Thursday, December 30, 2010

Multiculturalism and Me

This a short-and-sweet "introductory" piece I wrote that may be published somewhere. That might work out or not, but I figured it shouldn't matter if I posted it here for people's feedback :)

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It's true that coming from a multicultural background, as I do, makes you feel sometimes that you have no real place to call home. You don't fully belong to any one country, and there always seem to be pesky hyphens in however you self-identify. Saudi, American, Palestinian… I don't know which to ascribe to myself. More often than not, my answer to the question "Where are you from?" depends on who I'm talking to and where.

I live in an Arab country, Saudi Arabia, and I was born in an Arab country, Egypt; but my pale skin and somewhat accented Arabic never fail to arouse the curiosity of strangers, and the answer "Oh, I'm from Saudi" doesn't satisfy. (Unfortunately for me, Arabs are notoriously curious.) On occasion I have given a painfully condensed tale of my tangled lineage to people I've never met before and never will again in tram stations, in hospitals, and even on the street sometimes.

In America, it's my headscarf that gets the attention. I'm not automatically assumed to be foreign, but once it's established that I don't actually live in the States, the question "Where are you from?" tends to make me a nervous wreck. I always answer as breezily as I can, and I've never gotten what you'd call a bad reaction – usually people are quite nice and inquisitive about it – but Saudi Arabia, to put it lightly, is not often seen to be a very nice place to come from!

However, I'm not complaining. I always think the advantages of being multicultural far outweigh the disadvantages.

For one, it gives you a kind of 'oomph' factor. Once you've gotten over the "She's gotta be oppressed" hurdle from Americans, I usually get reactions like "Wow, that's near Dubai, right?" (For all the good publicity it's given to the Middle East, I personally owe the UAE). Stereotypes must be shattered in the meantime: it's kind of funny and sad at once that there are things I have to say like "No, I don't live in a tent," "No, I don't ride a camel to school," "YES, I go to school, girls are allowed!" But I am glad to say them.

In Saudi Arabia and most Arab countries, contrary to popular opinion, being an American is actually a source of wide-eyed amazement, even envy. The technological advancement of Western countries (Western soap operas aired on Arab TV must also get their proper due here) is mostly seen as something to be aspired for and looked up to. People love American culture and the only problem I usually get is the incessant questions that follow, things like "Ooh, you've actually been there? What's it like? Speak some English for us!"

Which brings me to the second advantage of bring multicultural: I love that I'm bilingual.

Witnessing the struggles of my fellow classmates in English class has given me a renewed appreciation for my parents' efforts to make me proficient in both Arabic and English. In this age of globalization – the age of English! – it's an invaluable tool to have, and guess what? I got it for free, along with countless other children from multicultural families who have had to learn both of their mother tongues.

Finally, it gives you a singular vantage point: two of them. Based on your own experience, you learn that there is more than one side to every conflict; that your opinion might not necessarily be the right one; that there is much to gain and little to lose from befriending your neighbor.
And that, in my opinion, is basically the essential conclusion of the Age of Globalization right there.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Islam and Violence (2): If You're Telling The Truth, Why Are Muslims Violent In The First Place?

Greetings and peace to everybody!

I don't think my previous post, and what it entailed, is enough in explaining why the core and truth of Islam is one of peace.

Listing down violent-sounding verses in the Qur'an, and detailing why they're actually not, is all very well. However, how does that resolve the question of "Why are Muslims violent anyway?" Sure, they may not supposed to be - but they ARE. Ha! says the New "Expert" on Islam: Explain that!

Today I will attempt to post the summation of my theory on that topic. I'll try to keep it short and concise as possible, which may be difficult because I haven't actually put it in words before, but I'll do my best.

The difference between violent Muslims and moderate Muslims is the difference between a medieval state of mind and a modern practice of religion, the difference between the way nation-states were formed in the past and the way they are now.

To make a long story short: you know how Islamophobes like to say "Islam is a political movement"?

Well, if you've been living in the fifth century it was. ALL religions were political movements. If you were in a country, you followed the same religion as everyone else. You believed what everyone else believed - or you were supposed to. After all, if you didn't, the nation would fall into anarchy and strife and would eventually go kaput, right? Right - because in those times, it was true. (More about that later.)

Delving in further, another branch of that thinking is the one that goes: Everyone has to be the same! Everyone has to look the same, talk the same; basically, all those trappings of the Dark Ages that the we've been trying to cast behind us with diversity and globalization and all that, that's been going on for a while and is the great gift of the modern world.

We indoctrinate our kids with it (if I had a penny for every cartoon character that's reached the enlightening conclusion of "IT'S GREAT TO BE ME!"...) and it's getting quite tiresome, actually.

But the reason I bear the achingly sweet Disney songs is that in the end, however cheesy they are, they are true. We humans are more alike than we realize. With the celebration of diversity and globalization and all that, and the tinny notes of "It's a Small World After All", we reach the most precious thing of all...


That blessed idea that as humans, we're all together in the same boat, however different from each other we are; so we need to respect that. You may not necessarily like it - it doesn't have to appeal to you - but you need to put up with it because it's the right thing to do.

That, there, is Conclusion One. Modern world = (mostly) tolerance.

So what does this have to do with Muslims?

Well, to bring it along, there's a touchy topic in Islam. It's the issue of overzealous following of what medieval jurists who came centuries after the Prophet ordained.

That no more is open to interpretation: it's all been done already, you don't need to bother your head about it...

"Just sit down - there, right there! - take this book" (you struggle with the weight) "Now - don't think, just MEMORIZE!!! Shhh. No arguing. Memorization. Do you think you're better than all these learned scholars who wrote these books?! Huh? Do you?!

"I didn't think so. Now MEMORIZE."

I can say a lot more about this topic, but suffice it for the moment to say that that's why the medieval way of doing things - not the Islamic way, but the seventh-eighth century way - has stuck. People are so afraid of 'going against the Righteous Ancestors' that they won't put a toe out of the line that has been drawn by them.

This is Conclusion Two.

Keep in mind, and this is very important, I'm not dissing the Righteous Ancestors. I respect them for their tremendous awareness of God, their passion for their religion, the degree of which that we modern people can hardly hope to attain! I'm talking about the general medieval way of thinking. Which is what brings us to Conclusion Three...




Nation-states go to war with each other, right? Obviously. The difference between now and then is that nation-states were based UPON religion. This was the land of the believers, this was the land of the non-believers. If that nation-state invades you, it's the non-believers attacking you - not the people who are probably just want what you have and they don't.

That medieval mentality - the Righteous Ancestors' mentality, justified as theirs was and unjustified as it is now - has carried off into today. When the US invaded Iraq, it wasn't the US invading Iraq. It was THE NON-MUSLIMS BATTLING OUR MUSLIM BROTHERS! WE MUST GO AND FIGHT FOR OUR MUSLIM BROTHERS AGAINST THE NON-BELIEVERS!

I believe that may be a direct quote of Osama bin Laden; and just about every other terrorist there is out there. They ALL cite Iraq, or Afghanistan, or any of the countless Muslim countries the US has invaded as reasons to PICK UP YOUR WEAPONS AND GO FIGHT, YOU COWARDS! Not as "it's the US invading" - as a Christian country, as the NON-BELIEVERS invading.

So hostility is created towards Christians: a majority targeted for the actions of a minority. This is the issue: realistically, terrorists wouldn't have a game plan if the US hadn't invaded wherever they invaded.

I'm not justifying what they're doing. But, Americans: They don't 'hate you because they're free'. They 'hate' you because they see themselves as wronged, they want to get revenge, and they decide to use the verses in the Qur'an that a less learned person would accept their interpretation of without question, to justify their wanting to kill and kill and kill.

In the end, in Islam there really is no such thing as "Kill the infidel just 'cos he's an infidel". As illustrated in the previous post, there was always a reason: the oppressors, the ones who have fought against you, those who have broken the treaty...

That is why Islam is a religion of peace. And because this has gone on for so long, I'll leave it at that. (Short and concise? Dream on, Maryam...)

Finally, I just hope I got the message across.

To everyone:


Friday, December 3, 2010

Islam and Violence (1): The Verses


Not that I expect anyone to have been actually paying attention, but if anyone was, I owe them an apology for the unholy delay that plagued this post.

Here at last are some of the violent-seeming verses in the Qur'an, and my replies to those who see them as "incriminating" for the religion of Islam in any way. It also is a refutation of the empty claims of those "Muslim" people who claim that these verses do, in fact, urge them to MAKE WAR UPON THE UNBELIEVERS, however that may be.

(Which is why I disagree with the empty "Islam's a religion of peace" refrain. Anything can be twisted to unscruplous advantages, and these verses are the ones that are always pointed to in the New "Experts" on Islam's finger-pointings.)

Enough intro. Here we go.


(A) Prophet, make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites and deal rigorously with them. Hell shall be their home: an evil fate. (Sura 9:73)"

"The true believers fight for the cause of God. But the infidels fight for the devil. Fight then against the friends of Satan. (Sura 4:76) "

"When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield, strike off their heads...(Sura 47:4)"

These three I've lumped together because the same defense can be used to each. The key words are "Prophet", "the infidels fight", and "in battlefield". "Prophet" makes it clear that this is in historical context, talking directly to Muhammad, the second: "infidels fight" makes it clear that this is not one-sided agression, and the third: "in the battlefield", makes it obvious that we are in a state of war the moment.

Essentially it's clear that the "infidels" are not being fought just for the sake of them being "infidels". People should read up more on the history of Islam and just why all those wars took place. Either way, war is ugly - but it's not an Islamic phenomenon and the verses do not speak of initiated aggression by one side. Therefore these verses cannot be used to signify that Islam mandates mindless violence.

(B) "Slay them wherever you find them. (Sura 2:190)"

"Arrest them, besiege them. And lie in ambush everywhere for them. (Sura 9:5)

"But he forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you on account of your religion and driven you from your homes or abetted others to do so. Those that make friends with them are wrongdoers. (Sura 60:9)"

Now, the problem with these three are one and the same: a laughable elimination of the proper context. Let's just get these verses as they are supposed to be read and perhaps then they will make sense.

2: 190. And fight in the Way of Allah those who fight you, but transgress not the limits. Truly, Allah likes not the transgressors.

191. And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out.

So here we have self-defense. "Those who fight you".

9:5 - Sura 9 deserves an explanation. From the very beginning of the chapter we are told that treaties with the polytheists are to be disbanded. Why? A reading of verses 1-15, approximately, will tell us that it is especially because the polytheists have not respected the treaties they themselves have made. Therefore the Prophet is under no further obligation to honor these treaties that have already been betrayed by the polytheists. (You can find Sura 9 here:

60:9: (on unbelievers) God forbids you to befriend them. And whosoever will befriend them, then such are wrong-doers.

This is the most obvious one, and to deal with it one must only read the verse immediately preceding it.

60:8 - Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity.

With this understanding, we continue:

60:9 - It is only as regards those who fought against you on account of religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and helped to drive you out, that God forbids you to befriend them. And whosoever will befriend them, then such are wrong-doers.


(C) Muhammad is God's Apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another. (Sura 48:29)

This is Robert Spencer's translation (for those who are so fortunate as to never have heard of Robert Spencer, he is a most notorious and shameless New 'Expert' on Islam, and has written several books maligning Islam I do not deign to mention here, for fear it will lead to him gaining just a little bit of profit from his lies.)

I think he used the N.J.Dawood one. With this, I need only point out that the translation is not correct. The correct translation of the term "shadeed" is not "ruthless" but rather "firm" or "tough". And, uh, given the circumstances, somehow I feel that firm treatment with the unbelievers was justfied...

(D) He that leaves his dwelling to fight for God and his apostle and is then overtaken by death, shall be rewarded by God. (Sura 4:100)

People point to this to say it encourages fighting and violence; however, would one refuse a Christian martyr God's reward? Not mention all the reasons I've mentioned already on what exactly the circumstances of the fighting were. (I should elaborate on this in a future blog post. Just what WERE the circumstances of the Muslims and the nonbelievers at that time?)

So there we have it. Several verses that are always pointed to when "proving" that ISLAM IS A RELIGION OF VIOLENCE!!

And my reply to say that: in fact, they do not. :)