Tag Archives: religion

Intimacy, Irresistibility and Political Depth

by guest contributor Tasnim, originally published at Epiphanies of the Shocked and Awed

Persepolis, the animated film based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, was released in the US on 25 December. The film, like the novel, is in black and white and just as visually striking. Satrapi says that she sees “images as a way of writing” in a more accessible, international language: “when you draw a situation—someone is scared or angry or happy— it means the same thing in all cultures”.

Satrapi refused several offers to buy the rights for ‘adaptations’, being aware that ”normally when you make a movie out of a book, it’s never a success.’’ But whether or not Persepolis the film gets it right, it does seems unrealistic to ask a 90 minute film to pack in all the qualities Gloria Steinem praised Satrapi’s book for having – “the intimacy of a memoir, the irresistibility of a comic book, and the political depth of a the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy.”

Such neatly phrased praise decorates the blurbs of bestselling books everywhere, and is possibly not intended to be taken as strict truth stripped of all rhetoric. But it seems to overlay a genuine feeling that reading the personal experiences of an oriental is conducive to comprehending “a world, most Westerners can scarcely comprehend”.

That quote comes from the Washington Post Book World, referring to Mernissi’s memoir, Dreams of Trespass, which is given its own triple set of helpful qualities: “its good humor is unwavering, it tempers judgmentalism with understanding, and it provides a vivid portrait…” of that other, alien world. That is, Mernissi’s memoir is intimate, irresistible and, also, as enriching its entertaining exotic aspect, it provides ‘political depth’, in the same way that waging war has the benefit of geography lessons.

It seems to me that having the political depth of the conflict between fundamentalism and democracy requires a lot of ‘depth’. Such depth as might perhaps extend beyond the personal frame of a memoir and into history. These are conflicts that Satrapi’s dry remarks acknowledge. As she says, “if I pretend that I was sitting in a house worrying day and night about my country, that would be a big lie.” Continue reading

The Veil Does Not a Prison Make

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

Who’s Danielle Crittenden? She writes a blog for The Huffington Post and recently, she decided to “take on the veil” as a social experiment for one week of her life in Washington, D.C. She went straight for the gold and decided to wear the starkest, blackest niqab out there, ignoring the fact that the hejab is far more prevalent among Muslim women than the niqab. She blogs about her experience in four separate posts under the title, “Islamic Like Me.”

Readers, you know my issue with people who use “Muslim” and “Islamic” synonymously. For god’s sake, would somebody check the Associated Press guidelines?! “Islamic” describes architecture and history…things. A “Muslim” is an adherent of Islam; Muslims are people, not things.

So Ms. Crittenden decides to put on a niqab…for what? For giggles? She never really explains her reasons for doing so, but makes it very apparent that wearing a niqab is a bad idea because it’s “oppressive”. Does she want to see what it’s like to be a Muslim woman who wears niqab? Does she want to understand the prejudice that these women face?

No. After reading her posts, it’s obvious she just wants to play dress-up. She doesn’t attempt to adhere to any principles of Islam while wearing the niqab, nor does she take it off in her home like most niqabis would, nor does she even attempt to start a dialogue with any Muslim women—niqabis or not.

This experiment reminds me of one of Tyra Banks’ experiments: you remember when she put on a fat suit? Yeah. That one. She put on a fat suit under the guise of “seeing how the other half lives” but really just used it as a self-indulgent exercise in vanity (kind of like everything else Tyra does, bless her heart). This one seems really no different.

So, we read the first paragraph of Ms. Crittenden’s post “Islamic Like Me: Taking On The Veil”, and already, I want to throw my computer out the window.

“‘I wonder what it’s like to wear Arabic dress?’ I said one day to my husband. His eyes sparked with interest. ‘You mean as in I Dream of Jeannie?’ ‘No. I mean those black cover-ups they wear in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries.’”

(Long sigh). So, we begin with the blatantly incorrect idea that all women in the Middle East wear “Arabic” clothing, even if they are not Arab or Muslim. We see later in her posts that her idea of “Arabic clothing” is a niqab and abaya—ignoring several other traditional dress styles that Arab women wear. And, of course, her husband throws in the sexualized Orientalist fantasy of I Dream of Jeannie. Fantastic! Continue reading

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Make Me a Match: MTV Looks at Arranged Marriages

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

I usually avoid MTV because of its basic lack of programming that interests me. This weekend, however, I happened to catch an episode of True Life, which chronicles people in different walks of life going through different life experiences. The episode I happened to catch was entitled “I’m Having an Arranged Marriage.”

I can’t find the episode summary on MTV’s website, but the summary goes like this: MTV follows three people on their journeys through arranged marriage. The show follows Najwa, a Pakistani-American Muslim woman; Rohit, an Indian man living in America (who I believe is Hindu, but I couldn’t get a definitive statement from the show); and Arwa, another Pakistani-American Muslim woman. All these people have college educations; Arwa is currently in law school.

The show first follows Najwa as she goes to pick up her fiancé Zeeshan at the airport. Najwa and Zeeshan are engaged but have not married yet; this visit will be the third time Najwa has seen Zeeshan, even though they talk frequently over the phone. Meanwhile, Arwa goes to several dates set up by her friends and family in hopes of finding someone to marry, even attending a conference that attracts other professional Pakistani-Americans. Her mother keeps bothering Arwa about her arbitrary deadline: announce an engagement by the end of the year. That’s some serious pressure.

Both girls do not wear hejab, and at first glance, you wouldn’t even be aware that they were more conservative, family-oriented women. I’m big on not judging a book by its cover, so I was kind of pleased about this. Both women talked about how they thought they’d find their own husbands (rather than being set up by people in their community), but are willing to try their family’s traditions.

What I really appreciated is the fact that the show highlighted these women’s experiences as their choice: Arwa mentions that she tried to find her own husband, but she’s okay with her parents trying to find him for her, too. Often, the words “arranged marriage” conjure images of veiled women who have no say in who their parents choose for them, and a lot of people think that arranged marriages trap women and are loveless. There’s also this idea that any Muslim man is a good Muslim man, and all a girl has to do is find a Muslim guy—any Muslim guy—and marry him. Muslim marriages—whether arranged or not—work just like other people’s: compatibility is key!

This episode refuted a lot of those ideas, likening arranged marriages to something as simple as just getting set up by your friend who thinks she has a friend you’d like. The idea that one size fits all is also not applicable here: Arwa met three different guys, and rejected two of them (unfortunately, the one she liked didn’t call). Najwa, after realizing that she had different priorities than Zeeshan, ended the engagement herself. At the end of the episode, Rohit was the only one who actually got married! Arwa went back to law school (if I remember right, she was on summer break during the show’s taping) and Najwa’s family continued to look for a match for her.

While the reality of arranged marriages is different for everyone (personally, I think I could do a better job of picking out a husband for myself than my parents; some families prefer to rely on social networks, some families let their children find their own mates, sometimes arranged marriages turn out badly, sometimes love matches turn out badly) and MTV’s portrayal really only illustrates how arranged marriages work within the U.S., I was pleased to see none of the gimmicky stereotypes. My only real complaint is that it would have been nice to see a Muslim man getting set up. On the whole, not bad, MTV.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Triple Threats and Double Troubles for Muslim Women

by Racialicious special correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie, originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

You’ve probably heard about the recent ruling given to a Saudi gang-rape victim: 110 lashes added onto the original sentence of 90 lashes because she protested her sentence to the media. It’s a horrible and vindictive sentence, and the callous treatment this woman has received as a victim is insulting to her, Saudi Arabia, and Islam.

Why Islam? What does her ruling have to do with Islam? Well, nothing really. Technically, the judge who sentenced her went by Shari’a law, but he added those extra lashes from his own judgment because she spoke out about her case. So he punished her.

But every reactionary blog poster, conservative news network, and Western women’s rights group has condemned this action as an Islamic one. So Muslim women around the world have a choice: do we defend ourselves against Islamophobia, against racism, or against misogyny?

This “triple threat” is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what’s best for us).

Being on the defensive all the time creates reactionary behavior. We always feel like we have to keep our guards up to defend our faith and our choices, and it gets tiring. Most Muslims don’t necessarily mind explaining stuff (that is, if you’re genuinely interested in understanding instead of starting an argument), but we can’t all be Encyclopedia Islamicas all the time.

Some of this “damage control” keeps us from having dialogues within our communities. Muslim women face a lot of problems within our communities as well as outside, but we’re afraid to talk about it because it can potentially be used against us. People in our own communities this power: for example, feminists in Iran are accused of being too “Westernized” by compatriots who have no interest in changing the status quo for women. Many women who seek their fair share are given this load of crap in order to guilt them into shutting up, because Westernization is equated with undesirable qualities in the Muslim world. Or, if we try to speak out to a non-Muslim audience, we are accused of “betraying” Islam or our communities by airing out our “dirty laundry.” Continue reading

Homophobia, racism, and queer people of color

by guest contributor sbkang, originally published at geekstew

A piece in Tuesday’s New York Times discussed the benefits and consequences that Black churches face when they make their congregations more open to LGBT folk. The article explores tensions in Black communities about the presence of gay men, lesbians, and transgender people in their churches and posits that pastors who openly accept LGBT people risk alienating more traditional congregants, to the extent that they will leave the church.

The piece hit some familiar nerves. As a queer person of color, I’m always sensitive to implied criticism in mainstream (usually White-dominated) media about the “problem” of homophobia in communities of color. The subtext of a lot of this coverage is that people of color routinely express anti-gay hatred or exclusion more than White people do, thus positioning homophobia as a problem for “them” as opposed to “us.”

The NYT article, despite some attempt to portray the issue’s complexity, pretty much reinforces this view. The piece implies a causal relationship between pastors supporting gay congregants and reduced church memberships, and even suggests, by its exclusive coverage of Black churches, that this is an issue restricted to Black folk.

This kind of coverage sets of all kinds of bells in my mind. There’s something self-satisfied about the way mainstream media generally talks about homophobia in communities of color, as if White communities all over the country don’t bear responsibility for their fair share of anti-gay bullshit. Unfortunately, this type of perspective also informs the ways some of the more prominent LGBT rights organizations work in communities of color, understandably provoking anger in those same communities. Continue reading


by Carmen Van Kerckhove

congratulationsJust a quick note to congratulate a couple of our friends in the blogosphere for winning awards recently.

First up, congratulations to Tariq Nelson, who blogs about “the problems faced by different groups within the American Muslim community, the American Muslim Community as a whole and the Ummah in general in hopes of creating some dialogue to solve the problems.” Tariq just won in the “Best Thinker” category for the Brass Crescent Awards!

And congratulations also to the blog gay persons of color for winning two Canadian Blog Awards: gold in the Best Cultural Blog category, and silver in the Best New Blog category! The (anonymous) man behind the site is “a native Montrealer, gay, male, Filipino, Asian, Pacific-Islander, Québécois, Canadian, English-speaking, French-speaking, North American, and more depending on how you see. I am looking to document and explore the diverse vantage points of being gay and of color.”

Latino Muslims: the media’s latest obsession?

by guest contributor Tariq Nelson, originally published at Tariq Nelson

quran koranThere have been soooo many articles about Hispanics/Latinos (particularly Latinas) and their interest in Islam. Nothing else to write about? Why not yet another article on Latin Muslims? One has to wonder why so much emphasis has been put on Latino Muslims in the media lately.

I suppose since the biggest media issues have been Muslims and Mexican illegal immigration, this would be the perfect hybrid story. It’s just that they’ve gone there so many times…

With her hijab and dark complexion, Catherine Garcia doesn’t look like an Orlando native or a Disney tourist. When people ask where she’s from, often they are surprised that it’s not the Middle East but Colombia.

That’s because Ms. Garcia, a bookstore clerk who immigrated to the US seven years ago, is Hispanic and Muslim. On this balmy afternoon at the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, she is at her mosque dressed in long sleeves and a long skirt in keeping with the Islamic belief in modesty. “When I was in my country I never fit in the society. Here in Islam I feel like I fit with everything they believe,” she says.

Garcia is one of a growing number of Hispanics across the US who have found common ground in a faith and culture bearing surprising similarities to their own heritage. From professionals to students to homemakers, they are drawn to the Muslim faith through marriage, curiosity and a shared interest in issues such as immigration. Continue reading