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 – is no excuse at all; to upset those outdated traditions that we hold to so closely is something I eagerly anticipate, something that should've been done long ago.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)