Monday, December 12, 2011

Women's Rights: Bring Them Into Focus

- I've been putting these little italicised fore-notes at the beginning of several posts now; I guess I'll keep the 'tradition' going. The following was written in response to an article in the Saudi English newspaper Arab News (http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article546538.ece) about women's rights; it won't make much sense unless you read the article first.
Enjoy.
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To The Editor:

I am a Muslim Saudi woman. Though I am elated at the news of a conference being held on the all-too-needed topic of women's rights here, the content of your article had me doubting whether the conference really accomplished what it set out to do.

Let's start out being positive, though. I must agree with your headline: "Muslims Cautioned Against Looking At Women Through Western Prism". Why are we even looking towards the West for guidance in women's rights? 1400 years ago under the Prophet Muhammad women were granted rights to inheritance, to vote, to equality, to humanity... which women in the mud hovels of the Middle Ages -mired West totally lacked. Now, without a doubt - we need to stop deluding ourselves - we are not following our own religious teachings (when did the Prophet Muhammad prohibit women from riding donkeys?), and we are taking for ourselves the very worst aspect of Western women's "liberation": immorality. The question for Saudis, Arabs and Muslims is: when, where and why did we fall behind? More importantly, how do we now catch up, and improve?

Now, a conference about that would be very interesting.

To continue: I find it staggering that in an article covering a women's rights convention, 5 of the 6 speakers/moderators mentioned are men. The one woman is tucked into a footnote at the end, not even quoted. This is part of the problem: when will men stop speaking for women?
Their endeavors on behalf of women are much appreciated. However, these social problems
will never be solved if they keep listening to no one but themselves, repeating
they've been saying for many years: "All is well". It's not. I'm sure if you asked the average Saudi woman, she would not agree that "all her needs are provided for". Transportation? Nope. Independence? Nope. Right to work? Oh, they're still discussing that. Mentioned in one of the lectures was 'women having illegal sex and getting abortions'. Those women did not
impregnate themselves. As with all problems, the blame cannot be skewed to one
side. We need to stop blaming the women for moral bankruptcy in society. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes.

That said, let's not point fingers at just the men. Women are at fault, too. Many display astonishingly bovine behavior towards very real problems in their own society. Acceptance of the status quo, if they are personally not affected, is rife. I've had people tell me that they are
not affected by the driving ban, as they have drivers: "why should they care?" Many women conduct themselves in a way totally bereft of decorum and dignity, much less their supposed 'faith'; why are women who call themselves Muslim walking around malls in drag queen makeup? This merely lends fuel to excuses to hinder women's rights on the hollow basis of 'preventing immorality'.

Point is, the women are not pristinely innocent creatures either: no one is. What we most need to understand is that these issues in Saudi Arabia - and the world as a whole - are not part of a 'gender war': this is a comprehensive social problem. We need to honestly face it, and ourselves, if we are to go anywhere, and if we are ever to find solutions.

And God, how I sincerely hope we do.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thank You For Giving Me The Vote, King Abdullah. Now Can I Please Have Something To Vote About?

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The following is the second of my articles to appear on the Aslan Media website at http://aslanmedia.com/news-a-politics/301-world/4484-thank-you-for-giving-me-the-vote-king-abdullah-now-can-i-please-have-something-to-vote-about.
It's an alternate form of my below piece, An Overrated Decision.
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When I, a Saudi female who lives in the city of Jeddah, first heard the news last month that King Abdullah was going to let women vote, my first reaction was, "vote in what?"

As is well known, the country of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. The king has the final say in everything. There is no parliament, no prime minister, not even a constitution.

I suppose democracy must begin somewhere. But what elections was the king even talking about?

Perhaps he meant municipal elections. Those were held for the second time ever earlier this year. Yet when women went to their municipalities to vote, they were turned away at the polls. These women then launched a protest against their lack of a voice (not to mention the nonsensical ban on allowing them to drive), which I view as part of a larger attempt for Saudi women to gain leverage in a male dominated system and society.

Perhaps the king meant elections for the Shura Council, the "formal advisory body" in Saudi Arabia that in theory has the power to propose laws to the King (but not enforce them). That would be more interesting. About time, too!

But there's something missing here. Did he say anything about women driving? About finally legalizing it? Er… No. Apparently the King is fine with women taking a part in deciding which the (symbolic) road the country should take, domestically and internationally, but not in actually driving on that (physical) road.

In any case, the King’s decree is already beginning to look suspiciously ineffective. The fact is that the next municipal elections are scheduled to be held in 2015 and the Shura Council does not directly effect daily life for Saudis (as mentioned, the council merely proposes, not enforces, laws). We need a decree that would bring a positive, practical change to Saudi women's lives, not just lip-service that sounds good – and that the world's media hail as a major milestone – yet makes no real difference at all in anything but perception.

Don’t forget that just two days after the announcement hailed as a landmark in the progress of women's roles in Saudi society, a Saudi woman who drove was sentenced in court to a flogging of 10 lashes as punishment. Of course, there was an international uproar and the sentencing was eventually overturned. Once again the media talked about a huge step forward for Saudi women! Personally, I do not see the revoking of the sentence as something to be celebrated. It is not like no woman would ever be sentenced for driving again.

My pessimism was reinforced when Crown Prince Sultan died (may God have mercy on his soul) and Prince Nayef was announced next in line to the throne. The septuagenarian Nayef is not known for his support of initiatives advancing democracy or women's rights. On the contrary, he "does not see the need for elections or for female members of the Shura council" – both subjects of the decree the world recently celebrated. Nayef has also stated that women's driving is a "non-issue" and "should be decided by society" – whatever that means. On the ground here in Saudi, any mention of the future possibility for women to drive – not to mention other, more basic issues such as guardianship, unfairness in divorce, and child custody – is met with derision. "You think Nayef will even consider it?"

I don't mean to rain on anyone's parade. In fact, I will more than gladly join the parade when it does come – but I will make sure any celebration I take part in stands for a real achievement.

This story is far from over. Here's hoping for a truly huge step forward for Saudi women, and soon. When that time comes, let's hope it's not limited to just driving a car, but an acknowledgement of just how far Saudi has to go in terms of women's rights. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need to recognize that support women's rights does not only integrate seamlessly with the true message of Islam, but with our worldwide mission as humans with consciences.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

At You I Stare In Disbelief

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I wrote this a while ago (mid-November, when #JeddahFire had just happened and the Egyptian protests were raging) and never got around to posting it. It's somewhat dated, but -I hope - still relevant, and decided to post it anyway.
-

These days, the thoughts - the emotions - that cross my mind most when watching the news or when I'm on Twitter are ones of horror, pain (only something non human would not feel pain).... but most of all, disbelief.

Disbelief. Surprise. Shock.

Because most of all, what I think is:

How can this be happening? How can this all be true? It can't be true!

It all sounds like a cruel joke.

How can the great heroes of the Egyptian revolution still be suffering? January 25th, your fighting spirit has returned; but never again did we want to see the likes of January 28th.

How can the grand Midan el-Tahrir - Freedom Square - echo once again with screams and cries of pain, choked with tear gas and riddled with rubber bullets - but resound with chants of freedom?

HOW CAN THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS HAVE BEEN WASTED?

How can the brave sons and daughters of Syria still be suffering under their wicked tyrant?

How can things be the way they are?

Closer to home... In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the world - how can a girl's school burn down and cause numerous injuries, and several deaths?

The same city that saw tens killed and injured and millions in property damage in the past two years, because of flooding - from *rain*? The same city where people, now, in the winter with the rainy season coming up, look up to cloudy skies with worry clouding their own eyes?

The same city where I have seen no tangible improvement, nothing to prevent the same thing from happening again?

World, at you I stare in disbelief.

People - mankind - all of humanity -

At you I stare in disbelief. At our future, I eye in apprehension and stark fear. The rage at our present is building.

And then I roar -

ENOUGH!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Women To Drive - Let's Go!


So today's the day, everyone: June 17. The day women will finally take the wheel in Saudi Arabia…

Or won't they? Will the fear of police detention; of UAE tanks and fighter jets (as the rumor goes); and, of course, of good old-fashioned fire and brimstone hold us back? Will the rumor-spreading fear-mongers, the damning finger-shakers, the regimented naysayers get their way? Will the fight be postponed another 20 years? Let's hope not.

Let's hope and pray that whatever happens today, women will wake up to a brighter future in Saudi Arabia and in the world as a whole. This Grand Arab Uprising, the Arab Spring, has been a tide of change across the Arab world. It's passed Saudi Arabia by so far – let's hope it can be a force to help bring about, at the very least, the most elemental of rights for women: that of mobility. Let's hope what happens today can in itself be a force of change to bring about the many rights of women in this country that are so sadly lacking.

The arguments people use against women's driving here are each just as illogical, nonsensical and easily proven incorrect as the other. Women's driving is most definitely not against Islam – to ride donkeys and horses was hardly outlawed by the Prophet Muhammad 1400 years ago. An excuse made for the misogynistic customs of society – and in that, we are very much un-Islamic! – is no excuse at all; to upset those outdated traditions that we hold to so closely is something I eagerly anticipate, something that should've been done long ago. For those who claim that 'this is not the right time' – when will be the right time, and who is to suggest just how will we determine this castle-in-the-sky 'right time'? The traffic here is a disaster. Laws are nonexistent. My American mother, a driver with more than 20 years of experience, grits her teeth at the speeding, the recklessness, the road races. Traffic laws need to be implemented here, and fast; perhaps the advent of 'dangerous women drivers' will finally get the police up and running, and the rules practiced.

People speak of a dark age of 'harassment' and the 'dissolution of public morals'. Hate to break it to you, but 'the dissolution of public morals' has hardly been stopped by something as meager as women's driving. Walk into any mall you find. Walk along the street in your black tent and see how many honks you get; how many filthy words you get yelled out of car windows at you. It is an anomaly to find a girl without a boyfriend – or, oh the horror, girlfriend! – in our nation's colleges and universities. Same goes for boys. Public morals? What public morals, where? I find this 'dissolution' already rocketing along, due in part to the oppressive stifling so many Saudi youth feel in this country, which this ban is a part of. Countless pious and devout Muslim women drive the world over. It is both unrealistic and disrespectful to assume that to drive is to be a slut, thank you very much.

That distant dream on the horizon of a Saudi Arabia without sexual harassment, with proper traffic laws, of a Saudi Arabian society that does not demean women, that respects them as the Qur'an, the God they claim to follow does: "Never will I turn away from the deeds of any of you, male or female; you are of one another" (3:195) – will be just that, a distant dream, until we women of Saudi Arabia have the courage to stand up and demand our God-given rights.

!And when we do, God be with those who refuse us

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What Defines A Muslim? (3) C'mon, Now, Really


Look. I think it all comes down to one very simple point that I made in Part 1. If you really believe God sent down the Qur'an, do what He says to do in it.

Honestly, though? Just do what you want; what you believe to be right. I'm not going to treat you any different or any of that which comes with a medieval outlook and "you're not one of us" BS. It's you and God. But please, claiming yourself to be 'Muslim' as you directly contradict the essence of Islam itself – the Qur'an – is, I think, as much of a crime as Osama Bin Laden's twisting of the Qur'an to fulfill his own sick fantasies. After all – he had an interpretation of his own, right? An interpretation that any sane person immediately condemned. They did not cast him out of Islam – only God can do that, and no human being can judge another – they did not accuse him of 'not being a Muslim anymore', but they condemned his interpretation. His action.

That is what I hope we can do here. Never condemn the person – never treat them but anything with the utmost respect, love, kindness. The way you want to be treated. But, for God's sake, do not condone their actions. Condemning a person and what they do are two very different things and that's the reason why I'm not a sick maniac whom you would be justified to call a self-righteous isolationist. Condemning PEOPLE, casting myself as God, determining who's right and who's wrong (and I hope I've made it quite clear) is not what I'm talking about.

I'm just saying, look within yourself and ask yourself if you can really justify what you're doing. I hope I've not offended anyone and that I've been able to get my message across clearly.

(Incidentally, I also regard with a jaundiced eye those who say my point of view is 'idealistic' and 'not caught up with the times'. So refusing a glass of wine and that flirty hunk is that difficult? Making time for God in your day is impossible? Come on. We have countless examples of faithful, practicing Muslims who manage to do it in spite of the barrage of urges to do otherwise! Why give ourselves the easy way out?)

In all, God gave us these instructions for a reason. C'mon, people. Let's follow them.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What Defines A Muslim? (2) The Interpretation Question


Okay all, here's part 2 of this series: my bound-to-come-short attempt at the definition of a Muslim. It was brought on by discussions on Twitter as well as, believe it or not, walking through a Saudi mall!

One thing that must be stressed here is that this is NOT meant to represent that I'm walking around with a checklist of Criteria To Be Met if someone Claims To Be Muslim - "or else". I'm just kind of annoyed at the extent the 'Muslim by name' phenomenon has reached. Here in the Arab world specifically, Saudi Arabia especially, it's getting kind of ridiculous. I once was speaking to a girl in my class; she mentioned that she didn't cover her hair when she traveled. I asked her, "Do you really believe that you should?" She said "Sure!" – and, when asked further about why she didn't back up her beliefs with actions, simply shrugged.

So is this a case of words not matching up with actions? Beliefs not translated into real, live, factual stuff? I think it is. I think it's an attitude of carelessness, a kind of laissez-faire picked up from the general attitude about religion nowadays. "It's what in your heart that counts." Of course it is – but what is in your heart and words and intentions are NOTHING without deeds to back them up, as well as vice-versa. That's just common sense. Why else is "those who believe" always, always directly followed by "and do good deeds" in the Qur'an?

So I really detest this attitude of "I know what I'm going to do but I'm too lazy to do it"… which is the first category of non-practicing Muslims. Frankly, if the girl had told me "no, I actually don't believe I should cover my hair" because she had researched the actual subject and had come to the conclusion (as many have) that covering one's hair is indeed unnecessary, I would've respected her far more.

This brings us to the second category: Muslims who claim that their interpretation of the sacred texts has enabled them to follow Islam as they see fit. Naturally and as a matter of course there are different understandings of how Islam ought to be practiced. As mentioned in Part 1, that's the beauty of it, and re-interpretation MUST be done if a true Islamic Reformation is to be accomplished. It's part of Islam and refuting the, unfortunately, all-too-often outdated, misogynistic, patriarchal, *insert synonym of BAD of your choice here* system and edicts Muslims have been following blindly for centuries because someone told them the door of interpretation was closed and that's it. I'm of the opinion that the decay and downfall of the Muslim world was in part caused by that cursed idea. It needs to be rectified, immediately – and responsibly. Let's not get carried away here.

So excuse me if I regard with a jaundiced eye the claims of people who drink, who don't pray, who have sex without being married. It's just, how exactly do you 'interpret' (impolitely: 'twist around') direct orders? Nothing ambiguous, just "do" and "don't do"?

Don't drink alcohol.

Direct punishment for those who have sex outside of marriage.

PRAY, for God's sake!

Do I really need to get verses in the Qur'an to back this up? Really, guys? (As always, I'd love to hear if you've got an interpretation that says it's OK for any of the above.)

(continued in Part 3 - I'd get sued for length otherwise.)

Friday, June 3, 2011

What Defines A Muslim? (1) An Introduction


(I'll be as clear-cut and to the point as possible today. Please do not be offended and if you have any comments you’d like to make after reading this piece, feel very free to comment below or contact me on my Twitter handle @TheLogicker.)


Okay, let’s get on with it. Today’s blog post shall be about the definition of a Muslim. Simple, right? You believe in God and that Muhammad is His Prophet; pray five times a day; fast for a month once a year; give to charity; and of course make the pilgrimage to Makkah. The five pillars of Islam, basically... But no.

Two conversations with two excellent people, both on Twitter, brought an opinion contrary to mine (dubbed the traditional viewpoint) to my attention, and which they agree upon: that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you identify as a Muslim. Basically, as long as you introduce yourself as “I’m Muslim” you can be doing whatever you want, five pillars optional. Just “be a good person” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) and you are welcome to the club.

No doubt their opinion is shared by many, but not by me.

I do see where they’re coming from. An isolationist, self-righteous, “we’re the only ones who are right” technique, an exclusive club in which only self-proclaimed members can join is not the way to go. We see it a lot today in Muslims and I guess that’s what spurred this small but growing movement on. Let us not abandon, isolate, hate. Let us embrace, let us love. But my lack of acceptance of this stems from my belief that there is quite a difference between loving someone and accepting them, and condoning what they do - and that is the difference which concerns us here. Melting into society, to the extent that there are no truly unique people anymore, is not the way to go either. It stands for something not good that it has started happening now.

Because we ARE different. God tells us that He has created us “in different peoples and tribes that you may get to know one another” (Qur’an Hujurat- ), and we should celebrate that difference. No, we do not want to go back to rampant racism, and superiority because of religious or ethnic background. We do not want to go back to “I’m right and you’re wrong” to be settled at the tip of a sword, and a world in which we fight over faith. We have come too far to return to that. But what we most certainly do not want to do is to water our faith down into a name, a label (is not the very worst thing we can do to ourselves is to self-label?), until it means nothing at all.

Let us begin with something I think we can all agree distinguishes a Muslim: belief in the Qur’an. If you’re going to disagree with me on that, really… Stop reading now, please. The Qur’an is what began identification of Islam as a distinct religion, is the revelation sent to the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, may peace be upon him - so to beat around the bush with anything resembling “I’m a Muslim but I don’t believe in the Qur’an” is going a tad too far. Really. (Any other opinions, of course, disagreeing with my previous statement I’d be glad to hear.)

Okay, the Qur’an. I’ve gotten into arguments with people (yes, it would be more polite to call it ‘a discussion’ but I’m being honest) when I tell them MUSLIMS FOLLOW WHAT IS IN THE QUR’AN: they say, “but who can determine what the Qur’an says in the first place? There are so many interpretations!” They are right, and that is the beauty of Islam: the multiple interpretations. The possibilities left open.

I’ll go off on a tangent here: the beauty of Islam is that it is a modern religion without having to be modernized. Islam does not truly need ‘reform’, or change, which is why I distrust any self-proclaimed reformation movements. I think a belief that a religion really needs such a thing would contradict the belief of its being from an all-Powerful, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator. If a religion so desperately needs to be changed from its core, it’s a clear sign to me that it’s just not the right thing to believe in. I’d abandon my faith in that religion - without a single qualm, I hope - because I refuse to belittle myself to the point of attaching myself to a belief system that’s been concocted by human hands.

Because really - would we ever need to teach God anything? Would we need to change anything that comes from He of the Ninety-Nine Names, a system we have been ordered to follow? No. All we can do is cut away the man-made trappings that’ve been draped on it over time - and boy, how those mundane trappings have obscured the crystal brilliance in this religion. The stem of this entire argument - of my entire professed belief as a Muslim - is that whatever discrepancies or faultiness we may see in Islam is nothing but the errors of people. Therefore we should have no qualms in accepting Islam as a whole: mind, body, and soul: the farthest thing possible than merely a label.

Gah. I’ve overstepped myself. Time to cut this off here and continue later - and, I assure you, God willing this will be continued. Like I said discussion is welcome. I’d love to hear your thoughts as I continue with this, so you can help me formulate my own ideas. Nothing in our heads is set in stone unless we deem it to be, and to deem anything in my head solid or beyond doubt is beyond na├»ve (aka: you of the opposite viewpoint, you have the chance to convince me yet ;).

I’ll see you soon.


(NEXT: The Interpretation Question)


Saturday, May 7, 2011

OBL and the Saudi Reaction



Like everyone else, we'd pretty much forgotten about Osama bin Laden here in Saudi Arabia. Also, like everyone else - other than those who happen to be specially affiliated with the CIA - I was very surprised to learn of his death. But while mine was tinged with something close to a feeling of triumph - I was not sad to see him go, for reasons I will detail later - different opinions were expressed at my girls' government school here. But not for the reasons which might be expected.

I won't go as far as to say I celebrated his death: human life is human life. At the very least it's unseemly to whoop and sing about the death of an enemy, to celebrate it. Celebrating the spilling of blood: primitive, isn't it?

I digress. There are many who say that the US should not have stooped to his level in killing him; that they should have brought him in for a fair trial; that what happened in Pakistan was no more than an assassination. I'm not going to delve into that today. All I know is that when I went to school and brought it up, I found many who were indeed sad to see him die - but not for the sake of his announced cause.

First of all, many people believe he did not orchestrate the 9/11 attacks in the first place. Conspiracy theory or not, it has substantial backing here. But most tellingly, most importantly, they do not support him for his message of terror and fighting against non-Muslims. The idea of a 9/11 setup is essential here. People are proud of him for 'standing up to America', for an attitude of 'never backing down' to a dictator, for 'pride in the face of colonialism' - not for killing non-Muslims. I reiterate that you will not find a single person who says that killing non-Muslims is okay here in Saudi - well, in my school anyway. That attitude simply does not exist anymore. Even with the strictest imams, non-Muslims are considered to be under treaty, at the least. But what does exist is the idea of FREEDOM-FIGHTING.

In a Facebook post by a very good friend of mine, she compared Bin Laden to Omar al-Mukhtar, the Libyan hero who struggled against Italian colonialism. The lack of differentiation between political and religious interests comes into play here: just as the US's invasion of Iraq was portrayed as a 'crusade', instead of a political move that played into the US's political interests (I admit, I've recently seen Green Zone); just like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is portrayed as one between Muslims and Jews, instead of a simple case of land theft and ethnic cleansing.

This is the fodder of terrorists.

This is where the work must be done.

It is naive, misguided and simply very wrong to say that terrorism is a black-and-white bloodthirsty fight by Muslims against non-Muslims. That is nothing but complete and utter nonsense. Putting aside that that attitude is hardly justified by the Qur'an or the example of the Prophet Muhammad, if that was the case: why do they bring up Palestine 24/7? Why constantly bring up the thousands of innocent lives lost, the blood shed in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Because by portraying America as the occupier, the terrorist, the crusader (when I brought up the thousands of innocents killed by Bin Laden on 9/11 some girls even retorted with the exact same rhetoric: "What about the innocents killed in Iraq and Palestine?"), terrorists and their groups find support for their immoral activities.

People feel that they are 'fighting back'. The impotent feeling of helplessness created in Arabs by their despotic governments comes into play here as well; to feel that they are doing something to help their 'Muslim brothers suffering in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan' they join these repulsive people and their repulsive cause, and in the meantime cause so much irreparable damage.

That brings me to why I personally am not sad to see him go. Why I replied vehemently to the girls who championed him as 'a representer of us Arabs' with 'if we Arabs are represented by him, we're in big trouble'. Why I insist upon not mourning him; why I look upon his death with a grim feeling of justice being done. Because even with believing he was not behind 9/11 - did Washington really have any proof other than Bin Laden's 'boast of what he saw as a great achievement'? - he did just that. He boasted. Even those who delude themselves - a girl seriously told me "No, he hasn't" when I told her this: it cannot be argued that Osama bin Laden is the single most hated, damaging figure to Islam, Muslims and Arabs today, who does indeed represent Islam, Muslims and Arabs to many Westerners today, unfortunately.

Personally, I think he should've gone on trial so this could be resolved one and for all - not to mention the basic human rights it represents.

But I am not sad to see him go.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

What's Saudi Arabia's Woman Problem?



If I'd started writing this before I knew the #KhobarGirlsUnite campaign (check Twitter) had succeeded in registering women to vote in the municipal elections coming up, I would have started off angry and confrontational. At this news you can all take a breath of relief, I suppose...

False alarm. I've decided I'm still going to be angry and confrontational. Especially with these topics - it's too much fun.

Now first of all, I really don't care about the relevance of these municipal elections. I'm not sure they carry any clout in the first place. But, as I and others have said on Twitter - who cares? It's the PRINCIPLE, the audacity of standing barefacedly against the undeniable, unalienable rights of women. What would the Prophet Muhammad say, he who had taken the pledge of allegiance from some of the most empowered women ever to grace history? May God's peace and blessings descend upon you, O Prophet... If you could see what those who claim to be your followers have done while announcing their dedication to marching in your footsteps...

How many times has religion been used to stuff women into the background, COMPLETELY GROUNDLESSLY? Trust me, it's groundless... A deep and thorough examination of every single accusation leveled towards Islam of abusing women should be made and completely debunked. it can be and it should; no big deal, wouldn't even take a very long time. The truth is obvious. Really, we Muslims need something like that to back us up when fighting against stuff like this. Every accusation in general, actually. We need a website like that - sound like a good idea, anyone?

Anyway, back to our topic.

"We won't let women vote because Saudi society's not ready for it," their excuse was. Oh really, sir? Since when can one person (or even several of those 'higher-up', whatever) determine what an entire society would think of such a matter? If King Faisal had waited until 'society agreed' to ban slavery or to start educating girls, I guarantee you the country of Saudi Arabia would be more stuck in the past and more backward than it is right now - and that's saying something.

They've been using that excuse for years, years, years. My mother - American, has been driving for most of her life and is a better driver than 90% of the men here - continually brings up what Prince Naif said a few years ago: "It's up to the family to decide." She turns to my dad and says, let's go to where you can sign something and get me a driver's license! (Notwithstanding the fact that she has an international driver's license, with Saudi Arabia one of the listed countries. We get a kick out of that, say she can use it as an excuse.) And my father can only shake his head with a rueful smile.

The excuse of having no women-only places to vote is also pathetic... Make some!

So what's with it? Seriously, what is people's problem here? What is this awful, horrible, outdated, unfair attitude (to say the least) that comes to anything that could possibly empower women here? Not even 'empower', you get the most ridiculous reactions to the least of things. the attitudes themselves are... Astonishing!

I'll give a quick example. Go to this article in Arab News today and check out the comments. The worst of the "we're not OPPRESSING women, we're HONORING their poor dear helpless selves!" on display. Here's one: "We respect our women more than any nation in the world. and we don't like them to be on the streets."

Something not fitting together there? Jeez, if you respect them, don't shut them up!

The man in the article who speaks about himself not liking his womenfolk to go out alone speaks FOR himself, he can go ahead and do whatever he wants - but do not impose that opinion on the general population with a dictatorial law. Same goes for the women who titter "Oh, heavens, dearie me at the very IDEA" of being able to drive: DO NOT PREVENT OTHERS FROM THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT WHICH YOU WANT NO PART IN.

Do people here not understand the meaning of 'women must be able to function on their own'?! In case of emergencies, at least! This past year my father had to work and stay in Riyadh, a different city, for a few months. My family was stuck without a man and we were practically under virtual house arrest that whole time, going out only for necessity. He's back now, thank God - we don't have to waste our money and effort on taxi drivers who give women leery looks in the rear-view mirror, or stand in the sun on the street waiting for an empty cab to pass by, trying to ignore the honks that come from every car that passes our way. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are sexually harassed while dressed in tents. It's disgusting and only serves to incorrectly undermine the role of hijab further...

Wow.

Long post.

I need a break.

So do you.

I'm not finished, though. I don't think I ever will be.

Letters on Vittorio


This is the letter I sent to our local English newspaper, Arab News, on Vittorio's murder.


By MARYAM AL-DABBAGH, BY E-MAIL

Who killed Vittorio Arrigoni?



The brutal killing of the Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni shocked the world.

He lived with the Palestinian people, worked and suffered alongside them, and his death and kidnapping was finally blamed on the people he loved and was loved by. He was a loud and vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause and backed his words with action: He stood by the Palestinians in good times and bad, and was one of the only foreigners to stay in Gaza during the December 2008-January 2009 Israeli assault. Hundreds of people took part in a remembrance march across Gaza and the West Bank for him; hundreds across the world mourned him with no less sorrow.

A Salafist group has been accused of the heinous crime. One of their members, we are told, has confessed.

The question to ask when looking for the perpetrator of a crime is always: Who stands to gain from it? Who has the motive to plot an atrocity and the capability to carry it out? The answer here is, beyond a doubt, Israel. The 2nd freedom flotilla to Gaza is scheduled soon; Goldstone recently retracted his report on Israel’s 2008 Operation Cast Lead that relentlessly bombed Gaza; and Israel has evidently decided to strike when the iron is hot.

If it is the way it appears, this crime only serves to underline the “brutality” of the Palestinian people. They are ruthless even to those who help them. Do they deserve peace?

Let us not allow Vittorio’s death to go in vain. Let us not willingly swallow the story spoon-fed us by those in power. Let his work continue on unabated. Let us honor him as he should be honored."


The next day I was pleasantly surprised to find a reply to me in the Letters section:



By MASOOD KHAN, JUBAIL

Gruesome murder

I was amazed by the logic put forward by Maryam Al-Dabbagh in her letter “Who killed Vittorio Arrigoni?” (April 20).

She builds her case on the assumption that since Palestinians got a bad name because of this killing Israel should be held responsible for this murder. She chose to simply ignore the information that an extremist religious group kidnapped Vittorio and killed him in cold blood when Gaza officials didn’t agree to free their leader in exchange for the Italian hostage. Mind you, the extremist group didn’t demand release of Gilad Shalit, so why to blame Israel to safeguard an internal enemy?

This is the same logic employed in Pakistan by the sympathizers of suicide bombers who first try to accuse the American agents for the mayhem in the country. But when a suicide bomber is caught and his relations with extremist organizations becomes evident, they try to justify the act by calling it a protest against American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

There is no doubt that Israel will try to defame Palestinians for this brutal murder. But there are some people among Palestinians who are giving this chance to Israel. I agree with Maryam’s closing line that we shall not allow Vittorio’s death to go in vain. Palestinians should look for black sheep within their own ranks who are blind by hatred of other faiths. Palestinians need to understand that extremist groups are not going to help them; they simply want to exploit their sufferings for their own nefarious designs."

I replied to Mr. Khan in today's newspaper:

http://arabnews.com/opinion/letters/article370001.ece

By MARYAM AL-DABBAGH, BY E-MAIL

Vittorio Arrigoni

In response to Masood Khan’s reply (April 22) to my letter of April 20, I will say that baseless accusations against anybody, whether it is a country, individual or organization, is unacceptable and counterproductive.

I also admit that in the Arab media Israel gets blamed for things it has not done.

However, my charge of Israel’s possible involvement in the murder of Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni was not a knee-jerk reaction in an attempt to exonerate Palestinians; it was put forward after a thorough examination of the motive and developments during and after the murder.

The motive is clear. Arrigoni was a foreigner well loved by many and his death would serve Israel’s interests very well, especially with the advent of the second international flotilla to Gaza (which, incidentally, was renamed “Stay Human,” after Arrigoni’s motto). What better way to prove the “inherent brutality of the Palestinian people” than to have someone like Arrigoni killed by Palestinians for whom he was working?

Vittorio was killed 24 hours before the elapse of the deadline set by the kidnappers; that is hardly the action of people who wanted a prisoner of their own released and were not intending murder in the first place. I also doubt a devout Salafist would shoot himself at the prospect of capture, as one of the three did, cornered by Hamas earlier this week.

There is no doubt that the ones who tightened the rope around Vittorio’s neck were murderous Palestinians who deserved the death penalty and much more for their crime. I merely wish to put forward a definitive statement — along with many others, including those who knew him best, such as activist Ken O’Keefe — that after examining the murder, motives and intent, it is more than conceivable and quite believable that a nation-state with Israel’s track record would be more than capable of masterminding a gruesome crime such as this.

Conspiracy theories or not, we will never know what really happened. Either way, I do agree with Masood: The presence of such people within the Palestinians ranks in the first place — collaborators with Israel or not — is detrimental to their very cause, and hurts their case in front of the eyes of the world.

I think we just need to hope with all our hearts that Vittorio’s death will serve no interests but the cause he believed in — the cause of complete, thorough and permanent justice for Palestinians.


So, did I handle it right? Waiting for tomorrow's edition to see if I get any further surprises... :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vittorio


Before he was kidnapped, I didn't know *of* Vittorio Arrigoni, much less know him in person. I'd never read about him, or encountered anything he'd written himself. I didn't even follow him on Twitter.

I do follow many people from Gaza, however, and @AmoonaE, residing in Paris, was the first I saw to tweet the news. An Italian activist has been kidnapped, she said - let us all start with prayers. Then she changed her Twitter picture to one of a dashing, very Italian-looking man with a pipe (read: handsome).

For the next couple of hours, I was intently following what was happening. Many other people began to tweet about him using the hashtag #FreeVittorio - I did too. @EbaaRezeq90 tweeted about how she was sure her friend would be back and safe, laughing with them about the ordeal, and would watch the Real Madrid-Barcelona game with them day after tomorrow; he was a Barca fan. I smiled at that - I was looking forward to that game myself, backing Madrid. Then it was late, and I went to sleep.

I woke up at 5 to pray; I woke up to the news of his death. And I began to cry.

For the next few days I was, to put it mildly, obsessed with what had happened - not because of my hormones, no - he was good-looking, sure, but an exemplary and heroic man first and foremost. I voraciously read about it, watched Al Jazeera like a hawk until their segment about his death, and got suspiciously shiny eyes once more at the sight of such a vibrant, good-hearted face, so alive!

I really cannot say more than the people who knew him have. I just wanted to share my own personal experience (and maybe explain to some of you tweeps why I was constantly tweeting about him for a few days). In his death he touched so many of our lives; once again I only wish I had known him before his heart stopped beating for Palestine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book Review Of 'Miral'


I recently wrote a review of the book Miral - set in Palestine, detailing the lives of four Palestinian women and their struggle, recently made into a movie directed by Julian Schnabel and starring Freida Pinto - which was published on the Aslan Media website.


Enjoy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

FEMINISM, WOOT!


Finally I've gotten around to updating my blog and ONCE MORE an unholy amount of time has elapsed since my last post. Hopefully this one and the ones that will follow soon will make it worth it. This is an introductory post; I'm tackling a meaty subject, after all, and not one I can give credit to in a single sitting, or attempt...

Feminism and Islam, and Saudi.

The very mention sends a shiver down your spine with the negative, uncomfortable vibes we're saturated with from all directions. We are told that women are oppressed in Islamic countries & especially Saudi Arabia by media of all kinds, whether through books or TV or Internet; by hearsay; and - most rarely - come to realize it through personal experience. The latter of which I have a lot of. Some of what you hear is true: I've told enough horror stories about my experience with Saudi misogyny in my time.

What enrages me, however, is not the attacks on the way my country of residence treats women. All too often, the criticism is justified - and needed. I take part in it myself readily. But when it begins to stretch to Islam's treatment of women, my claws are out. After all, as a Muslim woman, as a thinking and rational human being - how is it conceivable that I could possibly remain a follower of a religion that oppresses me? The suggestion that Islam oppresses women leads to that assumption and I refuse to be taken as such.

As always, the disrespectful treatment of women in Islamic countries stems from the everlasting problem of culture vs religion: how a religion's origin differs from its practice. It happened with Christianity and Judaism, with, I daresay every mode of thinking in the world; it's happened, sadly, to Islam as well. The Saudi version of Islam is certainly not *the* version of Islam, just like there is no one version of Islam itself.

I digress. Certain things have happened within the past few weeks that have pushed these issues to the front of my mind further, and I'll be talking about the experience in Saudi interposed with how it is SUPPOSED to be. In REAL Islam. Taken directly from its sources, the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, not clouded by patriarchal systems or closed mindsets.

Keep a heads-up and please feel free to bug me on Twitter (@thelogicker) if I haven't updated soon!

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Revolutions, Saudi, and What Might Happen


Bluntly put, my opinion is worthless. After all, I'm just another spectator of the upheaval going on in Middle East countries. I merely happen to be closer to the epicenter than most people I know, right here at home in Saudi Arabia - where the latest chapter of the ongoing Arab revolution was supposed to happen.

Today, March 11, there was a fair amount of hysteria going on within and without the country about it. The story was that there was going to be a 'Day of Rage', beginning from after the Friday prayers - familiar to those who've been keeping up with Arab protests as a strategy to get as many people together as possible, the prayers being mandatory for every Muslim male to attend. Family members went today, and they came back with nothing but a tale of lots of police cars around the perceived 'danger zone' (interspersed with over-excited exaggerations from the younger one, of course), and nothing else.

I wasn't surprised.

In clear terms, I don't think a revolution in Saudi at this point is going to work. For one, King Abdullah is loved by the people. He recently returned from a lengthy recuperation from a back injury abroad, which brought on a fierce wave of patriotic feeling in most Saudis. I was out late on the day the King returned, and I was entertained at a long stoplight (with a foreign driver, a stranger to me, at the wheel, of course) by the sight of at least thirty cars full of young guys - who don't really need an excuse to coast the streets waving flags and whooping - doing just that. Bellowing the national anthem (off-key, may I add) as though the Saudi national team had just won a match. It's a superficial display of affection, like the BBM I got with the poetic "People burn themselves in protest, but we burn on the inside with love for our king", but genuine. Revolution will happen, if ever, after the king dies, but not before.

In general, the Saudi people are content. Yes, there are ludicrous violations of human rights; women are treated scandalously; rampant corruption exists unbridled, and there are scores of examples to set for each of these and many other offenses, a sea of details I don't need to dip my toe in at the moment. But Saudis (well, admittedly I've mostly talked to schoolgirls) are mostly of the opinion that the notion of protesting is foreign. That Shias, that Iran, that general malcontents - not us, not real Saudis - are instigating the unrest is the general consensus.

Helping is the manipulation of religion the Saudi government has going on - has had going on for quite a while - justifying itself. In one of my religious subjects last term, my book said that it was haram or unlawful to challenge the leader, the one in position - even if that leader is unfair/committing sins/being generally awful. This strikes a nerve with me, because in my opinion the great Muslim stagnation of the last centuries was caused in part by ineffectual, unfit, unchallenged rulers who used religion much as modern dictators have.

All in all, though, I just hope for the best. Dialogue, as the foreign minister said, can indeed solve much of Saudi Arabia's problems - if the government will heed the voices of its people and the warning of the fates of dictators past (and recent). Who'd have imagined, several months ago, that Mubarak and Ben Ali would be gone, Gaddafi and others teetering precariously on the same yawning chasm? Perhaps a few months further and we will be looking back in deeper skepticism, wondering at how we were in March!

So let us pray that God will lead us all out of this as a better, improved, more dynamic Saudi Arabia; as, indeed, I pray for the entirety of the Middle East.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Sorry-I've-Been-A-Neglecting-Beast Post


It's pretty ironic that my last post on this blog is dated almost exactly a month ago. The last time I clicked 'Publish Post', it was January 25 - the day of the beginning of the Egyptian uprising, a most exciting chapter of the ongoing Arab revolution that has made the world sit up and take notice, that made me start feverishly using Twitter in an effort to find out and be updated on just what was going on.

Ironically, the very reason I have been neglecting this blog for a while.

You see, when you are busy checking a social networking site every few seconds (BlackBerries are both a blessing and a curse), checking the TV, checking newspapers, the whole shebang, you tend to neglect other, lesser-seeming stuff. Such as blogging to a nonexistent audience. It's the bitter truth that I must confront myself with. Sorry.

Add to that high school end-of-term exams (several of which I botched, incidentally.) Add to that a sudden resurgence of my until-recently-dormant desire to write FICTION, and this blog has been poorly neglected indeed.

Those are the factors which have left this blog so silent, dank and forlorn-looking. The fact that the color scheme is black doesn't help much either.

So here is the inevitable question - whatever shall I write about on this blog next? Probably politics - the eruption that is going on next door (I'm in Saudi Arabia, one of the lucky people who can call the Middle East 'next door') is far too noisy, colorful and dangerous to ignore. Until then, fellas - @TheLogicker on Twitter is where I can most definitely (thanks to that darned Blackberry) be found.

Now, a month and a day after January 25, I shall click 'Publish Post'. A post that is about absolutely nothing.

I hope you enjoyed it. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Science vs. Religion, a Musing


It's an age-old cliche: science vs religion. Faith vs reason. As though the two are opposites; as though neither can live while the other survives (to quote Harry Potter tongue-in-cheek). As though they are locked at each other's throats in an eternal battle to the death. One will vanquish the other eventually, and for now the victor seems to be science. I mean, it's obvious, right? Religion is fast becoming irrelevant in the developing world for several different reasons.

First of all, no more fear of the unknown. People know why things happen now, without having to use God as an excuse. God is now considered to be a 'safety net'; a vain attempt to ward off the threat of looming death into something more friendly. Self-delusion, wasted hope, whatever you want to call it: in their opinion, that's religion. They want to see themselves as people who can depend on themselves, not on some foreign unseen deity in the sky.

Then there is the problem that people have with the whole 'organized religion' thing. Churchmen, sheikhs, rabbis; they are all seen as clinging to traditions of the past (whether the traditions are good or bad). Our century is all about shaking up institutions and religion is being treated no differently.

Finally, most people aren't choosing their religion anyway. They take the convenient way out - following their parents' beliefs, mostly without any real conviction. Religious holidays have become empty rituals to be followed half-heartedly, for example; church every Sunday, or the mosque every Friday - even Islam's five daily prayers - has become a drag. Because who's going to go for something they haven't been motivated for, haven't chosen, in the first place?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Hero of the Day: Marie Nemani


This is an article I came across on Reza Aslan's website (who deserves a Hero of the Day of his own, actually) by 13-year-old Muslim Australian Marie Nemani. She puts together a coherent, compelling and passionate argument proving the point that a Muslim can be an excellent member of any international community regardless of his nationality or race.

It's an argument that needs to be aired more and more in these days of accusations and finger-pointing towards Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries. Yes, a Muslim can be a good Australian, a good American, a good German or Indonesian or Pakistani or whatever. Because Islam is not "just" for anyone. It is not a racial or nationalistic creed.

It is a truly international religion.



Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why I'm Not Threatened By Science



So why am I, a religious person, not threatened by the looming scepter of science-come-to-steal-God? Or rather, why am I STILL a religious person?

I think it's because I'm Muslim. Let me explain.

In Islam you are ORDERED to seek knowledge, from the cradle to the grave. The bases of many sciences and arts - algebra; optics; the guitar -are of Muslim origin. Go here to find out more about Muslims' inventions: http://www.1001inventions.com

So knowledge is no threat to me. How so? Let's take the example of evolution first, and how it has unbalanced Christianity. (Meaning no offense to any particular religion, incidentally; this is just detailing the wider topic of just why religion has been rejected today.)

Now, the Church rejects the theory of evolution for many different reasons, mostly because it doesn't mesh with the way the Bible describes creation happened. First light, then the plants, then the animals (I'm not listing literally, I don't know the sequence by heart).

Evolution - modern scientific discovery - comes along and tips the Biblical account onto its head.

What does the Church do?

a) Embrace: this runs counter to its own teachings
b) Bluster: this means nothing except to those doing the blustering
c) Ignore.

Needless to say, c) is the preferred route.

But what would Islam do? Or what do I, as a Muslim, do?

First of all, never mind whether or not the theory of evolution is true. Arguing about it will send you down the proverbial rabbit hole (I've tried it) so unless you're a molecular biologist or the like and that stuff directly interests you, I prefer to take another stance.

I think that we have no right to outline and put down in concrete exactly how God created the world. He could have created it any way He wanted to, in His infinite wisdom and knowledge. I don't have a problem believing in the theory of evolution because I think that in the end, evolution itself proves the existence of God by violating one of the laws of physics:

The Beginning.

Something cannot come out of nothing.

Therefore, the nothing must have come out of something. The action of the Big Bang must have been caused by... something.

What is this something, how is this something, who is this something?

I believe it is God.


In the end, if God does exist, and He created this universe, and He created us, then learning about this universe and the nature of our own souls can hold no threat for us or our faith or our eternal souls, as long as we keep the essential thing in mind:

That everything has always come into being with a purpose.

:)
_________________
A good piece dealing with the same topic: