Muslim Women and Mosques

I mentioned the HijabMan blog before. It turns out he doesn’t live in Canada. Seems like I just imagined that. Anyway, as I mentioned before, he had a post (permalink not working; scroll to the Nov 5 post) on the role of women in mosques.

The mosque I visited is the only one in this general area, so I haven’t really been in any mosques lately, except for those in Cairo. In any case, some American mosques make me extremely uncomfortable. As I walked in, I immediately saw a wall-fixture with a bunch of pamphlets inside. One of the photocopied flyers read (quoted word for word, exactly as it appears on the flyer): Masjid (Islamic) Dress Code for Women and men.

Below this heading were guidelines first, for women and young girls which included, “Clothing must cover the entire body including the head, The clothing must not resemble the man’s clothing (wait, who is “the man?”), the design of the clothing must be of Islamic style, The clothing must hang loose so that the shape/form of the body is not apparent, The design must not consist of bold designs, which attract attention, No make-up and perfume.” A shorter list appears for men. And, “The reason for this dress code is so that the women and men protected from the lustful gaze. They should not attract attention to herself/himself in any way.” I find it interesting that, 1. Rules for dress code are most-likely the only document in which women are emphasized. 2. I found bottles of musk in the Men’s prayer section, seems they are allowed to smell nice. 3. The Quranic statement, “There is no compulsion in religion,” does not apply in some mosques.

In the prayer area, I found that there was a separate entrance for women, and it opened into a space approximately 1/4th the size of the entire prayer space. 3/4th’s were allocated to the men. TheLook (who was not wearing hijab) and BackwardsSmiley were obviously uncomfortable in the mosque. When we walked around at the back of the men’s section just as a man was walking in, the man backed away, looking horrified, as if he had just seen a ghost. He didn’t say Assalamu alaikum, he just backed away with a shocked look on his face. TheLook and BackwardsSmiley scurried back to the women’s section, and the amazingly graceful man (*smirk*) took a few breaths before proceeding to the prayer area.

[…]Opponents of what I am saying will say, “Well, women don’t go to the mosque as much as men, so they don’t need the space.” What came first? The chicken or the egg? Maybe if women were encouraged to go to the mosque instead of discouraged, you would have more female participation. Also, it is usually the women who take the kids in the mosque, wouldn’t that qualify them for more space as well?

[…]If you want to read other women’s feelings when it comes to mosques, please read “Even Angels Ask,” by Jeffrey Lang. I’ll be writing a more coherent essay about gender and space in mosques when i get my copy of that book back, and do a bit more research.

Now he has an online survey for Muslim women to ask about their feelings towards mosques. Here is his post about it:

My name is Javed, and I made a survey with the help of a few friends (male and female), inquiring about Muslim women’s feelings towards the mosque. I tried to make it as unbiased as possible. Of course, no survey will ever be perfect, but I tried to cover as many bases as possible, without making the survey too big. If you have any constructive criticisms, please email me. If you find a question to be biased, again, email me. Please forward this to other Muslim women you know, The survey can be taken here Thanks. If you would like to know the results, again, email me. I will also publish them on my web site, assuming I get enough responses.

So if you are a Muslim woman, please head on over and do the survey.

Meeting Wes Clark

I didn’t exactly meet him, just attended the Wes Clark event here at Tech today. There were about 200 people there (I am not a crowd-counter; so I might be wildly off). Wes Clark gave a 20 minute speech which covered Iraq and foreign policy in general. He didn’t say anything about domestic issues. However, he was pretty good. He definitely has a firm grasp of the foreign policy and military aspects.

He started out with a story about him going to see the family of a soldier who died in Iraq (I think) and talked about the sacrifices of soldiers and the good job they were doing in Iraq. One line Clark had about the Bush policy was that the best thing you can say about it is that it relies not on realism but on hope.

Clark agreed that Saddam was a bad guy and would have acquired weapons of mass destruction if he could. But the war wasn’t necessary as Iraq was not an imminent threat. He also talked about the Bush administration thinking of the Iraq war immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to Clark, it was a “bait and switch” from the war on terror to the Iraq war.

However, now that we are in Iraq, we can’t just pull out. Clark did propose a few policy changes for Iraq:

  • Replace the US Coalition Provisional Authority with an international body with decision-making also shared. He compared that to the Balkans.
  • Make some non-American in charge.
  • Give as much control back to the Iraqis as soon as possible.
  • Develop new Iraqi governing/constitutional bodies as the Iraqi Governing Council is discredited because of the large number of exiles.
  • Elect local/regional bodies in Iraq which can then elect a central interim council.

Wes Clark pledged not to get the country into such a mess again if he is elected President. He talked about working with allies and trying diplomatic solutions to international problems. He also talked about his plans for a new government agency for nation building. The way he sees it that agency will do research on economic and political development as well as help poor countries implement such policies.

After the speech, Clark asked the audience for questions. My roommate John asked him about our aims and objectives in the war on terror and the conditions for an end to that war. Clark talked in some detail about a multipronged strategy against terrorism. It would include going after the major Al-Qaeda terrorists; putting pressure on Saudi Arabia to secularize somewhat without losing control of the country to fanatics; getting Pakistan’s eduation system on track as an alternative to the madrassas; work towards removing the conditions of frustration and humiliation in the Middle East which in his opinion are more important than poverty among the causes of terrorism. He mentioned the Middle East conflict (I think he meant the Israel-Palestine issue) as one of the things that need to be resolved. On the domestic front, he talked about reducing the vulnerability of high-visibility targets and suspending PATRIOT Act provisions to analyze their benefits or otherwise.

There were only two questions. The second one was about education. General Clark’s reply was a bit wishy washy. He criticized the the No Child Left Behind Act, but talked mostly in vague generalities. You could say he was rescued by his staff saying that the time was up.

Overall, my impression is that Clark knows and can fluently speak about the military and foreign policy. However, he does need to work on articulating domestic policy positions in a better manner.

POSTSCRIPT: All of this post is from the few notes I took and from memory. So there might be errors.

UPDATE: Here are a couple of news reports about the event.

UPDATE II: A report on Clark’s visit in our college paper.

My Life in Kashmir III

In the 1940s, every year there used to be a quarrel between Hindus and Muslims on Janam Ashtami [Hindu festival] and Miladun Nabi [Muslim festival] but the matter used to be clear within a week or so. The mischief was often started by the Sevak Sang …

See Zack’s note about this series. It also has an index of this series.

In the 1940s, every year there used to be a quarrel between Hindus and Muslims on Janam Ashtami [Hindu festival] and Miladun Nabi [Muslim festival] but the matter used to be clear within a week or so. The mischief was often started by the Sevak Sang (a Hindu militant political party) trained youth. Activities of Sevak Sang became more hectic with onset of 1947.

I was studying in an English medium school named Model Academy where duration of study for Junior Cambridge was 9 years (including 2 years of nursery) and another 2 years for the Senior Cambridge. In March 1947, I was in 2nd year after nursery when the school closed.

When the creation of Pakistan became sure, hatred could be noted on faces of some Brahmin Hindus. We had one Brahmin, Rambeer, in our class who was a member of Sevak Sang. I had seen him practicing Gatka (wooden replica of sword) and fight with Balum. (Balum is a long wooden rod fitted on one end with a twin-edged large dagger shaped steel piece). Final decision about independence was announced in March 1947. Next day Rambeer passing by me accompanied by a classmate, Keerti Kumar, abused Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah [founder of Pakistan]. On asking him not to do that, he took out a knife. I stood there and he tore my coat from behind with knife and went away after threatening me. He was taller, stronger and 3 years older than me. Two days later, our teacher had not come and we were waiting for a substitute teacher, when Keerti Kumar abused Muslims. On asking him to shut up, he jumped on me saying, “We will kill you Muslims and there will be no Pakistan.” I retaliated and gave him a bloody nose. Other students kept shouting “stop it” but no one intervened. After seeing blood on my shirt, a Muslim and a Sikh student separated us. Our class comprised 6 girls (one Muslim, 4 Hindu, one Christian) and 14 boys (6 Muslim, one Sikh, 7 Hindus). Later, the girls reported the matter to the Principal, who was a non-Brahmin Hindu, who held inquiry personally. All the girls, and 5 Muslim, one Sikh and one Hindu boy favoured me while Rambeer and another Hindu boy favoured Keerti Kumar. When pressed by the Principal, Keerti Kumar divulged that Rambeer had instigated him and that two days back Rambeer had cut Ajmal’s coat with knife and had threatened him. Consequently, both were suspended. My academic record at school was good and I had never quarreled before. A few days later, a quarrel took place outside the school between Hindu and Muslim students of higher class and a boy was injured. Consequently, the school was closed.

Next in this series here.

Pillar of Fire

I finished reading Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-65 some time ago but never got around to writing about it. Taylor Branch continues the mammoth project of writing about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in this second book of the series. I wrote about the first book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 earlier and Taylor Branch is still working on the third book “At Canaan’s Edge.”

Pillar of Fire covers the years 1963-65 which were the height of the Civil Rights movement. It starts around the Birmingham protests. The Mississippi Freedom Summer is covered in extreme detail. I think that is the best part of the book. Taylor Branch describes the horrors of segregation very eloquently, but he does not shy away from the disputes and shortcomings of the civil rights leaders.

I recommend the trilogy very highly for anyone interested in the Civil Rights Era.

One stumbling block I found in Pillar of Fire, which was not present in Parting the Waters, was the large number of leaders, movements and events it covers. From Malcolm X, SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Friends of SNCC to SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and Martin Luther King, it covers a broad range of events and leaders. Since I read the book in small sections over a long period of time, it made my task of keeping track and making sense of the overall situation a bit difficult. I would suggest that you read this voluminous book (768 pages) as quickly as you can.

White Teeth

I have finished reading White Teeth: A Novel by Zadie Smith. It is a very good and fun novel. I would recommend it highly. It has very entertaining images of the different characters and their peculiarities. The English guy Archie and his Jamaican wife Clara, the Bengali Samad and his wife Alsana and their children Millat, Magid and Irie are all very interesting characters. The idiosyncracies of the immigrants in the story are very interesting and also generally true. However, it did seem to me that at a few points Zadie Smith confused Indian, Pakistani and Bengali culture, or may be I am mistaken. I am not sure.

The book describes some of the problems of immigrants and has a few characters, especially Millat, who get into militant Islamic organizations. The story rings true, but don’t read it to get an insight into Britain’s extremist Muslims. This is a novel, a work of fiction and not a sociological study.


Found while net surfing:

  • HijabMan Blog: A very interesting weblog of a progressive Muslim in Canada. Here is his post about the issue of women and mosques.
  • Via Half Past Nomad, I found Plug-n-Pray. They have kits for Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Hinduist conversion. Here’s what they say.

    For all eventualities — Plug’n’Pray kits are equipped with everything you need to get converted quickly. […]Do you want to impress your Jewish general manager? Has a new Taleban Invasion been announced? Do you think your life as a good Christian is jeopardized? Would you like to become a Buddhist for a few hours to blend in at the trendy New Age dinner you are going to next week? […]Getting a new customized god is easy with Plug’n’Pray.

    It definitely seems like a joke.

Afghan Mujahideen and Reagan

One learns something new everyday, sometimes from weblogs. Here’s an excerpt from Juan Cole about Reagan’s role in support of the Afghan Mujahideen fighting the communist Afghan government and the Soviets in the 1980s.

In fact, of course, Ronald Reagan bears substantial responsibility for September 11. He and his administration were so gung ho to roll back Communism that they funneled billions of dollars to scruffy far rightwing radical Muslim mujahidin in Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Orrin Hatch even flew to Beijing for Reagan in 1985 to ask the Chinese to pressure Pakistan to allow the US to provide the Mujahidin with ever more sophisticated weaponry. Even the Pakistani military had initially balked at this crazy idea, knowing who the Gulbuddin Hikmatyars and Usama Bin Ladens really were (unlike clueless Reagan, who called them freedom fighters). But the US twisted the Pakistanis’ arms, and they gave in. Likewise, Reagan forced the timid Saudis to match US contributions to the Mujahidin. (And then after Sept. 11 the former Reagan officials who had twisted the arms of the Saudis, like Richard Perle, turned around and blamed Riyadh for spreading radical Muslim ideas!!) It was the CIA that first established terrorist training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to hit the leftist government in Kabul. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the camps used by al-Qaeda had been built originally by the Reagan administration.

I didn’t know that the US government was more enthusiastic about the Mujahideen than Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.

The Christian Coalition and other rightwing religious groups supporting Reagan even had a “biblical checklist” by which they wanted all senators and congressmen to be judged. And one of the items in the “biblical checklist” was “support for the Afghan ‘freedom fighters.’ The rightwing Christians were saying in the 1980s that if you didn’t support al-Qaeda and its Mujahidin allies, you didn’t deserve to be in Congress!

Very interesting.

A Useless Rant

I have four half-written posts, but you won’t get them today. Instead you will have to read this rant. For I have to deal with some shit in my life. Shit caused by God. Yes, God the All-Powerful. You must be thinking why blame God. Well, don’t the religious among us credit God for all the good stuff, like a football victory for example? Shouldn’t he get credit for the good and the bad both?

Doesn’t He move in mysterious ways, doing bad stuff to good people and giving everything to the evil ones? Isn’t He the one who decided that Idi Amin could live in peace till he was 80? Hasn’t God saved Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein from the deaths they deserved while letting thousands of innocent Marsh Arabs, Kurds, New Yorkers and others die? Didn’t He make George Bush the US President? Why does God do this? Does He have a sick sense of humor? Or does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Go on, defenders of God and morality, tell me it is because of my weak belief in the existence of God or because of my not fasting or praying to Him? May be it’s not punishment, just His idea of fun! You see Einstein was wrong: God does play dice with the universe.

My apologies if I have offended you. But like I said I have a problem. I don’t know yet if it will be easily solved or will change my life drastically. All I know is that it was not caused by any living being. That leaves only God as the culprit, if He exists. If He doesn’t, well it’s my problem anyway just like it is now.

Busy with Work and Play

I had to do some work and run some errands on saturday. Then in the afternoon, all of us in the apartment played Hearts of Iron, a World War II real-time strategy game. It was part of our (my friend and I) effort to get the other two apartment-mates to start playing it as the more the number of human players, the more fun the game is.

Sunday is a big work-day as I have to grade the first submissions of the class project. It usually takes all day.