Tag Archives: religion

On National Tragedy And Personal Identity: Reflections On The Shootings In Wisconsin

by Guest Contributor Amit S. Bagga

As a preface, I encourage you to read this edited excerpt from Harsha Walia’s response to this incident on the Racialicious blog:

“To my Sikh sisters and brothers: this incident is yet another reminder of what it means for us to be racialized as Others and as eternal
Outsiders…We cannot see and name ourselves as ‘accidental’ victims of Islamophobia, which suggests that somehow Muslims are
more “appropriate” targets of racism…Striving to be more desirable within an oppressive system–that is built on our social discipline and compels our obedience–will never set us free. What will set us free is our collective liberation and thriving as the proud brown people we were meant to be.”

I am a Sikh. Or at least half. With his hair shorn. Yeah, it’s kinda nebulous. This has been my refrain for as long as I can remember. I’ve been as attached to “my” Sikh identity as strongly as a stray hair hanging out from the back of a poorly-tied turban (though not my father’s, let me assure you. No stray hairs there).

South Asian social mores would dictate that a child (a son, no less) born to a Sikh father would undoubtedly raised a Sikh. He would don a little bun wound into tightly-wrapped cloth (joora) atop his head, murmuring Guru Granth Sahib verses alongside a set of twangy, off-key pajis and, at least in the US, being shipped off to various camps to memorize, recite, and maybe–just maybe–internalize something. Well, that was not the case with me. In fact, for a variety of reasons, some intentional, most not, the development of my identity as a Sikh was not quite “marginalized,” but certainly somewhat subverted, and I was reared a good Hindu boy by a mother suspended somewhere between Punjabi goddess worship and post-colonial, urban, middle-class Brahminism.

The world in the 1980s. The Golden Temple incident; Indira Gandhi has been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; Hindus and Sikhs are busy killing each other in the streets of Delhi; we live in a Bronx neighborhood where outsiders, despite this being New York City, are not particularly well-liked. So, the decision is made: he will not wear a joora and, as such, the Sikh bit a fell to the side. Though the decisions may not have been conscious, Punjabi was eschewed in favor of Hindi, and Guru Nanak eschewed in favor of Durga. To be fair, I learned how to recite many verses and went to the gurdwara and sat through langar, as well as the many in-home readings of the holy book, that both sides of my family, despite one being Hindu, decided to keep–but it wasn’t quite the same. At the end of the day, the Sikh-est thing about me was my middle name–and, well, the manifestation of that which pulses in all Sikh blood–the ability to two-step to a little bhangra. Continue reading

Hate Crimes Always Have A Logic: On The Oak Creek Gurudwara Shootings

By Guest Contributor Harsha Walia

Candles at the Vigil. Photo: Overpass Light Brigade via DailyKos.

The Oak Creek Gurudwara is my brother’s and frequently my parent’s sangat. Over the years, they have described to me how, with deep love and commitment, the community came together to build the Gurudwara. How every week the Gurudwara provided a refuge, a sanctuary, a sense of home, a sense of belonging from the isolation of being an accented brown-skinned immigrant living in Wisconsin. When I heard about the shooting at Oak Creek Gurudwara, I happened to be facilitating at an immigrant and refugee youth camp. Dozens of young middle-school and high-school aged racialized immigrants and refugees from Latin America, Asia and Africa were describing being taunted and bullied at school, feeling discriminated against by their teachers, the hardships of systemic poverty, daily fears of detention and displacement, and feeling like “unwelcome and unwanted parasites.” As young people in British Columbia, Canada they were articulating an experience of racism similar to that which my family faces living in the Midwest of America.

While these murders were abhorrent, they were not ‘senseless’. The ad nauseaum suggestion that the killings were senseless attempts to construct the shooting as random and without logic, when in fact racist hate crimes operate through the very deliberate and precise logic of white supremacy. Continue reading

Fashion As Resistance: The Case Of Mali

by Guest Contributor Eren, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post discussing the attempt among Muslim leaders in Russia to prove that Russian Muslim women are modern and fashionable, unlike Muslims elsewhere. Soon after, fashion made headlines again, this time in the case of Mali, with Yahoo! News reporting on Dakar Fashion Week 2012.

Design by Alphadi. Image via Mirage A Trois.

The event, which takes place in Senegal, has been attracting designers from all over Africa for the past ten years. The event has been reported to attempt to bring Africa forward in the fashion world, and to counter Western fashion houses stealing African aesthetics and motifs.

Nonetheless, the Yahoo! News article focuses on Malian designers and the fact that fashion seems to be too colorful and perhaps too showy for the Islamists. Mali, a country that is rarely featured in the fashion section of the news, went through a coup d’état earlier this year, and now the northern region is under the control of Ansar Dine, a group commonly identify in the Western media as Islamist rebels, who have also recently attacked Timbuktu.

The article suggests that fashion is too “cool” for these Islamists, as they have taken the conservative approach in endorsing hijab and banning trousers for women. To some degree, the article portrays angry Islamists getting back at fashion designers and perhaps even women. Nonetheless, the issue may be a bit more complex than Yahoo! News analysis. The issue with fashion may be not its colors and uncovered arms, but what it represents. In an interview, designer Sidahmed Seidnaly, aka Alphadi and also known as the Magician of the Desert, expresses his discomfort with the situation in Mali and the push for Shari’ah law in the northern region. Similarly, designer Mariah Bocoum made her five-piece collection to represent the struggle of Malian people and as a way to resist the restrictions now imposed in Mali’s north.

Designs by Mariah Bocoum. Via Tumblr.

Fashion in this setting has become a symbol of resistance, and it is a powerful one because fashion these days is quite mobile. It travels from east to west and from north to south and it is easily picked up by the media, as previous MMW posts have shown. In addition, this fashion is mainly guided towards a female market, and as scholars like Nira Yuval-Davis and Jasbir Puarhave theorized, in nationalist struggles women’s bodies are the first ones to be controlled, secluded and excluded. In situations of conflict, women become a source of either pride or defamation as they also become symbols of the nation.

Thus, the current situation in Mali is perhaps following the path that many nationalist struggles follow in terms of gender (more in Gender and Nation): women become symbols, and the resistance that fashion brings along may be threatening for an Islamist movement that just gained power. Although perhaps ironic, because fashion in the Western world and in other places like Latin America may just do the opposite, Mali’s designers seem to bring a new proposal for countering the situation.
Unlike the Russian and the Chechen cases, where fashion is being adopted by religious institutions and governments (who then engage in the fashion world in order to put forward an image of the “appropriate” ways for Muslim women to dress), the situation in Mali is following a different route. Fashion as resistance is something what we do not get to see very often, but perhaps it will be a successful way to engage the international community with the situation in Mali, especially the Western world, which can be oblivious to other types of resistance, but seems to respond well to the runways.

A Muslim Community, Tarred Again

By Guest Contributor Zahir Janmohamed

Huma Abedin. Via New York Magazine
In 1995, I was a student delegate at the United Nation’s 50th Anniversary conference on religious harmony held in San Francisco. We began by reciting verses from each of the world’s major faiths, including an Islamic prayer that was listed as the “Mohamedan Prayer.”

Seventeen years later, it is hard to imagine someone—let alone a major organization like the UN—using this archaic, Orientalist term to describe Islam. Americans know so much about Islam these days that I am frequently asked by strangers if I am Shia or Sunni.

But every once in a while—and particularly more often in an election year—there are reminders that the rise in awareness has not corresponded to the rise in sympathy towards Islam and Muslims. The recent comment by Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) that long time aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Huma Abedin is a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood is just the latest example of this hysteria.

I do not worry about Abedin. A person of her intelligence and clout can withstand these attacks. I worry about Muslim high school and college students who wonder why they should even enter politics if they will, like Abedin, be constantly scrutinized because of their faith. Continue reading

Black Folk Don’t: “Do Atheism”–Really?

The new Black Folk Don’t is on atheism. If you can make it through the first three minutes, there’s actually some fascinating info at 3:13, where the usual discussion on atheism takes an interesting turn. They also interview actual black atheists around four minutes in. Interestingly, many of the positions taken in the first half of the video are reasons why black atheists aren’t more forthcoming with their beliefs.

The Struggles of Discussing Race In The Asian American Evangelical Church [Racialigious]

by Guest Contributor Paul Matsushima, originally published at Eesahmu

Courtesy: Christianity Daily

Recently, while attending one of the most ethnically diverse evangelical seminaries in the nation, I found myself in an environment where I had to defend the argument that race still matters. Don’t get me wrong; students and faculty alike openly discussed ethnic and societal culture; and, although all were unanimous that racial prejudice is wrong and diversity is good, when it came to America’s original (and continuing) sin of racism, there were choirs of crickets.

I, in partial reaction, left. After stepping back from my enmeshment in the evangelical world, I gained some clarity for why I felt so isolated. Personal reasons aside, my qualm with the (white) evangelical community was its hesitancy to analyze–much less struggle against–the historical and continuing racial bias in America. This “don’t go there” mentality is further compounded within evangelical churches that are predominantly Asian American. Here are my speculations why.

1. Unity in Christ, aka Colorblindness

Firstly, we who seek to discuss race in the Asian American church go head-to-head against the banner of colorblindness. Colorblindness, while it may value ethnic diversity, seeks to ignore one’s race in order to avoid giving differential treatment on account of it. In other words, it attempts to treat all people equally regardless of race.

This thinking is interwoven into the Christian doctrine of the primacy of one’s Christian identity. Common phrases such as “unity in Christ” or “children of God” shape American evangelicals to value their Christian identity over any other. Tim Tseng, in his article “The Young Adult Black Hole,” explores how Asian American young adults leave their immigrant-ethnic churches for white or multiethnic ones because the influence of colorblind thinking. The message of one’s Christian identity as most important, combined with assimilation into American culture as good and being too ethnic (i.e., too Asian) as bad, is thoroughly ground into these young people’s minds. The result: many Asian American evangelicals believe “the goal [of Christian identity formation] is to shed, not affirm their [racial] identities.”

In 2009, the Urbana Missions Conference hosted around 16,000 attendees, 30% of which were Asian American. I was shocked and disturbed when I, along with three other conferees were the only ones who attended the Asian American prayer workshop, a session devoted to exploring how racial identity shapes the way one prays. Asian Americans flocked to workshops on international and missionary issues in Asia, but when it came to the single workshop focused entirely on Asian American issues, their attendance was extremely minimal. Continue reading

Quoted: Fatemeh Fakhraie on Islam, Justice, Love, and Feminism

“Two things are important to me,” she says over a sushi supper in downtown Corvallis. “Justice and love, and both of them clicked for me in Islam.”

Fakhraie grew up in a family where religion was respected but not forced on her or her younger brother, Anayat, 24. Her father, born in Iran, did not practice his faith. Her mother, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, studied religion with another woman but didn’t attend services.

“I was raised as a white girl with a funny last name and a foreign dad,” she says. As an adolescent, she was “the black cloud” over her parents’ house. “I was sullen. I hated everything.” Today she says she and her family are close, but her brother, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, remembers her black cloud days.

“At Christmas, we’d be opening presents and she’d be sulking in the corner,” he says. “She didn’t want anyone to take pictures. ‘Do we have to do this?’ she’d complain. She embodied the quintessential teenager angst.”

“I was a ‘why’ person,” she says. “I always wanted to know why.” Why, for example, was her father so strict with her when it came to boys? An avid reader, she began reading about Persian culture, which led her to the subject of Islam. She kept on reading. When she got to college, she read Fatima Mernissi’s “The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam.”

It was a breakthrough moment for her.

“I could be a feminist and a Muslim,” she says. “I was a feminist before I knew what a feminist was.” Fakhraie’s mother was the family breadwinner and her dad was “Mr. Mom.” She remembers being upset that her mom came home from work and picked up household chores.

“It was like a double shift,” Fakhraie says. “Fairness has always been an integral issue with me.”

–Excerpted from Fatemeh Fakhraie: A Feminist Muslim Breaks Stereotypes

Photo Credit: Utne

Off and Running Toward My Own Identity [Racialigious]

by Guest Contributor Collier Meyerson, originally published at Be’Chol Lashon

Collier, thinking

When I first saw Off and Running I was immediately taken, but then again, my own personal investment in the film’s subject matter was considerable. Like Avery, I’m an adopted Jew of color from New York City. I see only dualities in my maturation, which has been a series of racially charged incidents quelled by moments of encouragement by people and institutions that worked together in a bizarre alchemy to create me.

As a young child my parents sat me down and explained it was important for me to find a faith of which to be a part. I grew up in the predominantly liberal and Jewish bastion of New York City called the Upper West side and at the ripe age of 9, it was Judaism that I felt most connected to; it was what I knew best. I began to attend a Schul after school where we were taught stories from the Bible, Yiddish and about our history and culture. I liked the friends I made and the stories I heard at Schul. The formation of my Jewish identity at that age was informed by Schul where there were transnationally adopted Jews to my right and left and by my neighborhood where I felt my family the apotheosis of what the 21st century family looked like. At 9 years old, I thought being bi-racial and Jewish was a magical marriage of identities.

At 13 years old, in the planning stages of my Bat Mitzvah, my Hebrew School teacher called a meeting at his home to discuss details. He opened his door to see me, my father who is an Ashkenazi Jew and my black mother. Upon seeing my family, without asking, he regrettably informed us that the synagogue, would not allow me to perform the right of passage in their temple because my mother wasn’t a Jew. My wily mother, coyly and smarmily responded “oh, but her mother is Jewish.”

Yes, it turns out my biological mother is a white Ashkenazi Jew.

And with these words, my Hebrew school teacher, as though I was caught in the Woody Allen version of my own life as a film, threw his hands into the air and exclaimed “it’s Bashert [it’s destiny] then! You’ll have your Bat Mitzvah in the Temple!” In that moment I felt a definitive rage. I wanted desperately to be a part of the Upper West Side’s most exclusive and popular clique, Judaism, but felt what would prove to be an indelible stake in this idea of blackness, something pitted against Jewishness. And so there it was, in the home of my Hebrew School teacher that the two were separated, like oil and water.

I was Black and Jewish but I couldn’t be both, I couldn’t be a Black Jew. Continue reading