Hijab not obligatory? Fact or fiction?

Recently, there have been reports that a PhD student at Al-Azhar University (probably the most well-respected Sunni Muslim religious institution), Sheikh Mustafa Mohammad Raashed, had published an accepted thesis that ultimately declared that the hijab (headscarf) was not obligatory for Muslim women. There are skeptics about this report as the full text of thesis is not available. However, the news does bring up some interesting questions. First and foremost, even if the doctoral thesis was accepted, does that mean that Al-Azhar endorses the point of view? Just because a student publishes something, does that mean that the head jurists also accept the view and will adopt it? Keep in mind that this debate can only be had if the dissertation does, in fact, exist. There have been reports that the dissertation, and even the student, do not exist. The well-known American-Muslim scholar (who spent some time at Al-Azhar), Imam Suhaib Webb posted this on his facebook page condemning the validity of the story:

If the story turns about to be valid, I am curious to see what this means for the relationship between the student’s work and the institution. Can a PhD thesis from Al-Azhar be equated to a fatwa? If the board okays the thesis, does that mean they support the conclusion or are they merely applauding the efforts of the researcher? Let’s see how this thing plays out.

For those who are interested, here are links to some more in-depth looks at the hijab “debate”

http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2012/06/45564/hijab-is-not-an-islamic-duty-scholar/ (previous arguments used to justify that hijab is not obligatory)

http://www.onislam.net/english/ask-the-scholar/fiqh/449534-hijab.html (position of Shaykh from Al-Azhar)

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The House (lack of) Intelligence Committee

This will be a brief post because not much needs to be said about the fact that my favorite member of congress, Michele Bachmann (wackjob-MN) serves on the House Intelligence Committee. I wonder how embarrassed this committee must be right now as Bachmann continues to spew discriminatory hate-filled anti-Muslim rhetoric. Her conspiracy theories get more and more absurd to the point where even speaker of the house, John Boehner has denounced her allegations. God help this country is she is re-elected. Surely, the people of Minnesota have to be smarter than this. 

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Islam as a “conservative” religion?

Asalamu Alaikom and a Ramadan Kareem to all. I apologize for my hiatus, but I had to tend to some family obligations the past two weeks. Nontheless, it is time to catch up on what we have missed in the past two weeks (aka time for me to rant about conversations and readings I have encountered recently).

I shall begin with a scenario that occurred roughly two weeks ago. A friend and I were discussing various community issues and social spaces (and the discrimination sometimes found within them) in the American Muslim community. The conversation steered towards the taboo subject of homosexuality and homosexuals in Islam. While I would not like to delve into details of the debate, we both came to the conclusion that bigotry resulting from heterosexism unfortunately alienates LGBTQ Muslims within Muslim spaces, often to the point where they must choose ridicule or the rejection of faith. When I said that this was a phenomenon that needed to be combated, my friend responded with a statement that I found extremely puzzling. He said something along the lines of, “Like it or not, Islam is, and has always been, a conservative religion.” Not wanting to get into a debate regarding semantics via text message, I let this statement go unchecked. However, it has been bothering me for weeks, and I would like to address it now.

I do not know exactly but what is meant by “Islam being conservative.” Perhaps this idea results because we cannot escape our own tempocentric understandings of the liberal/conservative binaries. So what makes Islam conservative? Does it favor Bush tax cuts? Is it opposed to a strong, central government (bad news for those who want to reinstate a global caliphate, right?)? Is Islam socially conservative? Is it anti-choice? What is meant by the term conservative?

When people claim that Islam is a “conservative” religion, what I believe they truly mean is that it is a religion that values modesty. I cannot disagree with that as there is a famous hadith in Abu Dawood that says the following: “Every Deen has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty (haya).” However, what we must realize is the idea of modesty is specific to its cultural context and can be dictated by time, space, and even topography. Thus, modest behavior in one place on the planet is not necessarily modest practice in another. We are obsessed with finding cultural universalities that most likely do not exist. In doing so, we invent hierarchies of Muslims based on cultural understandings of modesty. This can place an emphasis on outward manifestations of faith that can alienate a sister who doesn’t wear hijab, a brother who does not have a beard (or wears shorts), an individual who doesn’t fit the heteronormative standard of gender performance, and other valuable members of our Muslim community.

I digress…

I understand where the conflation of “conservative” and “modest” may arise, but let us explore the claims that Islam has always been a “conservative” religion. I, personally, whole-heartedly disagree with that statement. In many regards, the message of Islam was an extremely radical one that came to challenge many societal norms of 7th century Arabia upon its inception. Many reforms introduced by Islam, even by today’s standards, would be described as “liberal” ones as Islam:

1) gave more rights to women (in terms of inheritance, property rights, right to life (female infanticide was a common practice at the times), etc)

2) began abolishing constructed racial hierarchies (by introducing reforms to slavery and encouraging its abolition)

3) challenged aristocratic privilege and plutocracy

4) challenged socially accepted views of masculinity (Islam discouraged the idea of muruwwa which emphasized bravery, pride, revenge and other aspects of patriarchy).

Even fiscally, the Muslim state (under command of Umar Bin Khattab), introduced the idea of bayt-ul-maal (house of money) which many historians refer to as the first modern welfare state. As it can be seen, Islam introduced reforms that were extremely “liberal” and progressive both in the social and fiscal realms.

Sadly, we have abandoned the importance of historical contextualization and have allowed the progressive dynamism of Islam to take a back seat to established, rigid (maybe antiquated?) rules. In terms of spirit, Islam was never intended to be summed up as a “conservative” message. Islam has always carried a message of social justice; of treating others with love and kindness. Islam came to challenge the customs of the ruling elite and reassess the status quo. Islam is inherently progressive. This Ramadan, as we see countless acts of violence and oppression, from Hama to Aurora, let us not forget Islam’s commitment to social justice.

I will end with a beautiful quote by Muslim poet Mark Gonzales found in the book All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim (which is a great read and should be read by all!):

“I love that infinite Justice is an attribute of Allah, for shedding oppression is the purest form of prayer.”

I pray that these words resonate with all Muslims during this holy month and for the rest of our lives. It is our duty to recognize our own privilege, as well as combat the oppression and discrimination we find around us. This is not to say that we must only combat Islamophobia, but we must oppose ALL oppression and discrimination. It is our duty to speak out against all types of unlawful hegemony because standing for any form of oppression, is still supporting oppression.

As an Arab, I apologize for not leaving when I said I would, but I will end (seriously this time) with another quote from the book mentioned earlier, this time by congressman Keith Ellison.

“Those who seek the divine want to make the world a better place.” He goes on to say this is best accomplished by service to humanity. This should be our goal: to serve God by ensuring the rights of all humans in the world regardless of race, creed, religion, gender, ability, or sexual orientation. Let us remember this purpose during Ramadan and keep on praying that we may one day achieve this goal. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.

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Wait, Islam is a religion? Louisiana Republican has to be reminded that it is

The state of Louisiana recently passed a voucher program that would allow for state funds to be used for religious schools. This seems to violate the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state, but Obama (and those damn liberals) have launched a war on religion, so it only makes sense to violate a core constitutional idea to make sure faith isn’t totally extinguished by that Muslim, Socialist, immigrant president.

The scenario, already humorous, became even more laughable, when Rep. Valarie Hodges (R-Watson) said she had no idea that the voucher to use these public funds for private schools included giving money to Muslim schools. She believed that the money would only be used to fund the religions of the “Founders.” (Someone should recommend that she read a biography of Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson to really see if she understands what the religious views of the “Founders” really were). Perhaps Hodges simply forgot that Islam is the second-largest religion in the world with nearly 2 billion followers. Honest mistake, right? Well, no, because she released the following statement after the passing of the bill:

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure (sic) that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.

Hodges turns to playing the radical Islamist card. No surprise here. All practicing Muslims are terrorists, right? If that is the case, then Hodges is funding terrorism by voting for this bill, no? Oh, wait, I forgot only Muslims can support terrorism. Congressmen Peter King (supporter of the IRA) and Newt Gingrich (applauding the MEK) can publicly hail terrorist groups without being accused of having ties to terrorism. However, when Arabs buy cell phone parts, it’s time to start finding the link to Al-Qaeda. Islamophobia is a result of ignorance, as can be seen by the actions and statements of Representative Hodges.

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On (falsely) appearing to be too “Westernized” for Muslim Communities

I recently came across an article in the Huffington Post discussing the idea of thinking of the West and Islam as having unrelated, separate histories. We seem to think of the West and Islam as being inherently in opposition. The West valuing progress while Islam valuing a seeminglystagnant tradition. Media often propagates these binaries and, unfortunately, so do our American and Muslim American communities.

As someone with a degree in the humanities, I often get into debates with friends and family over issues that often result in me being labeled “socially liberal.” Apparently, this also means that I am a “bad Muslim.” Often times, my friends and family look at me in dismay because in their eyes I have “sold out” and chosen the West over Islam, again thinking in the binary way discussed earlier. In their eyes, because I may be critical of gender segregation in Muslim spaces, that means I also value glamorizing alcohol consumption and American “hook-up” culture and my points are often delegitimized as coming from the mouth of a “western-pundit.” However, I am not stripped of all legitimacy because ultimately, I am not as big of a traitor as a sister who doesn’t wear hijab (she obviously doesn’t care about the Deen, right?) and am somewhat knowledgeable of the religion and its history.

I find it especially troubling to associate any critique I may have of my own community as solely influenced by Western thought. This is particularly troubling for me because I spent the past four years of my life writing papers criticizing White and Western hegemony, Euro-centrism in academia, and Western cultural imperialism. So no, my critiques (which are often far outnumbered by my praise) of my Muslim communities is not a result of me being “brain-washed” by “liberal” professors in Ann Arbor. I do not believe in cultural or civilizational hierarchies, so my critiques of my own community come from a genuine love and care for my American Muslim community, and not from a belief that “Western” thought or culture are somehow inherently superior  (there is a difference between leftist and Western). I love the Deen and this Ummah, but that does not mean it is perfect. I want to see it progress. I want to see it be dynamic. I want us all to be more and more proud to be Muslim every day. I want us to realize that Islam is demonized and I want us to do something about it. I would like to see us combat the false dichotomy between Islam and the West and further ideas of coexistence over isolation. I want to see Muslims leading domestic social justice endeavors. We are on the right path. I love this Ummah and would like to see it become as inclusive and understanding as possible. How dare you question my commitment and allegiance to the Ummah because I discuss taboo issues and attempt to combat forces of oppression found in (but definitely not limited to) our own Muslim communities?

The fact the people are willing to listen makes me optimistic. They don’t have to agree with what I have to say, but dialogue is important. However, the fact that people are willing to listen have made me slightly more aware of my male and Sunni privilege within Muslim communities. It is a shame that those two criteria allow people to take me more seriously, but I am glad that they do allow my voice to be heard. So I would like to end by saying that we should be aware of any voices being silenced within our own Muslim communities and why they are being hushed. How can we preach inclusivity when we aren’t thinking about who is being silenced and who is producing current Islamic knowledge? I hope we can continue to think critically and keep our minds open. Let us hear the voices of all Muslims and never forget the Islamic principles of love, mercy, equality, and social justice. 

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Muslim Brotherhood is “penetrating” the US government?

After Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi,officially became the first democratically-elected president of Egypt, it wasn’t long before idiots politicians, went on to renounce the elections (and renounce democracy), while also spewing Islamophobic rhetoric. Former presidential-hopeful Michelle Bachmann (lunatic-MN) channeled her inner Joseph McCarthy and publicly stated that the Muslim Brotherhood had “infiltrated” U.S. government and influenced policies. This, to her, is a trend welcomed by president Osama Obama.

What is most concerning about these ridiculous, conspiratory remarks, is the fact that they often go unquestioned. The “threat” of “Islamism” is even a more preposterous idea than Bachmann’s belief that the Earth is 6,000 years old. Have we learned nothing from the “Red Scare?”

Islamophobia is so prevalent in congress, that representatives like Alan West (R-FL) denounced the democratic process in Egypt because the Muslim Brotherhood had won the elections. West’s head almost exploded when it was proven to him that democracy and Islam could harmoniously coexist, going against all the propaganda that brainwashed him into being an Islamophobe. Rather than questioning his views, he resorted to hate-speech rather than have his beliefs challenged.

I simply do not understand how representatives like West claim the U.S. is an advocate and protector of global democracy then call to repudiate (“refudiate?”) democratic results. 

One thing I must say about these Islamophobes. They give us Muslims a lot of credit. For painting Muslims as backwards morons who know nothing about democracy and long to reinstate antiquarian ways of life, Muslims can effectively launch a “stealth internal Jihad” against the United States by engaging in government and influencing the democratic process. Does that make any sense?

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You look kinda dark, are you Hanafi?

Recently, I went to a farewell dinner thrown for one of the mentors I had growing up. There were many individuals present that I had never met, but I valued being in their presence because they were all somehow involved with youth-led American Muslim endeavors in their respective Michigan Muslim communities. Because I was acquainted with so few of the people, I drifted from clique to clique, on the look-out for potentially engaging conversations. I finally came to a group of men who had just been counselors at a Muslim youth camp in southeastern Michigan, and I was curious to hear their reflections, so I approached them.

As I found it slightly rude for joining mid-conversation, I politely asked if I could join, but the answer I received caught me off-guard.

“You look kind of dark, are you Hanafi?” one of the man asked me.

Somewhat baffled, I responded, “The majority of people in my masjid are Hanafi, and so is the Imam there, so I have some attachment to the madhab, however, I do not strictly follow a madhab. When I do, I usually follow the Malaki opinion, but in some cases, the Hanafi one.”

“Oh,” he said, “So you’re not Paki, right?”

I brushed off the seemingly racist remark (racism in our own communities is perhaps a post for another time), because I was curious to see why this man had asked me such an unexpected question.

He went on to recount stories during the camp where counselors following the Hanafi madhab scolded youth at the camp for actions acceptable in Islam, but at odds with the Hanafi madhab such as praying Asr at a certain time or wiping socks during wuduu’. I began to think that I, personally, would not have a problem if a counselor gave me this advice if he or she went on to explain that there were other acceptable opinions from other madhahib. However, I have seldom seen this be the case. I went to countless Muslim camps and Islamic schools while growing up, and I was not aware that different schools of fiqh existed until I was 18. It seems that the mentality is that youth are too stupid to understand that differences of opinion can exist and therefore must be taught that there is only one way to place your hands during prayer, one way to make wuduu’, and one way to place your toes and fingers while reciting the tahiyaat. This type of teaching overlooks one of the most beautiful characteristics of Islam, it’s plurality. The fact that Muslim youth are not made aware of this is a disservice to Islamic history and leads to petty arguments stemming solely for intolerance caused by ignorance. 

Yes, all these thoughts did occur in my head when the man told me these stories. However, his ‘holier than thou’ attitude of expressing his discontent, which expressed a distaste for all Hanafis, was ridiculous to me. Wasn’t his vilification of a group of Muslims even worse than omitting some information from some youth? Both acts were acts of intolerance to me; and stupid ones at that. 

This exchange reminded me of an event that transpired at a mosque near my house a few years ago. Like many American mosques, the masjid offered two jummah salahs to avoid over-crowding. It was winter, and I went to the second salah at 2:15. After the prayer was done, the Imam went on to lead Asr prayer as well. After the prayer, he was immediately scolded by a group of men who said that Asr should not have been prayed in congregation at that time because many of the mosque’s members followed the Hanafi madhab. There was a brief exchange that was handled well by the Imam with no clear resolution. 

The next week, the Imam addressed the incident in his khutbah. He retold a story of a time where Imam Shafi’i visited a mosque where a large percentage of the population followed the Hanafi madhab. Imam Shafi’i led the fajr prayer and respecting the fact mentioned in the previous sentence, did not recite the dua qunoot after the second raka’a. The take home message from the kuthbah was that we, first, have to be aware of the differences in our community, and, second, we must respect these differences. Respect can only come from understanding and these two qualities will bring the ummah closer together, not because differences are eliminated, but because they are understood and embraced.

With the current political climate in the United States that often carries anti-Muslim rhetoric that aims to infringe on the civil liberties of American Muslims, shouldn’t we as American Muslims join together to combat these sentiments rather than argue amongst one another and demonize one another over fiqhi issues that have already been debated by far more learned scholars centuries ago?

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