MPO

 

“There needs to be pushback. Those who believe in the human dignity of men and women must speak forcefully against such dehumanizing cultural practices. There is ample precedent within Islamic teachings to advocate an alternative approach in which both genders are partners in building vibrant families, communities, and societies”

 

Leave it to the good people at The Western Muslim Initiative, a Calgary-based online magazine, to provide insightful analysis of Western Muslim culture, with a healthy dose of biting humour.

Take, for example, Spam Imam, an advice column dispensed by a fictitious imam.

In one recent exchange, a concerned wife expresses her doubts about her husband’s sexual orientation: She found him staring surreptitiously at online pictures of Johnny Depp; he once called her “Jim” (her name is “Aisha”); and her foundation has gone missing.

The good imam counsels her to adopt the Islamic adage of finding plausible excuses for such behaviour, rather than finding blame: Her husband’s behaviour may simply reflect a platonic admiration for men he is trying to emulate in order to be attractive to his wife. Besides, advises the imam, foundation makes for good sealant for plumbing repairs performed by her faultless husband.

Apparently, cutting slack does not apply to the hapless “Aisha.” Spam Imam tells her to look in the mirror and see where she failed “as a wife and a woman.” Perhaps she has grown fat over the years. Or she has a successful career, and has thus challenged her husband’s masculinity. He counsels her to quit her job and concentrate on enhancing her “womanly charms” through a strict regimen of diet and exercise. She should also dress like a “harlot” at home. After all, Spam Imam concludes, a woman’s sole function in life is to take care of all of her husband’s needs.

Many within the community find such commentary uncomfortable, as it reinforces the unflattering stereotype of a misogynistic imam. However, this misses the point of a larger truth: namely, that disturbing attitudes toward women are alive and well within Muslim communities. A casual reader could be forgiven for failing to see the humour of Spam Imam, especially in light of recent real-life pronouncements in relation to violence against women. Truth is not only stranger, but harsher, than fiction.

In May, conservative Afghan legislators successfully blocked laws aimed at protecting women from violence, child marriage and becoming the objects of bartering. Some even argued that these laws were “against sharia,” and would lead to social chaos. What did these parliamentarians find so objectionable? For one: the criminalization of domestic violence. Conservative lawmaker Mandavi Abdul Rahmani was unequivocal in his belief that the Koran allows a man to beat a “disobedient” wife, as long as “she was not permanently harmed.” Another object of ire: protection of victims of rape from the charge of adultery. According to Mr. Abdul Rahmani: “Adultery itself is a crime in Islam, whether it is by force or not,” reflecting the Afghan custom of prosecuting raped women for adultery. The alleged fear is that such laws would encourage women and girls to leave their homes. Nonsense. The real fear is losing control and power over their lives.

A similar sentiment was displayed in March, when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood issued a list of objections to a proposed United Nations declaration to condemn violence against women, including opposition to criminalizing marital rape and viewing marriage as a partnership between husband and wife with “full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as spending, child care and home chores.” Instead, the Brotherhood believes the husband should be the “guardian” of his wife.

According to The New York Times, Brotherhood “family expert” Osama Yehia Abu Salama advised female marriage counsellors: “A woman needs to be confined within a framework that is controlled by the man of the house.” If she is beaten by her husband, she shares the blame. And women are like children: They simply can’t be trusted to handle freedom, according to Mr. Abu Salama. Such views are also held by a subset of conservative women.

And one can readily find imams from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and Pakistan who preach domestic violence as a means of control – whether at the pulpit or on satellite TV shows.

There needs to be pushback. Those who believe in the human dignity of men and women must speak forcefully against such dehumanizing cultural practices. There is ample precedent within Islamic teachings to advocate an alternative approach in which both genders are partners in building vibrant families, communities, and societies. Thankfully, there are community workers and imams, here in the West, who are paving an indigenous form of the faith that incorporates gender equality. We still have a long way to go.

*Originally published in the Globe and Mail on July 2, 2013. Posted on this site with permission from the author

 

“The goal was to examine why relatively so few Muslim Americans have become radicalized. Although a “few” is still discomforting, the authors say the damage caused by this group since 2001 is relatively small. Since 9/11, there have been more than 136,000 murders in the U.S., with 31 (or 0.02 per cent) committed by radicalized individuals”

 

In response to the plot to blow up a U.S. airliner on Dec. 25, the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada issued a fatwa condemning terrorist actions perpetrated in the name of Islam. A fatwa is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law issued by an individual trained in Islamic law. In Sunni Islam, it’s non-binding.

Interestingly, the signatories of the Canadian fatwa included three Muslim women. The statement called on North American Muslims to safeguard Canada and the U.S. by exposing any individual who would cause harm. If there’s quibble, it’s the seemingly parochial nature of the fatwa: Terrorism is condemned because of its negative impact on the religious freedom of Muslims. Why not simply refer to the Koranic edict against murder, or the Prophet Mohammed’s clear directive against harming non-combatants?

Others took issue with the fatwa for a different reason. Why, they ask, should Muslims have to make any statement? Why should they have to speak to actions committed by extremists? This short-sighted approach completely ignores the Koranic directive to “enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.” Furthermore, public condemnation serves a valuable role in fighting domestic terrorism, according to the 2010 study Anti-Terror Lessons of Muslim-Americans by the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

The goal was to examine why relatively so few Muslim Americans have become radicalized. Although a “few” is still discomforting, the authors say the damage caused by this group since 2001 is relatively small. Since 9/11, there have been more than 136,000 murders in the U.S., with 31 (or 0.02 per cent) committed by radicalized individuals.

The anti-terror study generated social science evidence about how and why Muslim-American communities have resisted radicalization and political violence. The authors found five characteristics that enabled these communities to counter radical messages from the Internet.

Public and private denunciations of terrorism: Contrary to public perception, mainstream Muslim groups have constantly issued statements condemning terrorism, drawing on both religious and secular arguments.

Methods of self-policing that prevent the growth of radicalization: These practices include confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism; preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques; communicating concerns about radical individuals to law-enforcement officials; and purging extremists from membership in local mosques.

The study points to examples where concerned roommates, parents or imams informed the police about radicalized individuals. As one imam told his congregants, “Don’t come here with that foolishness. I’ll call the police right now. And you can call me a snitch or a rat, but call me a Muslim.” Ironically, this vigilance has led to confrontations with “agitator” informants, along with warnings to Muslims to be wary of entrapment. The use of informants is a sore point between Muslim communities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Muslim Americans also have adopted programs for youth to help identify individuals who react inappropriately to controversial issues, so they can be counselled and educated. Such programs should be adopted in Canada, including information on the signs of radicalization.

Importance of community-building: This reduces the social isolation of individuals who may be at risk of becoming radicalized. Strong social networks, educational programs and the provision of social services help identify risk-prone individuals.

Increased political engagement of Muslim Americans since 9/11: This channels grievances into democratic forums and promotes integration of Muslim Americans.

Compatibility between Muslim Americans’ U.S. and minority identities: This plays a key role against radicalization, since it counters the radical message that American values are hostile to Islam.

The study’s authors make a number of recommendations to bolster efforts against radicalization, including promoting public denunciations of terrorism by the media and public officials; increasing political engagement; improving community/law-enforcement relations; increasing civil-rights enforcement; and supporting enhanced religious literacy (Muslims with rigorous religious training are far less likely to radicalize).

Bottom line: This U.S. anti-terror study provides valuable lessons for counter-radicalization efforts in Canada.

This article was originally published in the Globe and Mail in January 2010 and republished with permission from the author

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