Tony Hoagland, “America” from What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland.
Tony Hoagland, “America” from What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland.
Maria Khan no longer wears the Muslim scarf and her story has nothing to do with the aftermath of 9/11 or religious discrimination.
“No hijab, no expectations. Plus I felt young and beautiful again.”
Her decision to abandon it was influenced by present-day ideas of conduct, beauty and femininity within her own community and while this discussion remains hush-hush, it is hardly an anomaly.
She was 18 years old when she first decided to wear the head scarf. Although she grew up in the Middle East, she is of Pakistani origin, where hijab is not as common and Khan’s decision was hardly inveigled by cultural influences.
Her mother wore it but had never suggested her daughter do so, and besides local Arabs, no one in her clique did. She wanted to cover her hair as a duty and to display her religious affiliation.
“It came very naturally to me,” she says. She moved to California in the late 90s to study at Stanford University and was wholly accepted by the student body as well as the faculty. She lived on campus and, if anything, felt “a little distinctive.”
Moreover, she was proud that her hijab clearly reflected her identity. And it was hardly a life-changing decision.
“I still loved fashion, I rode my bike everywhere, went to the gym and school parties, she said. “But it definitely protected me when I was younger … It guided me at a time when I was surrounded my temptations and served as a reminder of who I was and what I wasn’t supposed to be doing,” she laughs.
Hijab is not only being modest in dress but also in one’s actions and is also a source of spiritual enrichment. She loved displaying her religious affiliation but suddenly, after years of wearing it, she started disliking it. That is, when she graduated. Khan did not face any obstacles building a career; she had no trouble during the interview process or in landing jobs but when she began mingling with the Muslim community in the Bay Area she began feeling uncomfortable wearing it.
“They made me feel like I was giving hijabis a bad name.” she said. “I was constantly being judged because of the clothes I wore; if my sleeves were slightly short or a part of my neck was visible, people would just stare at me as if I was this bad girl. It was also the way I spoke or the kind of friends I had … had I not been wearing a scarf, I would probably have the best reputation.”
There are certain expectations from women wearing the Muslim head covering because they also represent Muslim thought. The majority of Muslim men from the Indian subcontinent living in the Bay Area agreed that the Islamic head covering is not just a piece of cloth but, to an extent, a moral pledge.
A Muslim-American of Indian ethnicity who wishes to remain anonymous said: “ … wearing a hijab does give her a higher responsibility to be mindful of her actions, particularly among non-Muslims. You then become a representative of your religion and even though we all have a duty to try and uphold the best values, in the case of wearing a hijab, or kufi, it becomes even more incumbent upon you to try and display the best of our religion, because you are invariably being judged and your actions are shaping people's opinions about our religion.”
Jahan Hamid, of Pakistani descent and living in California, is friends with several girls who wear the hijab and does not find it odd that they indulge in regular activities such as going to hookah lounges or befriending the opposite sex.
But he admits that, “from a slight different point of view, however, it does represent a more modest point of view and behavior. There is obviously a reason a person decides to wear it and with that action comes a perceived message of more religiosity.”
While it is reasonably established that hijab is considered a reflection of Muslim etiquette by a majority of American Muslims, at times the expectations become unrealistic and impractical, which is one of the reasons Khan, and a number of girls living here, have chosen not to wear it.
Apart from the accountability factor, comments from friends such as, “you’d look so much better without your scarf,” and “you look older than you are in that,” instigated in Khan feelings of diminished femininity and a growing desire to dress like other girls around he
The idea of beauty is not generally affiliated with your hair being bunched up in a piece of cloth and this holds true for many members in the Muslim-American community, and, other parts of the world, who view it as unattractive. Living in a society that gives so much beef to looking good, it is a tough decision.
And when the people one associates with constantly remind you how much prettier you would look minus the scarf, it becomes tougher. “I remember how many compliments I got when I attended a Pakistani wedding without it … My Muslim friends were very encouraging and supportive of my decision to keep it off,” Khan said.
Even when it comes to marriage, there are a lot of Muslim men who do not want to marry a girl in a headscarf. Some men, from Pakistan and India, even force their wives to discontinue wearing hijab after marriage. About fifty to sixty percent of Pakistani and Indian men responded with ‘perhaps’ when asked if they found it unattractive and openly commented that they found it “too extreme.” Some Pakistani couples living in the Bay Area casually refer to women in hijab as ‘the fundoos,’ or fundamentalists. Likewise, Khan said, “Most guys, at least the ones I socialize with, just don’t want to be with a girl in a scarf.”
While there are a lot of women who have stopped wearing their hijab because of reasons other than religious discrimination, they are reluctant to talk freely about it. Some feel guilty about taking it off, some do not, and very few are willing to be a ‘part-time’ hijabi. “I wish I could wear it whenever I wanted to but there is no such thing as a part-time hijabi here,” Khan said. “And I still believe in it, I just don’t have the strength to do it anymore.”
*The names have been changed to maintain anonymity of persons interviewed.
My Pakistani and American Muslim social circles celebrate Thanksgiving each year alongside our Eid festivities and Super Bowl Sunday parties, featuring homemade guacamole dip, chips and samosas. But it wasn’t always like this. For my family, this marriage between East and West was three decades in the making.
The 1980s: An “Amreekan Holiday”
As a child, I often asked my mother what we were eating for Thanksgiving.
“Food,” she replied matter-of-factly.
“Are we eating a turkey?” I asked.
“No, only Amreekans eat turkey.”
Any immigrant or child of immigrants understands that “Amreekan” is a code word for “the mainstream,” which really means “white people.” In addition to celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey, here are some other things we learned only “Amreekans” do:
Now, I don’t begrudge my parents their position toward turkey. It’s a confounding bird for most immigrants, who are generally more comfortable with the bleats of a goat or a lamb, the squawks of the simple-minded chicken. The turkey was an enigma: a heavy, feathered bird with its “gobbledygook” mutterings, freakish red wattle and vast supply of dry, juiceless meat.
“Do the Amreekans realize it is dry?” ask my still perplexed relatives living in Pakistan. “Where is the masala? The taste? The juices? Why do they eat this bird?”
Besides, most first-generation immigrants in America retain the romantic, deluded concept that “We will eventually go back home to the Motherland.” They will never be “Amreekan.”
Of course, they never do go back and instead firmly plant their familial, cultural, economic, religious and political roots in this foreign yet welcoming “Amreekan” soil. They have second-generation kids — yours truly — who are as “Amreekan” as apple pie, burritos and biryani.
And so Thanksgiving traditions began to leak into our old-school immigrant mentality. I watched the annual Macy’s parade, hoping to see a Spider-Man float. I played Super Mario on my Nintendo and looked forward to spending the evening with Snoopy, Linus, Charlie Brown and the gang, all the while eating a traditional Pakistani dinner. No turkey — yet.
The ’90s: Introducing the Thanksgiving Chicken
In my teen years, I discovered hair in new places and found the courage to demand authentic “Amreekan” requests from my parents.
“Give me turkey, woman!” I once commanded my mother for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities.
“Here’s some money. You buy it and make it yourself if you like it so much,” she replied.
Foiled again. She knew my inherent culinary uselessness and overall laziness far too well. Well played, Mother. Well played.
During this decade of grunge and Bill Clinton, the immigrant generation in our family gradually replaced the “We will go back to the motherland” mantra with disillusioned rants about how “The motherland is going to hell” after they returned from visiting.
American pop culture effortlessly coexisted within the confines of our Pakistani-American home. Visiting from college one day, I descended the stairs to Nusrat belting out a qawwali in Punjabi. Moments later my father changed the track to Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.” He was in the kitchen rubbing traditional South Asian spices into pieces of steak he would later cook on his brand-new George Foreman grill.
My mother relented to my requests and made a meal on Thanksgiving. Instead of cooking a turkey, though, she insisted on roasting two whole chickens.
“What’s the point of having a chicken on Thanksgiving of all days?” I asked. “It’s like passing out omelets to kids on Easter instead of colored eggs.”
“I like chickens. I can cook a chicken. Chickens are tasty,” my mother replied. “I’m not wasting my time cooking a dry bird.”
She ruled the kitchen with an Iron Ladle.
But the consumption of “some form of a bird” on Thanksgiving was remarkable progress toward fully celebrating this Amreekan holiday. Furthermore, the religious clergy in our communities realized the obvious: Thanksgiving dinner is actually harmonious with Muslim values. After all, aren’t we reconciling with our family and communities and being thankful and grateful for all of our blessings? Isn’t that what Muslims are supposed to do on a daily basis?
Score one for theology in supporting rational arguments to consume dead birds.
That night, we ate two fully roasted whole chickens (quite tasty), and my mother also made basmati rice, daal (lentls), chicken khorma (curry) and kheema (South Asian ground beef.)
It wasn’t perfect — but it was a start.
The new century: Let there be turkey
The 21st century opened the culinary floodgates. It was a brave new world. Turkeys were unleashed to South Asian and Muslim American homes on Thanksgiving with wild abandon. No American holiday would be left unattended and no holiday sale would be forsaken by the immigrant communities! The musings of “going back to the motherland” have now transformed into semi-annual visits to see relatives and nothing more.
Even Muslim butchers are readily selling Halal turkeys in their local community shops. (Halal meat refers to animals slaughtered according to Islamic custom similar to Kosher slaughtering practices for Jews).
2002 was the “Great Turkey Explosion,” when Chandni, the neighborhood South Asian restaurant/wedding reception hall/religious ceremony hall/miscellaneous space used for all celebrations, started offering an “authentic Thanksgiving buffet” for $11 on Nov. 24-25. I had heard rumors of this awesomeness, but I had to drive there and witness morsels of turkey flesh swimming in a broth of fat and oil to believe it myself. And, lo and behold, in front of the South Asian buffet table — which featured lamb karahi, chicken tikka masala, and saag ghosht (spinach with meat) — there was “Thanksgiving” buffet table with turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes and bread rolls.
In our home, my father made the official decree that the Ali family would now and forever more eat turkey on Thanksgivings – provided he could successfully cook it, which meant “Not cooking it like the Amreekans who always make it too dry.” He felt ambitious in his old age and wanted to test his expanding baking skills by finally tackling the Gobbling-Goliath.
His initial attempt in 2003 was conservative, baking the turkey over several hours as per custom. There was also corn. The mother made some chicken khorma as emergency along with Basmati rice. Some cans of mango and lime pickle achar (relish) were opened just in case. The turkey was both edible and tasty. The family had successfully conquered the mythical bird and stuffed it with so much masala juice it developed a South Asian accent, bhangra dance moves, good credit and IT tech support skills.
A few years later, the family decided to up the ante and “brine” the turkey after some intense Googling sessions researching “Best Way to Cook + Turkey.” This time, we added gravy, mashed potatoes and soft rolls to the menu, along with corn.
Some Thanksgiving staples, however, remained foreign. Yams could only be justified if it was added with meat to a curry. Pumpkins were still regarded as an “exotic vegetable” only to be seen and carved on Halloween. Cranberry sauce was something you drank out of a bottle as a juice concentrate and never ate on the side. “Stuffing” was still only understood as a verb and not an edible noun.
Fast-forward a few years to 2011, and lo and behold, our turkeys have been successfully baked, roasted, brined, deep fried — and thoroughly enjoyed. The annual turkey now sits on a large dining table next to homemade sweet yams, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn bread, rolls, corn on the cob, and store-bought pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. And yes, there is always a South Asian curry dish just in case.
We also wash down the gluttony with the American Muslim version of Cristal: Martinelli’s Apple Cider.
But this isn’t just a story about how we integrated a strange-looking bird into our dinners. It’s how my American Muslim Pakistani family integrated into the American cultural fabric. It’s the same messy, colorful but inevitable way immigrants all over enter the American narrative, bringing their own flavors to collide, merge and spill outside the pot.
It’s as Amreekan as turkey and chicken khorma.
Is Islam a religion of peace? Whenever I hear this, I want to ask a counter-question: Who wants to know? It so happens that the overwhelming majority of people who ask this question do not care about getting an informed or accurate answer. They do not raise this question because they believe they are lacking in the knowledge of the Islamic tradition, and that the response will help them overcome their ignorance by giving them new insights. The question is typically raised by those who are already sure of being in possession of the right answer.
In the majority of these cases, the speaker is an Islamophobe who asks the question only to create an illusion of having carried out an objective inquiry; he/she is then able to present the right answer as an emphatic “no.” Occasionally, this question is raised by an uncritical Islamophile whose response, as expected, is an equally emphatic “yes.” Unfortunately, what this well-meaning friend of Islam does not recognize is that the problem represented by the negative response to the question cannot be solved by simply giving a positive response.
Whether the question is raised for polemical purposes or apologetic ones, it has little or no scientific value. The question fails to generate real inquiry, mostly because it is weighed down by its own ideological underpinnings, which can be revealed by making explicit a series of unacknowledged assumptions without which it cannot function as it currently does.
The most obvious assumption is that there are only two possible answers: “yes” and “no.” The yes/no dichotomy coincides with the peace/violence dichotomy that is also assumed in the question. The question implies that Islam is either a “religion of peace” or it is not. If it is not a “religion of peace,” Islam must, ipso facto, be a “religion of violence.” The query does not allow any third choice.
This way of framing the discussion is problematic. As a clichéd joke has it, a man cannot answer the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” with either a “yes” or a “no” without admitting his guilt. The same holds true for the question, “Is Islam a religion of peace?” As soon as we agree to offer a response, we find ourselves trapped in the faulty logic of the question. The wording seduces us to respond within the structure of the question, encouraging us to disregard all the details and nuances of the issues that may be pertinent to the matter at hand. In order to say either “yes” or “no,” we must become highly selective in our choice of evidence. Regardless of which side we choose, the exercise does not generate an honest inquiry but a hardening of preconceived positions, an increase in polarization.
The second ideological assumption underlying the question can be exposed by looking more closely at the value-laden word “peace.” The positive connotations of the word “peace” are so strong and pervasive that it is practically impossible for anyone in their right mind to be against peace. This is evidenced by the fact that politicians never tire of speaking about their commitment to “peace,” even when they are in the midst of declaring and conducting wars. There is an inherent bias in our language that favors “peace” over and against “violence,” so much so that “peace” constitutes its own argument but “violence” must be justified in one way or another. As language users, we instinctively know that, by definition, “peace” is good and “violence” is bad. Because of this linguistic bias, it is self-evident that a “religion of peace” is inherently superior in value to a “religion of violence.” No argument is required to prove this point, and none is given.
context, whenever the question “Is Islam a religion of peace?” is raised, everyone thinks that it better be, for it would be really bad for Islam if it can be shown as a “religion of violence.” Fair enough. But the real problem emerges when we look at the people who are raising this question publicly. It turns out that they are rarely pro-peace in their own ethics. Many are known for being anti-Islam and anti-Muslim, and not for their contribution to peacemaking. Their opposition to violence is far from being a principled rejection of all violence; they are definitely against violence when it is perpetrated by Muslims, but they express no comparable indignation when violence is carried out on their behalf and is directed against a group with which they do not identify, including Muslims. In effect, they tend to approve or condone “our” violence against “them” while vehemently criticizing “their” violence against “us.”
It is precisely this contradiction that nullifies the very logic on which the question is built. The appeal of the question depends on the audience’s implicit belief that “peace” is good and “violence” is bad; while the questioners rely on their audience’s moral sense to bolster the validity of the question, they simultaneously undermine that validity by failing to reject violence on a principled, as opposed to a selective and utilitarian, basis.
There is one final assumption underlying the question that we must examine carefully, and it has to do with the word “religion” itself. Whenever the question is raised, there is a tacit understanding that everyone involved shares the same view of religion, i.e., the view that makes the question possible in the first place. However, the particular view of religion that is implied in the question is itself problematic and must not be taken for granted. The question is worded as if “religion” could be accurately understood as a single, circumscribed, well-defined, and unchanging entity, something that is unmistakably distinct from society, culture, history, politics, and economics. This view assumes that each individual religion is easily and obviously distinguishable from all other religions, that each religion has its own unique and fixed essence that can be objectively known, and that there is no overlap between the respective essences of any two religions.
What is being ignored in this framing is that the concept of “religion” is just that — a concept. As such, we are dealing with an abstraction that can be defined and described in many different ways depending on our immediate purpose. This is precisely why it has proven impossible for the experts to agree on a single definition of the term “religion.” Over the last century and a half, the most intelligent minds have failed to draw conceptual boundaries between “religion” on the one hand, and society, culture, history, politics, and economics on the other hand. Furthermore, the boundary between any two religious traditions is also fuzzy at best; historically, no major religion has developed in complete isolation from the rest of the world, and therefore all religious traditions are products of syncretism as well as genuine innovations.
If the concept “religion” is so slippery and unstable as to defy a single, objectively verifiable definition, the more complex notions of “religion of peace” and “religion of violence” pose an even greater challenge to our desire for pinning them down. Neither of them is a precise concept that can be employed in an unambiguous or unbiased manner; both have originated in highly contentious debates over power, authority, and identity, and continue to be contested in a variety of ways.
A historically informed perspective does not allow us to treat any religion as if it were a static and monolithic object. No religion speaks with a single voice, and every religious tradition is characterized by a diversity of beliefs, attitudes, and expressions — a diversity that tends to increase with the passage of time. To describe any religion as being solely this or exclusively that, one must reduce its inner complexity to an artificial simplicity, as well as its ever-changing character to a fixed caricature or stereotype. This reduction is itself an act of violence. The resulting image is almost entirely a product of the reductionist enterprise, bearing little resemblance to the dynamic and complex lived reality of the tradition.
In light of the above discussion, the best response I can offer to the question, “Is Islam a religion of peace?” is no response at all. This, however, does not mean that we are trying to avoid or evade the problem; it only means that we must bury thisparticular question before we can find more constructive and fruitful ways of inquiring into the relevant issues.
One might ask, what would those constructive and fruitful questions look like? Here are some examples. If we are interested in finding out the causes of violence, we may want to ask: “What are the needs of a particular people that they are trying to meet when they act violently?” If we are interested in ending violence, we may want to ask: “How can we help educate a particular people so they can use more effective and peaceful strategies for meeting their needs?” If we are interested in the religious aspects of the problem, we may want to ask: “What are the resources available in a particular religious tradition that might help its adherents make effective contributions to peace?”
From a Muslim viewpoint, the most relevant course of inquiry may well be this: What are the specific resources in the Islamic religious heritage that can help us create a world where everyone can meet their needs peacefully? I find this to be a supremely worthwhile question.
Ahmed Afzaal, Ph.D., holds his doctorate in Religion and Society from Drew University, and is an assistant professor of Comparative Religion at Concordia College. Dr. Afzaal was born in Pakistan, where he studied science and attended medical school, and is the author of numerous articles on subjects including religion and social change.
Message from the Cure-All Group: (flash forward to 20-something)
Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to celebrate with you the beginning of an exciting new chapter in the history of medicine. Without the tireless dedication of our team and its supporters worldwide, we would not be where we are today. The legalization of duplicates marks one of the most significant accomplishments to date. At the moment, donations are limited to one per original due to the scarcity of 'possibles' at present. But we are hopeful that the remaining countries that have not agreed to this practice as of now, will do so in the future to assure a better, healthier place for us all. Please be assured that we do not indulge in any corrupt, unethical activities related to the upbringing and rearing of the donors. Thank you.
Back to Present:
Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go" is a frightening science fiction novel about cloning human beings to use their organs, bit by bit, until they have "completed." The 'donors' mentioned above are the clones, and they are brought into the world to donate their vital organs. They are copies, not originals, and usually "complete" after three or four donations. It is the story of three friends and their relationships to each other and their surroundings. The most frightening element in the story is not related to the ethics of cloning but the similarity of the clones to us originals: Are we ready to complete?
Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, has been formally accused in the Benazir Bhutto assassination case in a report submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency Monday. Investigators have requested the Anti-Terrorism Court to declare him as an absconder according to FIA Public Prosecutor Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali due to lack of cooperation.
Musharraf is suspected of giving inadequate protection to Benazir Bhutto at the time of the assassination; the two appointed police officials in charge of her security said that Musharraf removed a security detail shortly before she was killed. Both officials are under detention at present.
Musharraf is also accused of giving orders to hose down the scene of the crime, said Prosecutor Chaudry Zulfiqar Ali, which made it more difficult to gather evidence.
A report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the Facts and Circumstances of the Assassination of Former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto reads:
“On 27 December 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated as she left a campaign event at Liaquat Bagh, in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi … Ms Bhutto’s assassination could have been prevented if adequate security measures had been taken. The responsibility for Ms Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police. None of these entities took the necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.”
According to Zulfiqar, Musharraf did not respond to repeated requests for questioning at his London home and has denied accusations in the past; he had blamed the Taliban leader Baitullad Mehsood for Bhutto’s murder at the time, an accusation that was denied by the Pakistani Taliban. The prosecutor requested the court to declare Musharraf a proclaimed offender if he fails to appear in court at the next hearing on Feb. 12.
Musharraf ousted elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999 as chief of Pakistan’s army. In 2008, he resigned as president.
Hasn't the whole notion of shariah in America gotten a bit out of control? No, it hasn't -- it's gotten hugely, obscenely, ignorantly out of control. How many of those anti-Islam protesters holding "NO SHARIA LAW" signs (as if anyone were advocating shariah law in the U.S.) actually know what the word means? I'd say, oh, none. Roughly.
Shariah (also spelled shari'ah or sharia or shari'a) is the Arabic word for "the road to the watering place." In a religious context, it means "the righteous path." Loosely, it can mean simply, "Islam."
There are six principles of shariah. They are derived from the Qur'an, which Muslims believe is the word of God. All Islamic religious rules must be in line with these six principles of shariah.
Aha! The six principles must be about killing infidels, veiling women, stoning people for adultery, honor killings and female genital cutting, right? Nope.
Here they are, the six principles of shariah:
1. The right to the protection of life.
2. The right to the protection of family.
3. The right to the protection of education.
4. The right to the protection of religion.
5. The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
6. The right to the protection of human dignity.
Well, bless me, as a pledge-of-allegiance-reciting, California-raised Muslim girl, these six principles sound a lot like those espoused in my very own Constitution of the United States. Except that these were developed over a thousand years ago.
This is the core of shariah -- these six principles. The term "shariah law" is a misnomer, because shariah is not law, but a set of principles. To Muslims, it's the general term for "the way of God."
But how do we know what the way of God is? Early Muslims looked to the Qur'an and the words of the Prophet Muhammad to figure this out. They filled books of interpretive writings (called fiqh) about how to act in accordance with the way of God. They rarely agreed -- the fiqh is not just one rule, but many differing opinions and contradictory rules and scholarly debates.
Sometimes, shariah also refers to the whole body of Islamic texts, which includes the Qur'an, the sayings of the Prophet, and the books of interpretive literature written by medieval Muslim scholars. The first two are considered divine. The interpretive literature, thefiqh, is not.
The fiqh was meant to develop and change according to the time and place -- it has internal methodologies for that to happen. It is not static, but flexible. No religion gets to be 1400 years old and the second largest in the world unless it's flexible and adaptable.
The Qur'an is old. The fiqh books of jurisprudence are old. To modern eyes, they can look just as outdated as other ancient texts, including the Bible and Torah. That's why, just like the Bible and the Torah, the Islamic texts must be read in their historical context.
Assuming all Muslims follow medieval Islamic rules today is like assuming that all Catholics follow 9th century canon law. Islam, like Christianity, has changed many times over the centuries, and it continues to change. Focusing only on the nutcases who advocate a return to medieval times is ignoring the vast majority of modern Muslims.
For example, stoning for adultery is a punishment that appears in fiqh, as well as early Judaic law. But it does not appear in the Qur'an. In Islam, therefore, stoning was a result of cultural norms imposed on the religious texts. Moreover, in the fiqh, though the punishment for adultery was stoning, adultery was made such a fantastically difficult crime to prove that the punishment was impossible to apply. Historically, stoning was very rarely implemented in the Islamic world, which is ironic, since today the Saudi and Iranian governments apply it as though they'd never heard of the strict Islamic constraints on it.
The vast majority of Muslims today do not believe in stoning people for adultery, and many are working hard to eradicate it. Stoning is horrific and has no place in our world. The miniscule percentage of Muslims who advocate it are imposing the medieval penalty while ignoring all the myriad limitations meant to make it inapplicable.
As for other scary stories attributed to shari'a, like honor killings, veiling of women, and female genital cutting, these are cultural practices and not Islamic. They are practiced by non-Muslims of certain cultures as well as Muslims.
Shari'a is a set of religious principles and is not the law of the land anywhere in the world. The 50-some Muslim-majority countries are all constitutional states and nearly all of them have civil codes (many of these based on the French system). Being Muslim does not require a governmental imposition of something called "shari'a law," any more than being a Christian requires the implementation of "Biblical law" (though there are, of course, a tiny minority of both Christians and Muslims who do advocate such things, including Sarah Palin).
As for Islam being a political system, there is nothing in the Qur'an about an "Islamic state," and the Prophet himself never tried to implement an "Islamic state," despite hysterical accusations to the contrary. Those under his leadership practiced a variety of religions.
Traditionally, in the Islamic world, the institutions that governed were always separate from the institutions that developed religion. In fact, they often checked and balanced one another. Although no civilization has been free from all conflict, every Islamic empire was a multi-religious, multicultural empire, in which religious minorities were governed by their own laws.
The term "Islam as a religion and a state" really only became popular in the 1920s, as a reaction to Western colonization of the Muslim world. In fact, Islam contains plenty of concepts consistent with modern democracy -- for example, shura (consultation) and aqd (a contract between the governed and the governing). In other words, Muslims can be perfectly comfortable in America, following state and federal laws.
The Qur'an contains many verses advocating religious tolerance, too, though the anti-Islam protesters won't believe it. The Qur'an says that: God could have made everyone into one people, but elected not to (11:118); God made us into different nations and tribes so that we can learn from one another (49:13); there is no compulsion in religion(2:256); and that we should say, "to you your religion, to me mine" (109:6).
The only verses about fighting in the Qur'an refer specifically to the polytheistic Arab tribes who were trying to kill the Prophet in the 7th century. So the Islamophobes who look in the Qur'an for the fighting verses and assume that these verses refer to them personally are simply being narcissistic. Contrary to counting Jews and Christians as "infidels," the Qur'an repeatedly commands particular respect of Jews and Christians. It is established in Islam that you don't need to be Muslim to go to heaven.
Repeating a lie over and over again doesn't make it true; but it certainly results in people believing the lie. That's what the Islam-haters are counting on. That, and the ignorance about Islamic tenets.
So the best thing to do is find out what Islam really is about. Talk to a Muslim in person. Read an introduction to Islam (try a fun one like mine). Read Loonwatch to read about the holes in the anti-Islamic rhetoric. Or take a look at the University of Georgia's informational website on Islam, for some quick answers and further reading. If you read the anti-Islam fear-mongering websites, all you'll learn will be tall tales.
Bigotry may be a human tendency, but America has never stood for bigotry. I believe in an America that stands for pluralism and multicultural understanding. The hysteria and hate toward Muslims - resulting in several acts of violence against Muslims, such as stabbing and arson - is un-American. We must stop it, and the first step is understanding and education.
She was 14 years old when her father was shot dead in a gun battle across their home in Karachi, Pakistan. Fourteen years later, Fatima Bhutto avenges her father’s murder, not with the sword as per the Bhutto tradition, but through her book “Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir.”
The book, published earlier this year, is an intimate account of Fatima’s father’s life and death based on not only her own observations but well-researched through friends, letters, articles, personal diaries. Although intensely emotional at times, the author offers a vivid impression of the Bhutto fold and the past and present of Pakistan’s ugly politics. The Bhuttos have witnessed four assassinations in the past 31 years: Murtaza and his sister Benazir were shot, another brother was poisoned, and their father Zulfikar was hanged.
The book is filled with a daughter’s rage, targeted largely at Benazir Bhutto and her husband, the current president of Pakistan, Asif Zardari. At the time of his murder, Benazir was prime minister and Fatima concludes that she was involved by either ordering the killing or covering it up. Fatima says her father had become a threat to Benazir after being released from prison; she feared he would take control over the Pakistan People’s Party. The author also suggests that Benazir, also known as aunt Pinky, also played a role in her uncle’s murder.
She documents a poem written by her father from jail mocking the two:
“Here is a small one on Wadi (Benazir) and Slippery Joe (presumably Asif Ali Zardari)
Inky, Pinky, Ponky
Her husband is a donkey
Both loot the country
Her husband is a monkey
Inky, Pinky, Ponky.”
The book has received angry protests across Pakistan regarding some of the facts. But the author insists that she has conducted proper research over six years.
‘The reaction to the book has been violent and angry and it has changed my life in terms of my security and access to my country.’
Songs of Blood and Sword is too personal to be viewed as an accurate chapter of the Bhutto history; it is more of a daughter’s attempt to absolve her father of all accusations and memorialize him. However, given that it is written by a member of the Bhutto family, provides some useful insight.
Part I: Office Abuse, Weather Shock and Boils
I was fifth in the “non-Pakistani passport” line, but, as expected, my turn came after about eleven or twelve people. Welcome to the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, Pakistan.
The immigration officer was a dark, middle-aged man who appeared anything but efficient. His body language clearly communicated, “I’ll abuse my job to no end and there’s nothing you can do about it,” and he did. While this cocky officer cooly went about the bribing practice, a beefy man with a white beard and protruding belly (that kept nudging me) appeared next to me, pushing his way through the rest of the travelers. He refused to acknowledge that I was ahead of him in the cue and casually ignored my pleas to stand in line. And so the rest of us, angrily, helplessly and somewhat patiently, stood for about an hour awaiting our stamp of entry into Pakistan.
The minute you clear the immigration, a cluster of porters run up to you, enthusiastically offering their services, even at 4 a.m. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember. They’re dressed in traditional shalwar kameez and belong to the category of the few in the city who have an air of urgency about them. They seem different, very different, especially if you’re coming from a place like California.
By the time I cleared immigration and took possession of my suitcases it was light outside. Instantly hit by the seething temperature when I walked outside the airport, I realized I was hardly ready to experience a summer in Karachi after about seventeen years.
I was greeted by my parents who arrived a few weeks earlier. This was less a family vacation and more a desperate attempt to introduce me to potential marriage suitors. “If you don’t like anyone in the Bay Area, you must check out the guys in Pakistan because time is running out,” my mother repeated more often than often. It seemed strange but then I thought one should experience strange things once in a while. So there I was, in the sweltering heat of July in Karachi, to meet guys.
As we drove to my uncle’s house about forty-five minutes away from the airport, the city looked cleaner and somewhat calmer since my last visit in the winter of 2006. But that was, of course, because it was about 5 a.m. and Karachi has never been much of an early bird.
Too engrossed in the excitement of meeting loved ones, I conveniently forgot about the real purpose of my trip, at least the first day I spent in the city. Not to mention, what I love about Karachi the most is the food. Short on sleep, high on talk and planning food excursions, I didn’t realize that I was having some type of reaction to either the weather or the water in the form of hideous boils! The very first night I noticed unsightly swellings in a couple of areas on my face which were to mature into ugly boils the next day. These are the times when one feels grateful for makeup and, I suppose, for being a girl. However this time, unfortunately, the weather just wouldn’t allow the makeup to stay and I had no choice but to accept the boils with a laugh and I was probably more comfortable about it than my mother, who was of course worried about a marriage proposal going wrong! Sounds funny, but it’s completely true. And she remained anxious until she was told by my first suitor’s mother that he liked me after our first meeting. I’m still considering …
Part II: Marriage Mania
I hardly got a chance to get over my jetlag when my mother started obsessing about my marriage at every chance she got. Although I was staying at a different house, she would manage to catch me for most of the day and lecture me on the importance and urgency of marriage. Some of it made sense, some did not. There were laughs, tiffs and serious contemplation. And every single family member who we met, got involved in some way or another in the marriage talk. Actually I was staying with a cousin who is over 30 and still single so she wasn’t spared either. One aunt gave me a copy of the book, “Before You Say I Do,” another told me that I need to get rid of my fears, my uncle said, “follow your gut,” one cousin said, “now or never,” and the list goes on.
I guess while I was there I started believing that I may be able to pull off an arranged marriage. But again, when you’re traveling, your thought processes tend to go awry, which could be both positive or negative. I found myself at a great loss of words, even conversation, many a time during the “arranged” meetings, but I still went with the flow. And I suppose, if nothing else, I have become more comfortable with this form of introduction as per the Pakistani culture. In fact, it seems simple and easy. Parents decide if you would make a good couple, girl meets boy a couple of times, and both give a simple yes or no based on their initial chemistry. An algebraic equation simplified in no time. If only I was good at solving equations so quickly …
Part III: Miscellaneous Nights
If you want to see the true spirit of Karachi, it’s after 10 p.m. and not just on weekends. Everything seems more vivacious after dark. Whether it’s Monday or Saturday, people leave their homes after 9 p.m. and the city wholeheartedly approves. Restaurants remain open much past mid-night, plays end after 11 p.m., concerts and musical gatherings carry on till early morning. There’s a street called Tariq road that is packed till nearly 1 a.m. every single day of the week; it’s a long strip that has a dizzying number of shops selling all kinds of products, toys, shoes, clothes, jewelry, electronics, something for everyone, even for me: “Rehmat-e-Shireen,” a shop that sells and serves traditional sweets and deserts that you can devour in the privacy of your car.
Part IV: Servants
There is a fierce disparity between the rich and poor which is always heart wrenching but there are people who continue to do their best to fill the gap. There are servants in almost every household but they are at least employed and they probably work harder and earn less than the beggars on the street. But they are provided with food, sometimes shelter and occasionally money for their families by their employers. Most of my relatives treat their servants with respect and help them in a lot of ways. My uncle’s servant, for example, has a ten-year-old son whose education is being funded by him so that he can adopt a more fulfilling profession than that of his father.
Part V: Domino Effect - Plane Crash, Riots, Rains
During my last week in Karachi, a series of unfortunate incidents hit the city. First the plane crash that killed all 152 people on that flight; there were a few theories on what really went wrong. Some people said that it was a terrorist attack that was being shushed, some said that the plane entered a “no-fly zone” so the government shot it and some accepted that it was a consequence of the faulty weather.
The mourning for these passengers was barely over when a significant political leader of the MQM party was assassinated. What was more surprising though was what followed; restaurants and buses were set on fire, people were killed and the city accepted a three-day strike due to which businesses lost a ridiculous amount of money, as reported by the local newspapers. The streets were quiet, schools were closed and people were scared to leave their homes. Yet, there were still those few, including us, who refused to be threatened and defiantly stepped outside.
Businesses suffered a tremendous loss during this strike and the strike was followed by a much bigger loss, for the whole nation: the floods. The president of Pakistan was vacationing in Europe when people across the nation had started losing their homes. But before the worst of it, I had already left the country, thinking that, surprisingly, despite all the problems, the absence of law and order, the corruption, the riots and the government, there is an unbreakable spirit rooted in Karachi, perhaps the whole of Pakistan, that refuses to succumb, even to reality.