest we’re not talking about a belief in a God, but merely using “a belief in God” as cypher for power play, as societies all around the world jocky for new positions in a changing political/economic environment. I can only think of “Sean Connery” and his successors in Iran , like “our man in a jar” as people who may actually have a religious motive and sincerely believe in the a religious destiny for this world. Oh and the nutters in USA. Must not forget them. For the rest of the world its just dirty politics, not any meaningfull spiritual religiosity that is driving things.

      I know this discussion is about feminism and Islam, sorry to have diverted away from the topic.


    120. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 5:07 pm  

      hey jff - thanks :-) what would you do with this knowledge? well i dunno - it depends on what you’re interested in!/particular context. i would say the relevance for me is that when people say oh sonia you should do this that and the other because you’re muslim, i use this sort of reasoning to try and work out whether the person is saying it cos they’re actually making a valid point or more to do with the fact of ‘we’re muslims and that’s what we’re supposed to do’. Do you see what I mean? It’s not always clear cut - because they could both have something to do with each other. But often they people saying ‘you should do this because the local mullah told me so’ Yeah Right Buddy! I mean it might be something that makes sense anyway but equally it could make absolutely no sense. Given what i know of south asian distortions of islam which have become pretty much institutionalized, i’m quite sceptical of a lot of stuff.

      Given that there is so much of this stuff about ( you ought to do this that and the other) it helps me make up my mind about people’s thinking - and my own of course. so say for example - i know this might sound bad - but i know what is important to my mother - tradition. hence religion - islam - as it is part of her tradition and what her social group have always followed. so i am aware that if she were born hindu she would be telling me to follow another religion. do you not think this has some impact? i know she means well etc. etc. and i have to try and understand her context - but i also have to make sense of my own life. should i do something simply for tradition’s sake? this has a lot of bearing on many ethical questions. in my opinion anyway. and as other people have pointed out - where group loyalties exist, it is useful to be aware of that and to try and understand it - so that one can tread carefully in terms of criticism, otherwise it is too easy to be counter-productive in putting people’s backs up.

      re: academic stuff for ‘beginners’ - well you might want to get hold of some of the Psychology textbooks by David Myers - he is brilliant and is on the set reading list for many a Psy 101 course, and certainly the ones my Dad used to recommend to his undergrads. they’re lovely and easy to read and great fun - i spent my childhood + teenage years reading these books. the chapters on ‘states of conciousness’ were my favourites - especially the bit on mind altering substances, he heh. the description of the first ‘trip’ is well good! :-)

    121. sonia — on 15th February, 2007 at 5:11 pm  

      jff -

      “My retort would be “It may be in news all the time, but if we are being brutally honest we’re not talking about a belief in a God, but merely using “a belief in God” as cypher for power play, as societies all around the world jocky for new positions in a changing political/economic environment”

      Quite! :-)

    122. Arif — on 15th February, 2007 at 5:15 pm  

      Sonia, you are taking us from Durkheim to Weber - ever thought of being a sociology lecturer!

      Inspirational people are around us all the time. Tearing up the traditions - like the Muslim radicals alsoknownas refers to. Charismatically preaching a doctrine of love, hate or whatever. I admit there are lots of people I admire.

      And there is the pull of rational thinking, to give some sort of agreed structure to make decisions and avoid being caught in a populist inspired mob. That’s attractive too, and an undercurrent in the arguments for a secular playing field, where irrational belief systems are suppressed.

      And there is the tradition, which might be better than either of the other two, when caught between the mob and the system-devising elites. Escape to the mosque where you can remember past charismatics and system-builders.

      They all provide us with groups as well as with ways of legitimising our choice of groups to ourselves. Once again, modern western thought (Weber) applied to understanding modern western Islam - which is probably not so different from modern western anything.

      But we need to see essential differences (eg between modern west and Muslim) to understand ourselves in contrast to other people. And we want to make ourselves better, so we create a hierachised dualism: eg secular me good, religious her bad. And then feminism comes along and says - among other things - that actually we might both be equal, so let’s check the assumptions underlying our hierarchy of values with a bit of humility and vulnerability. And my take is that this bit of ancient wisdom, after being repackaged many times, including as part of Islam and part of modern feminism, still seems either too disruptive or not disrupted enough for us to bother with.

      So leading an examined life (adhering to Muslim and/or Feminist values) is something for me to do in my spare time, out of the public sphere… makes the public sphere a little bit irrelevant to me and makes me irrelevant to public life. Feminists explain and challenge these dynamics well too.

    123. Edward the Bonobo — on 16th February, 2007 at 11:42 am  

      Picking up on Arif and Sonia (and Durkheim…I wish I had a keyboard that could type umlauts so I could spell him properly).

      So what I’m getting is that Islam provides a cultural milieu? A binding set of customs and language. A shared language and shared understanding. A ‘discussion space’, if you like.

      Okayyyyy…but I’m still struggling to understand what it brings to the party. Obviously I too exist within a cultural space. And obviously, even though I’m an Atheist Fundamentalist, this is inecitably shaped by Christian asumptions. But then, I share this space with British Muslims. We have almost everything in common. And I share a space with Muslim Feminists - more so with Muslim patriarchal reactionaries - and indeed you maybe share just as much space with me as you so with them. So isn’t this boundary of this Islam thing somewhat arbitrary? But it’s there, obviously. You say you’re Muslims…and I can’t figure out what this means in terms of your understanding of the world.

      (btw…Sonia - quote from Marx: “If all these people are Marxists, then I’m not.” I share a space with Marx too - more and more as I’ve got older - but he was entirely wrong about revolution)

      Back to Feminism specifically:
      Any opinions on what are the differences/similarities between Muslim and secular Feminism? Here’s a thought: While they both demand that full weight is given to the central importance of Motherhood…secular Feminism allows for other alternatives. Whether or not to be a mother is a matter of self-determination. Women…or men…should have a free and equal choice to exist in the public or family spheres. What does Islam make of this?

    124. sonia — on 16th February, 2007 at 1:51 pm  

      well there are a lot of different set of overlapping milieus - it would be incorrect to imagine that all muslims have the same customs - it would depend what other groups you may be part of. it’s hardly one identity, one group. if you’re an arab you will no doubt have different customs to south asian muslims. there aren’t even that many connections though some of us fancy there are. it would make more sense to think of it as an ‘imagined community’ - rather than a ‘real’ one. and its hardly as if it means the same thing to all people - not everyone is ‘equally signed up’ to all this. i thought arif addressed that in his point about people assume if you’re ‘muslim’ you must be x y and z and that clearly isnt the case.

      in any case- responding to some of the points you made:
      ( sorry its a bit long..)
      all these are my opinions.. :-) i’m not a very knowledgeable muslim…you ask what does it mean to be a muslim? well quite - depends on the individual obviously. Hardly a set simple ‘definition’ - like with any other label. ( like asking what it means to be ‘British’) To me its simply about being born into a muslim family, and thereby possibly has some ‘cultural’ connotations. Effectively it functions as a ‘cultural label’ when a cultural label needs to be produced. which luckily given my lifestyle, isn’t too often. Also having grown up in mostly muslim countries it wasn’t an issue - like it appears to be for some diasporic muslims.

      Nowadays - sometimes people ask me and I tell them, if its on a discussion thread etc. The Indian embassy visa form asked me for information on religion and i felt obliged to put it down. It’s not an integral part of my identity and usually i think people shoudn’t have to set out any religious preference. but hey - i’m not particularly bothered about which label is assigned to me since there are so many and they generally mean very little to me -so it doesn’t worry me to keep referring to myself as muslim to keep others happy and provide a cultural reference point to those who are curious. it’s a more external label for me rather than an ‘internal’ label - if you see what i mean. philosophically and spiritually i’m as interested in other religions and books that have nothing to do with ‘religion’ per se - i’m not one of these exclusive people.

      of course boundaries are arbitrary - excuse me for having a giggle at that ‘question’ ;-) Boundaries are human social constructs - so naturally they’re arbitrary and sometimes ridiculously and obviously so. I might say I’m a Londoner - and other people might say to me ‘no you’re not’ - they often do. It’s pretty clear when it comes to ticking boxes for diversity forms as well. If it’s an American form, and someone was filling it for me, they’d shove me under ‘East Indian’ as opposed to ‘Asian’ which seems to imply ‘East Asian’ in the States. Last time I looked the continent of Asia was big enough to include India etc. But clearly labels mean different things in different contexts. Someone who say has one parent who is afro-caribbean and another parent, who say is white. they can self-define as black or white - naturally they’re a bit of both - and could self-define as ‘mixed’.. so yeah - how does boundary construction work? what meanings does it have? all good questions. there seems to be an element of acceptance - you could say you’re white ( in example given above) and a lot of black people migh be like..’honey you look black to me’. So it appears to depend to some extent on what other people who consider themselves to have the same label - think, and how much they accept you.

      The reason i was going on about the group thing so much -in the context of a discussion on religion - i guess i didn’t make my point very well. The point about the ‘acceptance’ by people within a ‘bounded’ identity seems to be one of subsequent control - i.e. ‘we accept you as one of us’, but the snag is that it’s this acceptance precisely which accompanies with it regulation - or attempts at regulation - of behaviour, attitudes etc. The idea seems to be that if you are one of us, you must be like one of us. So seeing as a lot of people ‘accept’ me as Muslim, this brings with it expectations - and if you are a woman, which i am, restrictions. so other people expect me to dress a certain way, to not party in a certain way, blah blah. So what my point was in going on about the whole Muslim identity thing was that if people were going to get hung up about the identity/belonging aspect, then they might spend more time worrying about what other people who also call themselves Muslim - are upto, what they’re wearing etc. and generally trying to ‘police’ and enforce control other ‘members ‘of the group. Which i think is counter-productive and implies one isn’t actually very free. {Naturally you can’t do this sort of control as easily when it’s not a ‘formal’ group ( like say a nation-state is with laws, or a formal institution where you have to ‘sign up’) - i think this is the key thing to remember. Clearly ‘Muslims’ cannot be codified currently into a formal group. Though many people would prefer it that way… {However - one could say the attempt to have an ‘islamic’ state is all about attempts to seek such formalization.}

      Anyways, it’s all pretty complex the business of boundary construction and what we would want with bounded entities anyway. The big hoo ha about British and Britishness seems to me entwined with all this complexity.

      In theory, what i understood was that the ‘idea of Islam’ as i understand it - was originally meant to not have any social boundaries - i.e. it was meant to be global and apply to anyone - i.e. any human could choose to think about the set of ideas if they so wanted. Now of course this has been somewhat lost - given that the human beings who put the ideas into practice started referring to themselves as muslims and before long were starting to think of themselves in a bounded off kind of way, as some sort of special group with a direct line to ‘Heaven’. Of course the idea is still that anyone can ‘convert’ - but still i think the issue of conversion itself represents very clearly if anything - the ‘crossing of the boundary’ - indicating that there are some boundaries in the minds of some of the people who are practising the religion. Also the fact that non-Muslims are not allowed to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca if they so chose - shows me that there are some pretty fucking strong boundaries that have been set up.

      The thing that makes me laugh about the hooha about the so-called Global Ummah is that a lot of people appear to think that it refers to the global community of ‘Muslims’. I would say given the ideals within the idea of Islam as I understand it - it would really refer to all humanity around the globe, religion or no religion. Otherwise I can see no value in it - just some more tribal behaviour. But there you go.. everyone interprets ideas differently!

      so i don’t think i’ve answered your question about what ‘Islam’ provides . I wouldn’t set my views out as what ‘Islam’ definitively is or isn’t - try a Mullah for those kinds of questions. i would have thought that the whole point of this discussion was to make it somewhat clearer that it all depends on who thinks what ‘Islam’ is in the first place. So i don’t think there is one set answer - is there? Dogmatic people would have you think there is - perhaps you’ve been listening to too many of them. What does one mean when they say ‘Islam’ - i don’t know - lots of different people mean different things.

      i don’t actually understand what it is you’re struggling to understand?

    125. sonia — on 16th February, 2007 at 2:00 pm  

      maybe im just a nihilist postmodernist - sometimes i think there is anything concrete to understand - rather its the chaos we need to realize is in our midst! rationality - well we’ll see - so far human beings haven’t really showed themselves as rational creatures. well perhaps in some ways. though we seem to be more bipolar than anything else! -> the two polarities could be rationality on the one hand and mad murder on the other hand.


    126. sonia — on 16th February, 2007 at 2:02 pm  

      good question about motherhood. sounds a bit like we can start throwing terms like the divine feminine around soon…

    127. William — on 16th February, 2007 at 2:45 pm  


      Thanks for all the points you made however long but maybe thats it. Maybe when we question things all there is left is discourse rather than unsuccessfully pinning something down to a what it is.

      Maybe I am also a post-modernist windy round and around thinker but hopefully not too nihilist. Where else is there to go??

    128. Arif — on 16th February, 2007 at 3:12 pm  

      Edward, I’ll try to answer your questions, but have a feeling I won’t be able to satisfy you:

      1. What does Islam bring to the party?
      2. What does Islam mean for my understanding of the world?
      3. How do Muslim feminism and secular feminism differ.

      I can’t give any clear answer because I only have my own perspective, and even that is always changing. So what I say is not something you can put in a respectable social theory textbook. Even less likely will it be something that the next Muslim will have any respect for!

      1. Islam allows me to be myself more easily in a lot of situations in the west. Why doesn’t he drink? Oh he’s a Muslim, that’s alright then. Why doesn’t he date? Oh, he’s a Muslim. He doesn’t swear, he doesn’t want to take part in this particular kind of sexist male bonding, he doesn’t like crude jokes…. It means I don’t get marginalised as a wierdo immediately, if there is a box people can put me in that makes them comfortable letting me be different. I mean, I’m still considered odd in a lot of mainstream milieus, but the label gives me a partial license to still be there, and opens up a few opportunities not available to others - for example when women can be comfortable getting to know me and my getting to know them without any need to wonder about whether this is going anywhere romantic or not. I’m not saying all of western culture is like that, just talking about the less religious subcultures I’ve negotiated outside of Muslim ones in the UK. So it brought to those parties opportunities to interact without using toxins, romantic agendas and putting others down even where that is considered the norm.

      This is just one aspect at a social level. It would take too much thinking for me right now to talk about what Islam brings to intellectual or other discourses….

      2. Islam for my understanding of the world.

      Hmmmm. It is hard to take out what I would be without Islam and then compare the difference, but I think I might be a little more self-absorbed (yes, it may be possible) and a little more dogmatic. Precisely because the Qur’an doesn’t chime with my prejudices/comfort zone, it forces me (as a Muslim) to look for ways in which very different perspectives make sense. That’s my starter answer.

      3. Secular v Muslim feminism - don’t know enough, but I’ll think about it.

    129. sonia — on 16th February, 2007 at 3:22 pm  

      interesting points arif. i see what you say about the social aspects - granted you live in the society you do. of course if you had grown up in a majority muslim country that dynamic would have been different. the excuse of being a muslim would not be sufficient! :-) you’d have to say you were ‘religious’ to get past it..

    130. Alsoknownas — on 16th February, 2007 at 5:06 pm  

      Sonia - It is an interesting point that you make about the overlap and tensions between Islam as a universalist religion, and the reality of Islam (as all religions)having myriad links to culture and identity. For me this was demonstrated in a debate about the proposed incitment to religious hatred laws that I had with a member of the LSE Islamic Society last year (coincidentally the same people who hosted the talk above).
      I believed (and still believe) that oulawing criticism of religious ideas or figures whenever it “could be construed as offensive” would deal a terrible blow to freedom of speech. Race and religion, I argued, cannot be be chosen and thus are fundamentally different from religious or other beliefs. The Islamic Soc representative surprised me by arguing that “being a Muslim” is as much a cultural as a religious form of identity, thus deserving of special protection.
      Of course it is true that much of our identity is often rooted in the community of of our birth, but I think that overemphasising this ignores the power of individuals to make their own descisions about their lives and can lead to “communities” being considered far more homogenous than they truly are. It seems to be that the best course is to focus on discussing ideas (for example the compatiblitiy of feminism and islam) and the identities will look after themselves.

    131. sonia — on 18th February, 2007 at 1:57 am  

      i found this link from Sid’s diary page - thought it might be interesting reading for some: abot the need fora humanistic islam, written by a woman

    132. Leon — on 18th February, 2007 at 2:01 am  

      Just a shame it’s on a site run by neo cons…

    133. sonia — on 18th February, 2007 at 2:02 am  

      actually i think it’s a pretty damn good ‘honest’analysis of a lot of the things brought up here. she isn’t afraid this woman to say what she thinks - which i respect - neither is she afraid to challenge authority! ( thank goodness for that)

    134. sonia — on 18th February, 2007 at 2:04 am  

      interesting point leon - haven’t had a look to see the rest of the site. no doubt they were pleased to have something on which they imagine is a critique of islam.. See this is the problem - if lots of people are not open enough to be able to discuss this sort of thing, the only people who will provide a platform will no doubt have political reasons etc. for that provision

    135. Leon — on 18th February, 2007 at 2:05 am  

      Yep pretty much…

    136. Edward the Bonobo — on 19th February, 2007 at 10:45 am  

      Some fascinating stuff, which I’m trying to get my head around.

      Sonia first:
      It sounds like you’re giving a good illustration of an aspect of identity politics. Am I right in thinking that you identify with the Muslim category that you are boxed into, without its necessarly being the foundation for your thought? I’m reminded of something I heard on BBC R4 the other day, complaining at the description of Barack Obama as ‘black’. “After all, he’s just as white as he is black.” Oh yeah? Tell that to a red states white racist.

      I do fully accept, though, that Islam is a broad and diverse category. Indeed, my understanding is that it’s essence is somewhat more flexible than Christianity - eg the qualification for being a Muslim is to accept Allah and…that’s about it. (Noting, of course, that not all Muslims see it that way). So…this is where I’m struggling. Why specifically Islamic Feminism? And what is it that I’m missing that Muslims have?

      I’m wondering…is does idea of Islamic Feminism only address a hermetic world of Islam? Is it relevant to non-Muslims?

      Similarly, Arif:
      “Islam allows me to be myself more easily in a lot of situations in the west. ”

      I sympathise. As a non-football watching male who tries to be as non-sexist as I am able, yes, often the dominant culture I live in feels alien too me, too. (So I have no time for inane definitions of Britishness. There are many, many white, British people with whom I have practically zero in common.) But surely that can’t be it? People can navigate those awkward situations without the shielding label of Muslim - which, in any case, presumably also has some potential drwabacks in modern Britain that I can only guess at?

      “Precisely because the Qur’an doesn’t chime with my prejudices/comfort zone, it forces me (as a Muslim) to look for ways in which very different perspectives make sense. That’s my starter answer.”

      Now that’s really interesting. It sounds like you’re setting a framework in which you can think. I suppose I too do that by declaring myself an Atheist Fundamentalist. Largely this is to annoy people…but it does also give the intellectual exercise of, for example, ignoring creationist idiocies and Catholic homophobia, looking at Christianity in the best possible light and still coming out against it. First I have to ask myself “What if they’re right?” before I can marshall my arguments.

      It sounds like - excuse me if I’m flippant - a bad Muslim is a good thing to be?

      Aka -
      I agree re religious hatred laws - and I’d welcome some Muslim views here. It seems to me that the real problem is that Islamophobia is used as a proxy for racism, and what we should be striving for is a more robust recognition of this. There was a good example of case law in Scotland:

    137. Edward the Bonobo — on 19th February, 2007 at 10:46 am  

      Excuse the poor typing and missed html closing tag.

    138. sonia — on 19th February, 2007 at 12:08 pm  

      you might be getting that edward - although if i were going to be pedantic id say i dont accept ‘boundaries’ or categories in the traditional sense so it’s not a bounded identity for me - just is something that applies, others apply equally well. like ‘tags’ on del.ici.ous… you can have multiple tags and yes all i am saying is that muslim tag can be applied to me. i don’t see it as a category box for me to sit within though i realize others do. anyhow that’s their problem not mine, if it’s a description others use to make some sense - good for them. if it helps people to think of me as black i don’t mind that as well. everyone has a different meaning and im not going to waste my time going around ‘correcting’ them because i don’t know what would be ‘correct’ in the first place!
      anyhow, it’s interesting what you’re saying about the intellectual framework within which to think.
      i don’t think you’re ‘missing’ anything, seems to me you’re doing just fine, asking a lot of questions ! :-) and using your brain.

      of course the “righteous religious response” would no doubt be that as you are not accepting some fixed notion of God (whatever that is) you are on the path to Hell: so that’s what you are missing. Some kind of supposed salvation (But not to worry, there are plenty of us who are also on the receiving ends of such exhortations. i daresay if you’re ‘born Muslim’ ( funny idea huh) you’re particularly targeted with such exhortations especially if you’re seen to be ‘slipping’… ) but yeah that’s what worries me - to be honest - what if they’re right - what if we didnt do what they said - and we’ll be in ‘trouble’? of course it’s that fear precisely preacher types prey

      Sorry to throw such a spanner into the works! but there you go.

    139. sonia — on 19th February, 2007 at 12:31 pm  

      and if you want to know what my opinion of this islamic feminism thing is about? well my guess it’s about being a ‘good girl’ still -> i think a lot of people are afraid of ‘feminism’ in terms of the whole ‘bra burning’ thing and sexually liberated females and all that stuff. some would say that’s incompatible with what are considered islamic traditions etc. so i daresay it’s some sort of well we’re not going to go wild like that necessarily but we still want some rights sort of thing kind of compromise.

      which will make sense to some people who want to stay within the ‘good girl framework ‘:-). after all why should they not identify with aspects of feminism that they feel apply to them, and leave off the bits that they feel don’t ( or cannot, that’s another debate) apply. people picking and choosing what is valid and meaninful to them. which is all good stuff. but similarly, the idea of islamic feminism might not appeal or offer anything to some others. if you’re not feeling restricted by some religious traditions you might not feel it applies. i daresay that might be something you want to think about with regards to your point of does it apply to non-muslims etc.

    140. Edward the Bonobo — on 19th February, 2007 at 2:00 pm  

      i daresay that might be something you want to think about with regards to your point of does it apply to non-muslims etc.

      I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that I get the ‘Feminist’ bit - and I can see that it is as possible to adopt strong, woman-centred identities within an Islamic framework as it is within a non-Islamic. But I’m still not getting the Islamic bit. But then…I don’t get Christian Feminism or Pagan Feminism either.

    141. G. Tingey — on 19th February, 2007 at 4:04 pm  

      “Women are inferior to men and subject to their orderes. When (your?) women disobey you, confine them to their quarters, and beat them until they submit.”

      Quote from the “Recital” (Al-koran)

      Com on, islam is a religion.
      It is therfore, automatically a combination of moral and physical blackmail.

      I suggest that it be dumped, along with all the other collections of lies called religion (including communism, of course)

    142. Arif — on 19th February, 2007 at 4:06 pm  

      Edward, I think we all use words a bit vaguely and then when you try to pin them down it becomes a bit academic (in both senses). So I’ll try to go a little bit down that road.

      I guess being a “Muslim Feminist” would be analogous to being a “Liberal Feminist” or “Ecological (Eco-)Feminist” where the feminism is central and the qualification indicates how you place yourself as a feminist among other feminist discourses. And perhaps this should be distinguished from being a Feminist Muslim, Feminist Liberal or Feminist Ecologist.

      So among Muslims I might be a Feminist Muslim (as well as lots of other things important in debates among Muslims such as my preference for Sheikh x or interpretation y), among Feminists I might be a Muslim Feminist (as well as lots of other things important among feminists).

      As a Muslim Feminist I would probably have more in common intellectually with most Christian Feminists than Pagan Feminists because we’d share probably some assumptions (like God being neither male nor female, rather than worshipping anything which particularly represents male or female principles). But nothing much can be taken for granted. More important to me would be their understanding of how patriarchy operates, what is most disturbing about it and how we should work to overcome it without reproducing oppressive structures.

      As a Feminist Muslim, things are even less certain. Some secular Muslims share concerns to avoid discriminatory implementation of Personal Law, but they would also probably want to keep personal and public life as strictly separate spheres which can be equally oppressive from a feminist point of view. Some Salafi Muslims would interpret the public lives of the wives of the prophet as that no roles are barred, but some would also interpret their roles as somehow inferior to those taken by male companions of the prophet. Some traditionalist Muslims make fatwas in liberating directions, some in oppressive ones from a feminist point of view. etc. What would be most important to me, from a feminist point of view, would be willingness to investigate forms of coercion, ways in which groups are stigmatised or made invisible, and other forms of subconscious oppression all within the context of Qur’anic injunctions to oppose oppression and not be oppressive onesself.

      Even if you are a Muslim, such arguments will often seem arcane. Most people are also unaware how much diversity and argument there is in feminist thought. I am an expert in neither, but I am willing to attach both labels to my identity because both discourses have influenced how I consciously conduct my life in a way that, say, Paganism, Secularism, Nationalism and Tea Leaf Reading do not.

    143. Edward the Bonobo — on 20th February, 2007 at 10:15 am  

      Okayyy…but that sounds like you’re saying you share Feminist and Muslim ideas…as opposed to saying that Feminist ideas derive from Islam.

      Or…to but it more negatively…Feminist despite Islam? Muslim despite potential contradictions with Feminism?

      Or a Muslim who would like to stretch Islam to encompass Feminist viewpoints? Which is maybe (from my Atheist perspective) not as contradictory as it might sound; Religions are shaped by humans according to their preference.

      Myself, I have no way of pre-judging the degree of common ground I have with Muslims, Christians, Pagans, Secularists or Tea Leaf Readers. Obviously I don’t share any common ground over gods etc. It’s a matter of whether their ideas are compatible with free and happy human societies.

    144. sonia — on 21st February, 2007 at 12:22 pm  

      what arif is saying in 142 is interesting. I am intrigued by what Zohra would say about that - or where she sees herself positioned within that sort of framework.

      if i were to think about my ideas in this kind of context - and how i see myself within feminist discourses - i could come up with ‘individualist feminist’ - i.e the qualification being the focus on individual rights for all. so i guess that’s why i don’t bother referring to myself explicitly as embracing ‘feminist’ ideals because it seems to me a focus on rights for the individual - for every human - automatically implies and subsumes the same ideas as those generally found within feminist discourses. i would just refer to myself as someone who supports individual human rights for all.

      and i think often the label ‘feminist’ can result in perhaps encouraging people to draw too too tight a boundary around women, which sometimes can lead to negative thinking - in terms of homogeneity, the usual problems with group ‘loyalty’ etc. - preconceived ideas about - #men# as a totality, ( and ‘women’ as a totality as well - instead of a collection of individuals who have different desires etc.) inability to recognize - or a refusal to acknowledge - how other women compound the problems of patriarchy ( e.g. problems which are due to loyalty to ‘elders’ - including female elders) etc. etc

    145. sonia — on 21st February, 2007 at 12:23 pm  

      or even - repressive of people who happen to be male in a ‘revenge’ kind of way.

    146. Edward the Bonobo — on 22nd February, 2007 at 11:21 am  

      Individual feminism…focus on individual rights…etc.

      Hmm. I can see that Islam has a strong communal tradition, and that the Western tradition of human rights mighty appear to be in conflict with that. However, in non-Muslim as well as Muslim Feminism, there is a focus on the central value of motherhood. And this focus to the benefit both of society (which should be family-centred) and individuals (we’re happy if raised in an emotionally nourshing environment). And this applies to men just as muvh as to women: Feminism is been extremely important in advancing men’s rights and quality of life as it is women’s.

      It does seem, though, that there are potential contradictions in non-Muslim feminism, ie in the insistence that women are not simply breeding machines. I suggest that the model of stilettoed high-achievers within a patriarchal world is a perversion of Feminist ideals. Feminism should be about restructuring the whole of society. But in so doing, we have to recognise human diversity. Pre-determined, fixed assumptions about male and female roles and characteristics are stifling. (And on these aspects, I suggest that Queer Politics leads the way).

    147. sonia — on 22nd February, 2007 at 11:45 am  

      “Feminism is been extremely important in advancing men’s rights and quality of life as it is women’s.”

      yes - in things like paternity leave and recognition that fathers do want to /or are interested in caring for their children, actually. it’s raised the central value of parenthood rather than just motherhood i would say. that was an inequal emphasis - in my opinion.

      ‘islam has a strong communal tradition’ - well that would be in my opinion the manifestation of organized religion. there are strands of mysticism in islamic tradition like there have been in both christian and jewish traditions..which i feel counter the communal tradition to a certain extent. though im a bit disappointed about the Sufi thing - in as much - as the emphasis on having a ‘teacher’ per se - which i feel is a bit rigid.

    148. koranagirl — on 23rd February, 2007 at 4:19 am  

      I like your website. It asks a whole lot of questions, and maybe questions are the most important thing. We don’t have to actually have the answers you know, we just need to research things and learn and grow. But I wanted to make you all aware of a feminist interpretation of the Koran entitled “Korana of Mother Goddess”; it is available for free at; and for purchase at and on ebay (simply search for this title). Good luck to you all in your search for gender equality. It is indeed a good thing. Blessings

    149. sonia — on 24th February, 2007 at 7:36 pm  

      that looks interesting. will have to take time to read in depth. i bet the mullahs haven’t seen it though have they? they’d have a fit and issue a fatwa or two i bet.

    150. Kobayashi Khan — on 5th March, 2007 at 5:38 am  


      Sorry for the late reply (post 98), I didn’t see it. I agree with everything you mentioned. The Quran clearly is anything but simple to understand, and in many cases it seems inconsistent and incoherent. Yet thats exactly the opposite of how the Quran describes itself. I’m not very religious, and I seem to be fast sliding towards skepticism. The point is that devout Muslims like Zohro cannot use the excuse that the “Quran is complicated” as a convenient get-out clause in these debates, which they do frequently. Its simply NOT how the Quran describes itself. The Quran claims its “easy to understand” numerous times, and no amount of sophistry and obfuscating rhetoric is going to change that.

    151. sonia — on 7th March, 2007 at 12:16 pm  

      yeah i hear what you’re saying to kobayashi. i think it depends on what people understand by textual polysemy - if they think about that at all - and how we ourselves understand ‘literalism’. both in as much as whether we take what we read to be meant literally or metaphorically, and then of course - the biggie - how/what we understand/conceptualize ‘God’s Word’. it all then depends to a certain extent how much you are prepared to acknowledge/or think in what are generally thought of as ‘forbidden areas’ for many Muslims. i.e. how do i know that over the years someone somewhere didn’t make mistakes ‘transmitting’ the word of God, even if you’ve acknowledged that it was ‘originally’ the word of God.

      **i don’t know* but perhaps you’re imputing some assumptions about how/what Zohra is thinking? ( i refer to you mentioning “as a convenient get-out clause in these debates”) we don’t necessarily know she is a ‘devout muslim’ and maybe we shouldn’t make those assumptions? I find these ‘debates’ are often usually clouded by people making assumptions about other’s religiosity, or what it is they’re trying to achieve. I mean personally i’ve not been able to ask many people questions about all this because too often people assume i am trying to ‘say something bad about islam’ and it gets their backs up. of course i realize the way i go about it may have something to do with it, and i probably need be more aware of that and do something to change that.

    152. sonia — on 7th March, 2007 at 12:17 pm  

      oops, i meant up there ‘ i hear what you’re saying Kobayashi’ not ‘to’..

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