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Muslim Denomination Map 8, September 2011

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I always like a good map.

Hat tip: MS

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One woman’s experiment: taking off the hijab 31, May 2011

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The ever informative @blakehounshell pointed me (and all other Twitter followers) to an article written by a Muslim lady who decided as an experiment to take off her hijab to see how it feels.

Here is the link to the fascinating and superbly written article. It’s well worth a read. Some of the best bits are below with one or two really rather profound turns of phrase. This is one of the best things (and certainly best written things) that I’ve read in yonks.

Why is the hijab considered obligatory in Islam for women? Is it really obligatory or was it just something that a group of men decided was most appropriate for women of that time and age to protect them? Does what applied more than 1400 years ago still apply now? And if so, why? Does a woman really need to cover herself from head to toe to avoid being harassed or being seen as a sex object?

I had been traveling around the world for ten years and while doing so I observed women, how they dressed, and how men reacted. The conclusion I always came to was that women all over the world were wearing what they wanted to wear and for the most part were not treated inappropriately because of how they dressed but rather how certain people reacted to dress based on their own convictions. What I noticed is that no matter what a woman wears, there are some people out there who treat women inappropriately. There are men who will harass women that are scantily dressed and men who will harass women covered from head to toe. There are people – men and women – who treat women with disgust because they are scantily dressed and other people – men and women – who treat women with disgust because they are covered from head to toe.

So one morning while in Barcelona, I decided to leave my hotel room wearing a short-sleeved shirt, jeans and no scarf on my head.

I went to the breakfast hall and immediately felt that I was invisible. I had become accustomed to being noticed – just ever so slightly – as a woman wearing hijab in Europe…For the first time in my traveling years, I wasn’t noticed. And I IMMEDIATELY missed the attention. I was a bit hurt, I must admit.

I then tried walking around on the streets of Barcelona and did some shopping. Nothing. I was just one person amidst thousands on those streets and in those shops. Had I always been one person among thousands? Was I always this invisible?

No matter what I wore, there were still the rude people, the nice people, and the we-could-care-less people.

I tried the same experiment in London and got the same reaction of no reaction.

Two things did happen as I walked around these two European cities without the head scarf. But they were internal.

I felt that a Nadia I had known years ago reappeared. It was high school Nadia. Nadia before the hijab. It wasn’t that I had felt young again. It was more like I had figuratively peeled away some layers to bring back a person I was many many years ago. It was refreshing.

I’m back home in Cairo, wearing my hijab. I don’t feel regret for having experimented. And I don’t currently feel like I want to permanently take off my hijab. There are a few reasons I feel that way. I don’t expect people’s reactions to me taking off the hijab in Egypt – people I know – to be positive or supportive or we-could-care-less. There would be lots of drama involved and I don’t know that I’m up for that. There’s also a part of me that still feels that the hijab might be obligatory. Maybe God really does want me to cover up from head to toe. I still need to figure that one out.

Ramadan’s excesses 6, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Kuwait, Qatar.
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After living in Kuwait I confess that I was left with a slightly sour taste during Ramadan. As far as I understand things – please correct me if I am incorrect – Ramadan is a time of reflection and a time to think of those who are less fortunate that yourself. This is primarily why people fast; to foster a feeling of hungry empathy, so to speak.

Therefore, to binge on food at a gloriously laid out opulent banquet every evening (countless such examples can be found across the City) seems, to me, to miss the point.

Figures from Qatar reinforce the point. Apparently, food consumption increases three times during the month with small families (5 people) spending on average £2700 on feasts.

Dutifully not eating and drinking with the full knowledge that there’s a whopping meal in x hours doesn’t seem to be overly pious to me.

Fatwas to be vetted by Ministry 3, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Saudi Arabia.
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In a potentially devastating blow to bloggers looking for an easy laugh and post at the expense of absurd Saudi muftis, it appears that Saudi is establishing a kind of fatwa quality control system. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs has decreed that they will now have to sift through proposed fatwas by Islamic scholars before they can be widely published by the media.

Quite astutely […] some Islamic cleric in the Ministry or other noticed that absurd random fatwa issuing over trivial issues “gives a bad impression about the Kingdom being an Islamic state.” Do you think!

Still, panic not blog readers and other consumers of such silly fatwas, I’m sure that the Ministry will let through a few special ones to keep the lunatic fringe happy. Inshallah.

Hat tip: Abstract JK

Manchester United: ‘evil’ 2, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
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Finally, after many years of insistence, I have clerical proof when I say that Manchester Unites are evil. Muslim scholars in Malaysia, in a superb effort to distance themselves from the tens of millions of football-loving youngsters across Asia, have announced that the devil on United shirts is “very dangerous”.

Devils are our enemies. Why would you put their picture on you and wear it? You are only promoting the devil.

Said some literalist idiot mufti.

Muslims: ‘need to move beyond Medieval laws’ 10, July 2010

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There’s an excellent op-ed in the Times of London regarding the recent saga around the stoning of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

She was accused of adultery and sentenced to be stoned to death. On appeal and amid international uproar at this barbaric medieval absurdity the sentence was commuted and is under review.

Ed Hussain of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation, situates Iran’s current attitude in light of their rather more enlightened history. He also points out – if it needed to be pointed out [which, I fear, it does] – that stoning is as anathema to the vast majority of Muslims around the world as it is typically to Christian and Jewish societies.

Interesting stuff and worth a two minutes of your time.

Saudi male breastfeeding saga continues 14, June 2010

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No, the title is not one long typo. It is instead an end product of institutionalized literalism at the expense of analysis, reason and education that one finds in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Several months ago, a Saudi cleric, Sheikh Al Obeikan, was discussing a fatwa from an Egyptian ‘scholar’ studying at the Arab world’s best and most revered University, the Al Azhar, which decreed that men who regularly come into contact with women who are not close/blood relations ought to drink some of their breast milk to make the situation less ‘haram‘/wrong.

Al Obeikah, who is an adviser to the royal court and a consultant (!) to the Ministry of Justice, agreed with the Egyptian fatwa. However, in the interest of good taste and decency he did say that men did not need to suckle directly at the breast of the woman and that it was perfectly legitimate for the woman to give the man a cup of her breast milk to drink: quite the 21st century man.

All men that lived in the same house as a woman or those that regularly ‘come into contact with a woman’ must drink her juice, he decreed. But not male drivers who are, for some reason or other (no doubt a wholly racist one), exempt from mandatory breast milk imbibition: another form of discrimination for them to cope with.

However, aghast at the barbarism and modern thinking of the reckless Al Obeikan, Abi Isaq Al Huwaini decreed that such men must literally suckle at the breast directly. This prompted a thirsty pervert of a bus driver in Saudi Arabia to demand a suck, so to speak, off a regular female passenger.

Hat tip: MT

‘Islam needs a reformation’ 22, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Saudi Arabia.
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You must read this article in the LA Times. It is written by a Saudi former jihadi and is unusually good. Sultan Al Qasseimi, one of the Emirate’s best known public intellectuals (to whom I own a hat tip for this nukta), describes it as ‘the most important contemporary article written by a Muslim’.

Islam needs a Reformation. It needs someone with the courage of Martin Luther.

This is the belief I’ve arrived at after a long and painful spiritual journey. It’s not a popular conviction — it has attracted angry criticism, including death threats, from many sides. But it was reinforced by Sept. 11, 2001, and in the years since, I’ve only become more convinced that it is critical to Islam’s future.

Muslims are too rigid in our adherence to old, literal interpretations of the Koran. It’s time for many verses — especially those having to do with relations between Islam and other religions — to be reinterpreted in favor of a more modern Islam. It’s time to accept that God loves the faithful of all religions. It’s time for Muslims to question our leaders and their strict teachings, to reach our own understanding of the prophet’s words and to call for a bold renewal of our faith as a faith of goodwill, of peace and of light.

I didn’t always think this way. Once, I was one of the extremists who clung to literal interpretations of Islam and tried to force them on others. I was a jihadist.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia. When I was 16, I found myself assailed by doubts about the existence of God. I prayed to God to give me the strength to overcome them. I made a deal with Him: I would give up everything, devote myself to Him and live the way the prophet Muhammad and his companions had lived 1,400 years ago if He would rid me of my doubts.

I joined a hard-line Salafi group. I abandoned modern life and lived in a mud hut, apart from my family. Viewing modern education as corrupt and immoral, I joined a circle of scholars who taught the Islamic sciences in the classical way, just as they had been taught 1,200 years ago. My involvement with this group led me to violence, and landed me in prison. In 1991, I took part in firebombing video stores in Riyadh and a women’s center in my home town of Buraidah, seeing them as symbols of sin in a society that was marching rapidly toward modernization.

Yet all the while, my doubts remained. Was the Koran really the word of God? Had it really been revealed to Muhammad, or did he create it himself? But I never shared these doubts with anyone, because doubting Islam or the prophet is not tolerated in the Muslim society of my country.

By the time I turned 26, much of the turmoil in me had abated, and I made my peace with God. At the same time, my eyes were opened to the hypocrisy of so many who held themselves out as Muslim role models. I saw Islamic judges ignoring the marks of torture borne by my prison comrades. I learned of Islamic teachers who molested their students. I heard devout Muslims who never missed the five daily prayers lying with ease to people who did not share their extremist beliefs.

In 1999, when I was working as an imam at a Riyadh mosque, I happened upon two books that had a profound influence on me. One, written by a Palestinian scholar, was about the struggle between those who deal pragmatically with the Koran and those who take it and the hadith literally. The other was a book by a Moroccan philosopher about the formation of the Arab Muslim way of thinking.

The books inspired me to write an article for a Saudi newspaper arguing that Muslims have the right to question and criticize our religious leaders and not to take everything they tell us for granted. We owe it to ourselves, I wrote, to think pragmatically if our religion is to survive and thrive.

That article landed me in the center of a storm. Some men in my mosque refused to greet me. Others would no longer pray behind me. Under this pressure, I left the mosque.

I moved to the southern city of Abha, where I took a job as a writer and editor with a newly established newspaper. I went back to leading prayers at the paper’s small mosque and to writing about my evolving philosophy. After I wrote articles stressing our right as Muslims to question our Saudi clerics and their interpretations and to come up with our own, officials from the kingdom’s powerful religious establishment complained, and I was banned from writing.

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave new life to what I had been saying. I went back to criticizing the rote manner in which we Muslims are fed our religion. I criticized al-Qaeda’s school of thought, which considers everyone who isn’t a Salafi Muslim the enemy. I pointed to examples from Islamic history that stressed the need to get along with other religions. I tried to give a new interpretation to the verses that call for enmity between Muslims and Christians and Jews. I wrote that they do not apply to us today and that Islam calls for friendship among all faiths.

I lost a lot of friends after that. My old companions from the jihad felt obliged to declare themselves either with me or against me. Some preferred to cut their links to me silently, but others fought me publicly, issuing statements filled with curses and lies. Once again, the paper came under great pressure to ban my writing. And I became a favorite target on the Internet, where my writings were lambasted and labeled blasphemous.

Eventually I was fired. But by then, I had started to develop a different relationship with God. I felt that He was moving me toward another kind of belief, where all that matters is that we pray to God from the heart. I continued to pray, but I started to avoid the verses that contain violence or enmity and only used the ones that speak of God’s mercy and grace and greatness. I remembered an incident in the Koran when the prophet told a Bedouin who did not know how to pray to let go of the verses and get closer to God by repeating, “God is good, God is great.” Don’t sweat the details, the prophet said.

I felt at peace, and no longer doubted His existence.

In December 2002, in a Web site interview, I criticized al-Qaeda and declared that some of the Friday sermons were loathsome because of their attacks against non-Muslims. Within days, a fatwa was posted online, calling me an infidel and saying that I should be killed. Once again, I felt despair at the ways of the Muslim world. Two years later, I told al-Arabiya television that I thought God loves all faithful people of different religions. That earned me a fatwa from the mufti of Saudi Arabia declaring my infidelity.

But one evening not long after that, I heard a radio broadcast of the verse of light. Even though I had memorized the Koran at 15, I felt as though I was hearing this verse for the first time. God is light, it says, the universe is illuminated by His light. I felt the verse was speaking directly to me, sending me a message. This God of light, I thought, how could He be against any human? The God of light would not be happy to see people suffer, even if they had sinned and made mistakes along the way.

I had found my Islam. And I believe that others can find it, too. But first we need a Reformation similar to the Protestant Reformation that Martin Luther led against the Roman Catholic Church.

In the late 14th century, Islam had its own sort of Martin Luther. Ibn Taymiyya was an Islamic scholar from a hard-line Salafi sect who went through a spiritual crisis and came to believe that in time, God would close the gates of hell and grant all humans, regardless of their religion, entry to his everlasting paradise. Unlike Luther, however, Ibn Taymiyya never openly declared this revolutionary belief; he shared it only with a small, trusted circle of students.

Nevertheless, I find myself inspired by Luther’s courageous uprising. I see what Islam needs — a strong, charismatic personality who will lead us toward reform, and scholars who can convince Islamic communities of the need for a bold new interpretation of Islamic texts, to reconcile us with the wider world.

South Park & the Mohammed cartoon 25, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam.
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The creators of South Park the highly irreverent US cartoon have been forced to censor a cartoon from depicting the Prophet Mohammed. They did this after receiving threats to their lives and in the wake of the attacks on the Danish cartoonist who penned the now infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons.

This whole issue is fraught with contention and I have sympathies on both sides.

I see no reason as to why people in the West feel the need to prove their freedom of expression by purposefully going out of their way to insult other people in a way that they know perfectly well will cause offense and hurt. In these instances, I believe that the production of such cartoons has less to do with promoting and protecting the West’s freedom of expression and more to do with publicity, a desire to purposefully provoke a negative reaction and to try to make certain Muslims paint themselves and by association swathes of those following their religion as foolish barbarians.

Yet I find the idea whole idea of ‘I am insulted’ to be deeply annoying and unconvincing, as if people have a right not to be insulted. I am offended by countless things on a daily basis. I fervently hate the headlines on the Daily Mail, I am truly offended when the BNP try to speak for me as a white Briton and I deeply resent the fact that I was/am reticent about writing this. Some Muslims may say that it is different for them as I cannot possibly understand just how offensive it truly is to insult the Prophet Mohammed: how offensive! They don’t know the strength of my personal convictions. Yet I do not send death threats. I take the mature approach and moan a bit on my blog.

There is also, of course, the eternal question of just how many Muslims are offended by these cartoons. I’ll rephrase that, I am sure that all Muslims are offended by negative depictions of Mohammed, yet I wonder how many take my more philosophical approach as opposed to the militant bleating.

If you want to see the cartoon picture in question click here. (Mohammed’s the one in the middle…). If you want to see some more cartoons try here. If you’re likely to be offended by the cartoons, don’t click on the links.

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It’s all sorted now: Saudi denounces all terrorism 14, April 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Islam, Saudi Arabia.
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The Council of Supreme Scholars, the highest religious body in Saudi Arabia, has issued a fatwa denouncing any and all acts of terrorism including its financing. Those giving money towards such causes will now be considered to be “partners” in the crime.

Whilst this decree is a positive step in the right direction, there are three reasons to hold back with the balloons and party-poppers.

Firstly, it is important to note the precise wording of the fatwa. Terrorism is defined as acts

targeting public resources, hijacking planes or blowing up buildings.

I would suggest, therefore, that this fatwa has been demanded by Saudi’s political establishment to stop those planning to attack Saudi’s oil infrastructure. To the best of my knowledge, it doesn’t mention the killing of innocent people, ergo, it’s a joke.

Secondly, does anyone really think that a terrorist in, for example, Saudi will desist from attacking some “public resource” because Saudi’s clerics have said it’s illegal and haram? Surely 99% of such people ipso facto hate Saudi’s clerics and don’t listen to a word they say. They see them (correctly) as a tool* of the ruling family and surely wouldn’t pay any attention to such a fatwa.

Thirdly, many fatwas are utterly ridiculous. Any religious authority can issue one. Granted, a fatwa from Saudi’s religious authority will carry more weight than most (probably) but still they are, it seems to me, wholly flimsy. Here are a few of the best fatwas that I’ve come across: (Hat tip)

[Incidentally, none of these are from crazy, no-name Imams…]

  • The Fatwa: Grand Mufti Sheikh Ibn Baaz  The Sun Revolves Around the Earth

    In a 2000 Fatwa titled “The Transmitted and Sensory Proofs of the Rotation of the Sun and Stillness of the Earth”, Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti Sheikh Ibn Baaz asserted that the earth was flat and disk-like and that the sun revolved around it. He had insisted that satellite images to the contrary were nothing but a Western conspiracy against the Islamic world.

  • The Fatwa: Ezzat Attiya: Adult Breastfeeding in the Workplace

    In May 2007, Ezzat Attiya wondered how unrelated men and women could work together in the same office, when Islam forbids men and women who aren’t married or related to be alone together. His answer: let her suckle him FIVE TIMES. Yes, that’s right, an adult female breastfeeding an adult male coworker will defuse all sexual tension in the office. See, the female worker will now be the male worker’s foster mother, and they can be alone together anytime. Attiya’s ruling was intergalactically mocked, and quickly condemned on the homefront as well. He was later suspended from his job, pilloried in Arab newspapers, and issued a hasty retraction saying it was a “bad interpretation of a particular case.”

  • Muhammad Al-Munajid: Bring Me the Head of Mickey Mouse

    That’s right, somebody put on hit on Mickey Mouse. Calling Mickey “one of Satan’s soldiers,” Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid decreed that household mice and their cartoon cousins must be “killed in all cases”, according to the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph.

    And get this—the guy’s not your average nutjob, either—Munajid used to be a former diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Washington D.C. He made the remarks on Arab television network al-Majd TV after he was asked to give Islam’s teaching on mice.

    But don’t worry, Mickey won’t be alone. Munajid also put a hit on Jerry from “Tom and Jerry”. Maybe they could rent a flat with Salman Rushdie (above).

  • The Fatwa: Rashad Hassan Khalil: No Nudity for Sex

    In 2007, the former dean of Islamic law at al-Azhar University in Cairo issued a fatwa that nudity during sexual intercourse invalidates a marriage between husband and wife. Debate was immediate. Suad Saleh, head of the women’s department of Al-Azhar’s Islamic studies, pleaded for “anything that can bring spouses closer to each other” and Islamic scholar Abdel Muti concurred, saying “Nothing is prohibited during marital sex, except of course sodomy.”
    For his part, Al-Azhar’s fatwa committee chairman Abdullah Megawar backpedaled and said that married couples could see each other naked but should really cover up with a blanket during sex.

*I do not mean this in a flippant way. The nexus between the ruling Al Sauds and the clerical authorities is a fascinating and symbiotic relationship. Each needs the other to maintain their power. Each wants to gain more power than the other. Their relative powers have waxed and waned for hundreds of years now. In a time when the Al Sauds need the Wahabbi clerics to sanction something (such as the stationing of US troops on US soil) they need, the Clerics charge a price according to how ‘much an ask’ that is. In this example, one noted author described this as the descent of Saudi society into “bottomless Islamisation” as the Al Sauds were demanding a staggering broad ranging and unpopular fatwa. Therefore, the Wahabbis seized this opportunity to take control of education and other social services and to bolster their vice and virtue police while they were in the ascendancy. So, in short, I firmly believe that Saudi religious authorities would say absolutely anything if the price was right.