Thursday, May 29, 2008

Human Rights Watch-Perpetual Minors-Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia

http://www.hrw.org/reports/2008/saudiarabia0408/saudiarabia0408web.pdf

The above link is to the full report of Human Rights Watch entitled "Human Rights Watch-Perpetual Minors-Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia."

Professor Rafia Zakaria commented on this report, especially focusing on how worker diaspora communities can spread these practices to other countries.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review of Numb3rs, Season 4, Episode 18 "When Worlds Collide"

This is my third review of a TV crime drama episode (spoiler alert) which featured Muslims. After confessing that I'm a sucker for TV crime dramas, I want to highlight some features of these portrayals of Muslims. For reference's sake, my previous two reviews were of 1st season episodes of Bones and The Closer.

NPR Segment "Songs of Sadr Provide Soundtrack for Shiite Militia"

I wanted to congratulate Ivan Watson and NPR for the piece "Songs of Sadr Provide Soundtrack for Shiite Militia."
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=90465454. The piece is sad because it shows how violence has become so pervasive in Iraq that it enters into popular song lyrics.

There is an error in the translation of one of the songs:

No terrorism or the biggest al-Qaida would stop us
If only Muqtada would point with his right finger
In the face of all takfiris [impious Muslims]
As sharp as swords we will be

"Takfiris" are Muslims who excommunicate other Muslims, thereby making their killing permissible. This is the term many Muslims use to denigrate the extreme "salafi" position which justifies killing of Shiites in Iraq and elsewhere.

Film "Muslims in Love" Just Completed

"Muslims in Love", directed by Zerina Usmen, is a 25-minute documentary discussing the situations Muslims in the U.S. face regarding marriage. The film's official web site is http://www.muslimsinlove.com/.

The URL for the You! Tube trailer is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57u9TWZXB_Q.

The film's web site has an FAQ, biographies and other useful links.

The film starts with the question, "How do you find a mate when you don't date?" The meat of the documentary is the interviews with young Muslims who describe their various experiences, some of them good and others not so good. One commonality among all those appearing in the film is the idea that love, however defined, should be a part of the marriage process or decision. More women are interviewed than men.

A friend of mine reported to me upon returning from the recent 45th Annual Islamic Society of North America convention in Columbus, OH that the session designed to promote marriage had many more young women in attendance than men. Anecdotally, I hear the same thing. I identified at least three reasons:
  1. Muslim men are incarcerated more than Muslim women.
  2. Some Muslim men marry non-Muslim women.
  3. Some Muslim men prefer to marry Muslim women who either have not achieved a lot academically or professionally or who were raised in a predominantly Muslim country.
This friend of mine also believes that this disparity of Muslim men developed in the last 10 years, and he believed that reason #3 above was the most important cause.

Some of the subjects in the film expressed these opinions as well.

The documentary balanced these complexities with the "happy" ma sha Allah la quwwata illa billah story of two who do end up getting married. The clips from their wedding party and their nascent domestic life, including a newborn, are attempts to show the happy results of the Muslim marriage process.

While this serves the idea of exposing this aspect of Muslims' lives to their non-Muslim neighbors, I fear that it may perpetuate the idea among Muslims that the worth of their lives is tied to marriage and hence some are winners and others are losers.

The single person's social life is precarious in North American society in general, and particulary so among Muslims. Is it necessary to begin creating social spaces for unmarried Muslims? For example, should Muslims develop a concept of not asking single people why they are not married and not offering to introduce them to ibn al-halal or bint al-halal? Even the idea that there are single Muslim parents escapes us. A registration form for a Sunday school might ask specifically for the father's signature, when really only the mother is in the picture.

While doing this might ease the awkwardness single Muslims may feel around other Muslims, the fact is Islam does strongly encourage marriage. I remember reading about how a performer in Nigeria would sing in front of a bachelor's house, mocking him for not being married.

Alternatively, there should be a serious discussion of why people who do want to get married don't get married. If Muslim men don't measure up, as most of the subjects implied, then there should be a systemic reason why they are inadequate. Is it because their mothers spoil them? Is it because their understanding of Islam causes them to behave badly to their prospective spouses?

One thing I noticed among the Muslim women who discussed their situation was a lack of introspection in their comments about marriage. Now this is probably putting on a brave face for the camera, but there should at least be some entertaining the possiblity that something is driving Muslim men away from Muslim women who grew up in North America.

The discussion of a recent woman convert's situation is good. Her situation combines many difficulties.

I hope that this project can be expanded to cover parents' reactions to their children's love and marriage quest.

Looking back on this review, I see that there is a "stream of consciousness" quality to it that may be more of a reflection of my own attitudes than the film. But I'm leaving the entry like this for now.

I hope that the film can contribute to an improvement in the marriage process among North American Muslims and to a "normalization" of Muslims to non-Muslims.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

True Majority Video "Don't Bomb Iran"

http://www.truemajority.org/dontbombiran

Muslim Advocates Comments on Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Report

Read Muslim Advocates's response to the report entitled Violent Islamist Extremism, the Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat issued by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on May 8, 2008.

Hearing helds by that committe on this topic are available at:

Violent Islamist Extremism: Government Efforts to Defeat It, 2007 May 10
http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=9c8ef805-75c8-48c2-810d-d778af31cca6

http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=a3a45e4d-8a9f-4a54-a245-f50743eb1b71

The Internet: A Portal to Violent Islamist Extremism, 2007 May 3
http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=e818e9fb-3103-4cd7-9a75-6db8a33bc379

The Threat of Islamic Radicalism to the Homeland, 2007 March 14
http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=2fb6902f-72e9-45a6-b5b2-15389ed18ec3

Prison Radicalization: Are Terrorist Cells Forming in U.S. Cell Blocks? 2006 September 19
http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=b602edb5-1faa-4011-b12c-c312678d1b71

Terrorism Financing: Origination, Organization, and Prevention, 2003 July 31
http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?Fuseaction=Hearings.Detail&HearingID=9e6956c7-914f-490f-8b0d-5aedc0587db0

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Review of Unity Productions Foundation "On a Wing and a Prayer"

Unity Productions Foundation's latest film to be broadcast on PBS is "On a Wing and a Prayer."

The film follows Monem Salam, an employee of Amana Mutual Funds living in Bellingham, WA, as he seeks to acquire a pilot's license.

Along the way, we get a curious look at Muslim domestic life, aviation and aviators, and the work of the travelling committed Muslim businessman and activist. It was quirky, but I liked it, and I think it is precisely the kind of thing Unity Productions Foundation should be putting out. After heavy topics such as the life of the Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, the history of the Iberian Peninsula, and the attempts of a Muslim slave in the United States to redeem himself and his family, this film and others like it will help "normalize" Muslims in the United States. It brings us closer to the day when the description "Muslim" will bring no more of an image to the mind than "Catholic", "Baptist", "Jew", "Hindu" or "Atheist." And, yes, it would be nice if the image of "Muslim" was honesty, hard work, sincerity, devotion, but I'd be satisified with a neutral, blank slate. I think it's impossible to expect that Muslims will achieve the more positive idealized notion we promote because we simply don't behave that way. Our media productions should target that blank slate.

Problems with Stereotypes in "LA Woman", Episode 10 of TNT's "The Closer"

TNT's The Closer: L.A. Woman, Episode 10-Plot Problems Based on Stereotypes of Iranians

The episode perpetuates a lot of stereotypes and promotes an anti-civil liberties atmosphere.

Science Magazine Podcast: Women in Science in the Middle East

Transcript: http://www.sciencemag.org/feature/misc/podcast/SciencePodcast_071228.pdf
Audio: http://podcasts.aaas.org/science_podcast/SciencePodcast_071228.mp3

Science Magazine's podcast of December 28, 2007 entitled "Women in Science in the Middle East" was a good insight into the obstacles women scientists face in pursuing their careers. The women interviewees were from Lebanon, Egypt and Kuwait.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Book Review: The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Ingrid Mattson

The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life by Ingrid Mattson. Blackwell Publishing, 2008. ISBN: 9781405122580. 262 pp. Paperback. Find the book in a library near you.
The Story of the Qur'an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life
One of the motivations I had for this blog is guiding people to good introductory materials for non-Muslims to learn about Islam. If we can call books like Suzanne Haneef's What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims the first generation of Muslims' attempts to educate non-Muslims about Islam using contemporary English and mass, high-quality publications, Dr. Mattson's book represents a new generation of mass outreach books.

Children's Books by Fawzia Gilani-Williams

This is a review of a series of books by Fawzia Gilani-Williams. I’ve summarized the plots of the books below and noted some specific issues with each book.
The best feature of these books is their strong themes of self-sacrifice, charity, humility and piety. I do have some hesitations about the receipt of charity (either secular as in “Ihtisham and the Eid Shoes” or miraculous as in “A Poor Widow’s Eid Guest.)
These themes related to poverty may not resonate with North American Muslim children. While stories set in “Muslim countries” are fine, the North American family must balance these with stories set in contemporary urban and suburban North America.
The books published by the Islamic Book Service in New Delhi suffer from poor editing and unidiomatic English (North America).
As of November 27, 2007, none of these books is available at Astrolabe.com, although the author has six other titles there. Used copies are available from Amazon.com. They were not available at simplyislam.com (different books by the author available here) or soundvision.com.
My strongest recommendation of the books listed here are “The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gift” and “The Story of Salaam Li and the Dacoits.”

The Jilbab Maker’s Eid Gift. Illustrated by Muslimah Williams. ISBN 983-065-237-8. A.S. Noordeen: Kuala Lumpur, 2007.

This story is about a woman who sews jilbabs (dresses) and gives them to the poor. They are “the best around because she put love and kindness into every stitch she sewed.” She never accepted payment, but she did not feel poor. “The Qur’an is my gold, Salah [ritual prayer] is my silver and the smiles of the poor are my diamonds.”
In contrast, her queen required every person in the land to give her a gift. Despite her material treasures, she never felt happy. When she heard of the jilbab maker, she demanded a jilbab as a gift. Upon refusal, she arrested the jilbab maker, who continued to declare that she had promised Allah that she would only give her jilbabs to the poor.
The queen, seeing that detention had not taken away the jilbab maker’s happiness, brought her for more questioning. The jilbab maker advised her to give sadaqa (charity) in order to experience her happiness. The queen tried this out and began to feel the happiness that her possessions never provided.

The Story of Salaam Li and the Dacoits. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-757-3.

Salaam Li Fayzulayev was an orphan boy in a village of Uzbekistan which a gang of dacoits used to pillage every Eid. After one such occasion, Salaam Li urged the villagers to prepare to fight these brigands. A woman suggested that the village send its young men to learn Wushu (Chinese martial arts.)
When they met their teacher, the teacher refused to teach them martial arts. To repay him for some apples they took, he asked them to serve him for six months. Through work, sermons, Qur’an instruction, night prayer and gymnastics, he surreptitiously teaches them martial arts. When their six months are complete, the master gives each child a knife and says,

This is a gift from me to you. I wish and confide that you will never need to
use these knives. No enemy will be able to hurt you. Use the knife to cut fruits
and vegetables.
That year, when the dacoits returned, the boys resisted the thieves by evading their blows. When the thieves were exhausted and helpless, the chief asked why the boys had not killed them. Salaam Li told him that good Muslims do not hurt other people. The dacoits, inspired by Salaam Li’s example, repented. Salaam Li grew to be a wise old man, and he never used his knife to hurt anyone.

The editing in this book is not good. There are many awkward phrases. The language used is not idiomatic for North America. The most important example of this is the word in the title, “dacoit”. The illustrations are in general good.

A Poor Widow’s Eid Guest. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-756-5.

In this story, a widow is concerned about how she can provide an Eid meal for her children despite their poverty. She asks Allah for help. As she is fetching water from the well, she meets an elderly woman who asks to be hosted for the Eid. The widow agrees and asks her to precede her to the house. When the widow returns, she finds the house full of delicious food. Her children inform her that the elderly woman had provided the food. The widow exited the house seeking to thank her, but she was nowhere to be found.

A Samosah Maker. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-758-1.

Abdullah, an outstanding samosah maker, suffers the machinations of Zalim Khan. Zalim (literally “wrongdoer” in Arabic) Khan adulterates Abdullah’s samosas and spreads false reports, thus driving Abdullah out of business. When a travelling scholar arrives, he learns of Zalim Khan’s actions and advises him to repent and tell people the truth. Abdullah is able to resume business, and he partners with Zalim Khan to serve samosahs to the village.

This book suffers from editing deficiencies:

p.3
About some of them people had never even heard of.
p.12
Zalim watched people making unpleasant faces after having a bit from Abdullah’s samoseh and the happy ones of those who were having samoseh from his tray.
p. 20
He told Zalim that he had committed a grave sin even in the holy month of Ramadan.

Note that “samosah” of the title is spelled “samoseh” in the text.

Unidiomatic English for North America
p.2 samosah, paijama, kurta-It’s important to define terms for an audience which won’t be familiar with these terms.

The lessons from this story are good, namely the prohibition of spreading false rumors and cheating others, the virtues of patience and generosity, and the necessity of investigation to clear up disputes.
The biggest problem for the North American audience, in my opinion, is in the illustration. All of the people are light-skinned, with the exception of Zalim Khan. Muslim children’s literature must be sensitive to the strong skin-color based prejudices of North America (and elsewhere).

Ihtisham and The Eid Shoes. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-755-7.

A poor man and his grandson each work hard to earn money to buy each other shoes for Eid. On the way back from the market, each person gives a pair of shoes to a poor person. On the day of the Eid, the Imam distributes charity to the grandfather. He and his grandson acknowledge the importance of charity and giving, realizing that when they gave charity, Allah ﷻ gave them back many times over.

An Old Man Who Trusts in Allah. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-760-3.

A couple gathers money to purchase a goat for qurbani (udhiya, tabaski, sacrifice on Eid al-Adha). On the way to the market, the old man always meets someone who needs the money and gives it in charity. He returns, takes another item from the house, sells it for money, and then again gives the money in charity without buying a goat. Each time his wife is distressed about not having a qurbani, he tells her “tawakkal al-Allah” (trust in Allah ﷻ ). The last person to whom he gave money was a traveler. The day of the Eid, that traveler sent his servant to the couple with ten goats as a gift for the kindness the old man had shown him.

A Beggar Boy. No illustrator name provided. Islamic Book Service: New Delhi. Not dated. ISBN 81-7231-759-X.

A grandmother takes solace in her grandson’s recitation of Qur’an. The body works all day and receives a small amount in payment. The day before Eid al-Adha, a stranger crossed paths with him as he was returning from work. The boy invited the stranger to eat at their home. It turned out that the stranger was a visiting Qari (reader of Qur’an). The nobles of the city, who despised the boy for his poverty, had planned a feast in the Qari’s honor the day of the Eid. When the Qari insisted that the boy attend the feast, the wealthy host refused his entry. Upon seeing that, the Qari decided to leave the town with the boy and the grandmother to a city where the boy’s talents in reading Qur’an would be recognized despite his poverty.
I have had personal correspondence with the author, for whom I have great respect. She is tireless in educating public librarians about the need for Muslim's children literature in public libraries. She has also written some more recent books that address some of the concerns I've mentioned above.

Islamica Magazine in Trouble-Please Subscribe

I'm not affiliated with Islamica Magazine in any way. I'm a subscriber. I visited the web site today, http:/www.islamicamagazine.com, and there's a message describing some of the difficulties the magazine is going through. Please consider subscribing to it to help it get back on its feet, as it has produced quality articles in a sea of rubbish!

Critic of No Child Left Behind-"Not on the Test"

http://www.notonthetest.com/

This web site has a wonderful video and song showing some of the biggest weaknesses of No Child Left Behind.