Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ranya Tabari Idliby Interview on C-SPAN2 BookTV

Daisy Khan interviewed author Ranya Tabari Idliby on C-SPAN2's BookTV December 4, 2013. Ranya is the author of Burqas, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Being Muslim in America and The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew--Three Women Search for Understanding.

I believe Ustaza Ranya made many important points. The most important point was that Muslims should not steer their children toward Islam and thus handicap them in the United States unless there is some value to being a Muslim. In Muslim majority societies and societies where identifying as a Muslim is no hindrance, simple loyalty to ancestors may be adequate. But not now in the United States. There has to be something more.

The second point I thought was important was that Muslims have a tendency to busy themselves questioning the religious authenticity of other Muslims.

I did have some reservations about the discussion. I felt it perpetuated the "good" Muslim/ "bad" Muslim narrative of White Supremacist/Manifest Destiny America. The "good" Muslim genuflects before American empire. The "good" Muslim is not visibly Muslim, either in name, appearance, public performance of ritual or even burial. Another way to express this dichotomy is "moderate"/"extremist." To be fair, neither Ustaza Daisy nor Ustaza Ranya claim to be "moderate" Muslims (see 37:40 in the interview clip), but their discussion went along those lines and C-SPAN2's graphics department kept telling us that Ranya was a moderate Muslim.

My second problem was that the word "race" was never mentioned at all, except near the end when Ustaza Daisy credited the suffragettes with raising consciousness of racial equality. Most Muslims in the United States would stand out as black or brown and suffer the consequences associated with being black and brown, regardless of their religious practice. No discussion of Islamophobia, IMO, is complete without analyzing USA White Supremacy.

I'm also concerned about Ustaza Ranya's discussion of ritual. Overemphasis on ritual is an obstacle to being a good Muslim, but the solution IMO is to balance ritual with morality and intent, not abandon ritual.

Ustaza Ranya mentioned the term "progressive" Muslim with affection. I wish that the discussion included a description of the term's meaning. Did it include a social justice component? Or was it simply in opposition to "orthodox?"

One statement Ustaza Ranya made which I think she should consider revising occurred around the discussion of the term shariah which begins at minute 45:00. She said, "Shariah, is frankly, irrelevant to my life on a daily basis." Ustaza Daisy followed up this comment with illustrations of Muslims' adherence to shariah in their daily lives. I think Ustaza Daisy's approach to discussions of shariah more appropriate. It could be that Ustaza Ranya, when she speaks the truth, pays her zakat, avoids pork and intoxicants, respects her parents, she does not think about shariah, even though all of these are elements of shariah. We US Muslims need to rescue shariah from the Islamophobic and ignorant Muslim fundamentalist idea that it is a system of punishments for sex crimes.

Another term Ustaza Ranya used is "secular Muslim" (by David Shariatmadari). Is it the same thing as "cultural Muslim?" I'm concerned that these terms conflate disbelief in non-tangible concepts like God and the Day of Judgment with ideas of political organization. To me, I'm not sure why a person who disbelieves in God and the Day of Judgment but enjoys fasting Ramadan and, out of habit or respect for family members or neighbors, abstains from pork and intoxicants, would claim a Muslim identity. Then again, maybe it is also for the sake of non-secular family members who do want to bury their relatives in Muslim cemeteries. But, in that case, would not the terms "secular" and "cultural" Muslim only be useful as code words to non-Muslims to assure them that a person is not one of "those kinds of Muslims?" "Secular" is even more dangerous of a phrase to misuse. I believe Islam encourages a secular outlook in ethics, government included. One has to act as if the patterns which one has observed, i.e. science and history, will continue to play out and thus one is morally (religiously) obligated to choose the course of action most likely to produce the best result. To separate the worldly (secular) from the moral (religiously sanctioned) is impossible.

There is no doubt in my mind that Ustaza Ranya is a thoughtful, committed Muslim whose views should be considered. Let me emphasize that these negative comments of mine are only based on what I saw on the interview, and they reflect my political instincts. I personally don't think I'll read her books, simply because the stacks of books already in my house have begun haunting me. I suspect that I would never in the expected lifetime remaining to me complete reading them. However, if enough readers of this entry tell me that these books will surprise me and shift my thinking, I may bump up these books' ranking in my reading queue ...

P.S. I realized that my comments have bordered on a rant, so I have decided I do need to read the book just to be fair. Perhaps the book will answer some of my questions.

This discussion reminds me of a scene from Spike Lee's classic movie School Daze. The whole movie is reproduced below, and it's worth watching in its entirety. But if you don't have time, skip to 1:06:30, when the proud Afrocentric, black power (the Jiggaboo) college students of Mission College meet the not so-uplifting locals. While the situation is not a 100% fit to what we're talking about here, I think it illustrates the point that an oppressed group's elites' tactics sometimes don't address the needs of the oppressed group's subalterns. Warning, profanity.