Monday, July 18, 2011

Believe Me When I Tell You I Am a Feminist

In the last couple of months I have been hanging out with a lot more feminists than usual. I would hope that everyone I hung out with were feminists and they would be, if they knew what it meant. Feminists have stereotypes associated with them just like any other group of people. Feminists have been portrayed as bra-burning, man-hating, masculine looking women with their mouths wide open in pictures. While at moments I do feel like burning my bras and hating men, that's just me and is not what feminism is really all about. Feminism is about defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights and equal opportunities for women and men. So I am sure you are all reading this and nodding your heads in agreement and probably have just confirmed that you too are a feminist! You are probably wondering where I am taking this, no controversy here, we all seem to be on the same page, right? Wrong.

For some strange reason, I am always asked about feminism under the assumption that its incompatible with who I am. When women or men ask me if I identify as a feminist and I agree their eyes light up and they look at me as some sort of freed woman, that I have overcome oppression, I am a brave soul and I have defied my people and have joined the other side, the right side - the one that doesn't oppress women. The assumption is that feminism is incompatible with Islam. How can one be a feminist and a Muslim? It just doesn't make sense?!

It actually is a fact and makes perfect sense that Islam is a religion of feminists for feminists. 

Let's go back to the days of my beloved Prophet Muhammad (ASA). His wife, Aisha has inspired Muslim women for centuries. She was a scholar, a poet, a jurist, a politician and a military commander who led entire armies. She was the one woman that the Prophet was closest to, the one he chose to spend his final hours with.  It was under Aisha's house in Medina that he was buried. But it didn't not end with Aisha. There have been countless Muslim women who have changed the course of history. They include Khadija, the Prophet's first wife, who was 15 years older than him (yes, what we would now call a cougar), a wealthy businesswoman who employed young Muhammad as her caravan leader, and ultimately proposed marriage to him (yes this was like centuries ago and she asked him). Khadija was the first convert to Islam and its strongest supporter. She convinced an initially self-doubting Prophet Muhammad (ASA) that his vision of Angel Gabriel was a real spiritual experience, and provided him the emotional and economic support to launch a spiritual movement that would create a global civilization (she was kinda like his sugar mama).

Many great Muslim women followed the wives of the prophet and the stories are endless. I am always more than happy to tell the stories that inspire me to be the woman I am today. Like the story of  the Sufi mystic  Rabia Al-Basri who challenged the corruption of the Caliphs of Baghdad in the 8th century or the story of the  Turkish slave girl Shajarat Al-Durr who became Sultana of Egypt and launched the Mamlouk dynasty that halted the Mongol invasion of the West in the 13th century. The iron queen Nur Jahan, Empress of Mughal India, who rivaled Queen Elizabeth I as the most powerful woman on earth.

Not only are there countless feminists in Islamic history, Islam as a religion is built on many feminist principles around equality and economic empowerment of women. In Islam, when a marriage is performed, there is a dowry and an alimony amount that is negotiated. Some may say that's not empowering at all and a feminist would and should be shh (shaking her head). Some say it's as if fathers are selling their daughters. I say it's a security deposit for women. How many stories of women who are divorced, left with children that you heard of over the years that had to start their lives over with nothing. I am sure all women would prefer to start their marriages with some economic security. Of course this practice is relative to the different cultural backgrounds - some dowries are more exaggerated than others but the foundational principle is that there must be a dowry for the wife. There is also a mitekhir (alimony lump sum - that's all I could think of to explain it in the simplest terms) that is paid to the woman upon a divorce, if that were to happen. Also in Islam, a woman who works outside of the home does not have to provide assistance with household expenses unless she wants to. Actually this sounds to me like its more oppressive for the men than for the women. If a women inherits money or land from her late parents she does not have to share any of her profits with her husband. Now many of you are thinking, ok that sounds all great and dandy but why don't I start talking about the other things that are oppressive. Separating men and women in prayer areas at mosques is oppressive and disempowering? Now we are talking. Actually this act of separating women and men in prayer areas is quite empowering and its intention is to protect women. When we pray, we must perform different prostrations that require us to bend over. As women, we all know how it feels to be walking by a construction site in the streets of NYC and getting street harrassed by men who stop everything they are doing to cat call and whistle at women walking by and might I add walking upright. Imagine being in a mosque, in a house of worship, where you're entire focus is on God and prayer and long and behold there is a group of women lined up in front of the men bending over? Need I say more. The explanation is that simple.

You can debate me on wearing hijabs and burqas, honor killings, child brides, etc. Let's  keep in mind the distinction between cultural traditions and religion which is always lost in translation or not depending on who the hatemonger is that is spitting it.

By now you should have gotten my point - I am a feminist and the reason I am a feminist is because I am a Muslim. So next time, believe me when I tell you I am a feminist.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

My Response to Ray Hanania re: his blog entry "The Extremist Arabs Always Attack First And Ask Questions Later

Haven't blogged in a while but feel the need to now. This week ADC (American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee) uninvited Malek Jandali, a world renowned German Born Syrian composer from performing at their convention because of board member ties to the Syrian regime. They said his song "Watani Ana" was critical of the Syrian government and they did not want to create divisiveness at their annual convention amongst their attendees. The song does not mention Syria or any other Arab country but speaks of freedom and justice. I will post a link to the song below. Anyway, Arab activists across the country were appalled by this decision to not allow Malek perform and we spoke out. All we asked was for ADC to provide a statement clearly laying out the reasons why they disinvited Malek. Their statement did not answer that very simple question which caused activists to continue pushing the change of leadership in ADC. A national board member of ADC, Ray Hanania, wrote the following blog entry:

Since my response to his blog entry is still pending approval, I will share it with you here:

Mr. Hanania – do not paint those who disagree with you with a broad paint brush. I am no extremist and I don’t need to prove myself to you or anyone else. The folks that started this campaign re: the Jandali controversy were not Kabobfest or Ali Abunimah, they just helped disseminate the information and might have added their two cents which they are entitled to. The people who were outraged were mainstream moderate activists, a group you claim to belong to. I don’t care if you are Jewish, Christian, Queer or whatever – if you stand for justice, built with dignity, and work with integrity than I can call you a fellow comrade. You unfortunately don’t always fit into this formula. ADC is failing? Financially bankrupt? dropped out of the mainstream in the last few years? You are a board member – why is that?? Your blogpost just fuels the fire more and as a responsible board member to an organization I hope that you are loyal to you should have had an emergency meeting and came up with an emergency response to lessen the damages. You could have ended this by putting out a statement that simply answered the question why was Jandali uninvited? Board members could have reached out to key people to have a discussion, clarifications – but u chose to ignore us and hope we go away. You didn’t even have the courtesy to do that. And to say that ADC is not a political organization and for the last 25 years or so Palestine has been on your agenda (I am not complaining because I am Palestinian, not that I have always agreed with the stands but thats ok) – what’s the difference with Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya? You are an Arab organization so I hope you represent all Arabs. You are the first to beat on other Arab American activists when they don’t agree or when they criticize ur views – yup ur the culprit of ur own claim against others – you just can’t handle the taste of ur own medicine. So unfortunate. We, Mr. hanania are the next generation, it is our generation that ignited the revolutions in the Middle East, it is our generation that will change US Foreign policy, it is our generation that will bring back a Palestinian State for the Palestinian people, not you. You r not the voice of the Arab American community. Get it. embrace it.

This is the link to the song "Watani Ana" by Malek Jandali:

We, members of the Arab American community are demanding the resignation of Safah Rifka and Ray Hanania from the ADC National Board.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I Am a Tahrir Protester

I, as most Arabs around the world have been glued to my computer, blackberry and television watching history unfold in the Middle East. It started in Tunisia with a man setting himself on fire, sacrificing himself his family his future for the future of others. We are now seeing the same thing happen in Egypt. Regular people like you and me fighting for freedom, for their God given rights. In both Tunisia and Egypt and other parts of the Arab world you see students, mothers, fathers, educated, uneducated, rich, poor, Muslim, Christian stand together with the same goals, same hopes, same aspirations. During the past 16 days of protest in Egypt, I had many sleepless nights but this time it was different than the usual sleepless nights due to work stress. This time I stayed up and reflected on myself and my role in the world and how I related to what was happening in Egypt. I imagined the characteristics of the protesters. People who were fed up and could no longer sit back and watch their future and the future of their children remain hostage to injustice and oppression. The protesters are sacrificing their time, lives, jobs, education and their own personal interests for the interests of their nation. This historical episode has made me realize why I chose the path that I live today. I chose to live a life where I can fight injustices, give voice to the voiceless and provide service to those less fortunate. I chose an honorable lifestyle over a fat paycheck although the work that activists do on a daily basis is priceless. I chose to inspire and uplift my community, cultivate and develop the next generation of leaders because that's what a leader does and I am a leader. I am so grateful to the Tunisians, the Egyptians for reaffirming the choices I have made, reaffirming who I am and who I strive to be. I pray for the day when true and genuine democracy rings throughout the entire world and most dear in my heart, Palestine.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Now Sarah Palin Knows How I Feel

So there's a map, it has twenty targets identified with crosshairs, a target gets shot along with 6 other people, target happens to be a political figure, the map which was online was taken down immediately after the incident, a bit suspicious, ey? - are you following me so far? Let's just say hypothetically speaking that that map was connected to a 30 year old Muslim American of Palestinian descent from Brooklyn, New York. Our immediate response - we have ourselves the mastermind behind this heinous terrorist attack and we must hold him in contempt, solitary confinement, hey, maybe we will even send him to Guantanamo.

As you know, the map, the target list it didn't belong to a Muslim American, it belonged to our very own Patriotic American, Sarah Palin and friends. Where is Sarah Palin now? She's at home in Alaska updating her twitter and facebook. Oh and mainstream media, elected officials, and heads of federal bureaus of law enforcement have not characterized this shooting as a terrorist attack, why? The culprit wasn't a Muslim, he was a white guy from Arizona. He's just mentally unstable. Do you remember the pilot John Stacks who flew his plane into an IRS building, a federal building, he was just disgruntled with the IRS and their bureacracy. He probably didn't get the refund he wanted so flying a plane into a federal building was the most rational thing for him to do. How about Major Nidal Hassan, shooter in the Fort Hood attack, crazy guy, shot innocent Americans? Remember him? He was labeled a terrorist, an animal, connected to Al Qaeda, he had an email as evidence that he was following some type of orders. Let's look at Jared Loughner, our Arizona killer/shooter, angry American, inspired by books about Hitler. Photos on MySpace show a close-up picture of an automatic handgun sitting atop a book or paper titled United States History. This picture is accompanied by several videos posted to Loughner's Youtube account, including one of a masked man burning a U.S. flag and another with the words, "Don't trust the current government, listener!"

Maybe I am just bias but other than the facts that Loughner is white and NOT Muslim, there is no reason why Jared Loughner should not be tried for terrorism and labeled a notorious terrorist that is a national security threat to our entire country. And quite frankly since Guantanamo Bay is still open, another broken promise by our dear President Obama - we should send him there. Um, maybe not. If he hates America so much now, imagine how he'd feel knowing what goes on with detainees within the walls of Guantanamo.

So let's get back to Sarah Palin and friends. They are appalled that they are being unjustly blamed for the act of this extremist! Its almost deja vu for all Muslim Americans. Get this Palin, Muslim Americans feel the same way everytime some extremist acts in the name of our religion. Our media portrays us as unpatriotic while government develops policies that stomp on our civil liberties. The American public and the world than wait for the Muslim Community (1.5 billion people) to condemn these acts of violence. National Muslim organizations, local organizations, community leaders send out press releases to do just that. Who in the Christian community condemned publicly on behalf of all Christians the terrorist attacks of Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City Bomber, or the white guy in Milwaukee who held 24 students and teachers hostage, or John Stacks who flew his plane into a Federal Building, and many more serial killers and rapists.

So I can't believe I am going to say this but; Sarah Palin, I feel you. I know how you're feeling. Why should you be blamed for the attempted murder of Congresswoman Giffords and the other 6 who were shot dead? You only had a map, and you identified these targets, and you have only been instilling fear into people, using hateful and spiteful rhetoric, pinning parties against eachother and a few other things. The interesting thing is I was never directly or indirectly or assumed even involved in previous terrorist attacks but I still become a representative of the Muslim Ummah and I must speak out, if I don't speak out my silence will be attributed to my approval of these acts.

Now you know how Muslim Americans feel when one Muslim commits an attack on all of us, and we, as Muslim Americans have to unjustly take the blame. It doesn't feel good does it? What goes around comes around and now Sarah Palin can stand in the shoes of Linda Sarsour and many other loyal Americans in the Muslim community.