Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Halal Sex Shop

Here is an interesting article on sex toys within a Muslim halal context: Halal Sex Shop. This would have made for a good installment in Mohja Kahf's Sex and the Umma Column.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Surveillance of Islamic Bloggers in the UK

Here is an interesting piece on government surveillance of bloggers who are pro- and anti-Islamic. If the government is trying to identify possible violent threats, then couldn't a pro-Islamic blogger be anti-violence against non-Muslims and an anti-Islamic one be pro-violence against Muslims? How good of a gauge is the pro vs. anti classification at deciphering threats of violence, in your opinion?

Government names most influential 'pro-Islamic' bloggers: "

Counter-terrorism research reveals network of pro-Islamic bloggers is smaller and less cohesive than anti-jihadist community

The Home Office's counter-terrorism communications unit has named its top 20 most influential 'pro-Islamic' political bloggers.

The list forms part of a mapping exercise carried out on behalf of the Home Office to estimate and track the scale and influence of Islamic bloggers in Britain.

The results of the exercise, which was carried out in 2008 but only published today, show that a network of Islamic bloggers who post on British politics does exist but is still relatively small and draws its information overwhelmingly from mainstream media, mainly the Guardian and the BBC.

The research was carried out by the Home Office research, information and communications unit (RICU) to see if there were new ways of ensuring the government's counter-terrorism messages reached people in the Muslim community who did not read or watch mainstream media.

It pinpointed 140 'pro-leaning Islamic' blogs when it was carried out in 2008 by David Stevens of Nottingham University.

'Compared with other political blogging communities this is not terribly high,' the study says. 'As suspected, any pro-Islamic blogging community is likely to be still in its early stages of development in quantitive terms. However the existence of Islamic blog-feed sites (that list recent posts across Islamic blogs in one place) indicates that the community is reaching something of a critical mass.'

The project is primarily concerned with how 'radical Islamic messages' are disseminated in Britain, yet it notes that many blogs are not overtly or mainly political in this sense, but contain such messages or references to them.

It says a large anti-jihadist and anti-Islamic blogging community exists which is far larger and more cohesive than the pro-Islamic blogging community.

The top 20 list compiled as a 'snapshot' in 2008 includes several based outside Britain but posting on UK politics in English. The top five sites listed are Ali Eteraz, Islam in Europe, the Angry Arab News Service, Indigo Jo Blogs/Blogistan and Daily Terror. Ali Eteraz is the author of Children of Dust – a memoir of Pakistan that was named on the New Statesman 2009 books of the year list – and has been a regular poster on Comment is Free.

The list only covers blogs published in English. Some, such as Angry Arab, which publish news articles in full from various sources draw heavily on the New York Times, al-Akhbar and Ha'aretz. But once these are excluded much UK-related material is drawn from the Guardian, the BBC and the Times. Very little material is drawn fromal-Jazeera, Islam Online or other Islamic-focused media.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that after the research was undertaken it was decided to focus on sending the government's counter-terrorism messages to Muslim communities through national mainstream media, including publications such as the Muslim Weekly and Daily Jang. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010


Monday, March 22, 2010

Cyber Censorship and Muslim Info-Wars

Followers of all religions openly and passionately debate their views in numerous online forums, from chat rooms to e-zines. Despite heated differences that can become even more exaggerated online by anonymous voices, there is still a general consensus that people have the right to freely articulate themselves online. Some countries do monitor their citizens online, and censorship of certain websites is also more common than many would expect.

However, few would expect that private individuals and groups would deploy various censorship tactics against their ideological opponents. In 2004 Muslim hacktivists hijacked the socially and politically progressive MWU! (Muslim Wake Up) website, changed their logo to Murtad (Heretic) Wake Up, deleted much of their site content, and even made death threats against the site's owners and well-known writers. But despite the e-violence the website was able to recover its content and restore the site without permanent damage.

Yet, in 2008 the site crashed again and when it was restored it lacked much of its previous content. By 2009 the site was out of commission and the loss of access to its archives is arguably the greatest blow to the diversity of alternative Muslim perspectives online in the 21st century. MWU! was an international networking and publishing hub for journalists, activists, literati, musicians, intellectuals, teachers, and cultural commentators that represented a wide range of views on issues that other Muslim websites and e-zines would not even touch. MWU! had a Hug-a-Jew campaign to promote peace, was open to the LGBT Muslims, and was renowned for its women contributors--especially Mohja Kahf's series called 'Sex and the Umma' on sexuality in Muslim women's lives.

With the vast e-vaccuum left in MWU!'s wake, it is even more disturbing that censorship is now being deployed at the corporate level by the moderate and fairly open (though not the liberal and progressive hub that was MWU!) website based out of Qatar. Islam Online's employees in Egypt have since gone on strike. There are reports that the website's board may be in the process of deleting content by journalists from various countries who represent views not in-line with the board's perspectives. Also, check out the following report about the Islam Online situation (here). 

These bleak prospects for alternative Muslim news media undermines the freedom of information platform that the internet is supposed to embody and iconically represent. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Everyday Hindu-Muslim Pluralism in India

Check out these intriguing blog posts on Hindu-Muslim pluralism in India:

1) a Muslim street vendor's Hindu icon and Islamic calligraphy.

2) brief description of religious billboards.

3) Muslim mechanic, Hindu motorcycle.

4) Hindu & Muslim hug before joining their families upon release from jail.

5) Hindus observe Muharram festival of Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn who was the grandson of Muhammad and the 3rd Shi'i Imam. 

6) Hindu / Muslim mystics meet at park every week.

7) Hindu-Muslim ascetic clothing as identity boundary blurring.

Alternative Muslim Women's Stories

Take a look at a set of interesting stories on Muslim women's voices of empowerment on altmuslimah's blog.

Monday, March 15, 2010

American Muslims and E-Media

Here is a good article on a recent academic conference at Berkeley on American Muslims and social media/networking. This is an emerging field that I find very interesting and hope to contribute to in the near future.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Muslims in Western Europe

When talking to students about the situation of Muslims in Europe, I compare it to a combination of widespread American disdain for the poor (i.e. welfare freeloaders), prisoners (i.e. free room and board), racism (i.e. anti-Black), immigration (anti-Hispanic and Spanish language), and fears about terrorism (i.e. Muslims in our midst). If you roll all of these fears and dislikes into one big ball you get a better idea of what is going on in Europe. That said, it is great that there was recently a debate from representatives of Muslim and anti-Muslim interests. 

"Debate: Is Europe Failing its Muslims?: "Debate: Is Europe Failing its Muslims?

Has Europe fallen into an 'us vs them' mindset? Have Europeans nurtured the perception that Islam is alien to the continent? Do they know what to make of people who don't conform to their Enlightenment values?

Or do Europeans have good reason to associate Muslims with violence? Perhaps it's opposition to fundamentalist Islam which is really anti-fascist. Perhaps Islamophobia is just a constructed model designed to protect Islam from criticism, rather than individuals from discrimination.

The debate 'Europe is failing its Muslims' took place on February 23rd at Cadogan Hall in London, in association with BBC World News and the British Council. Arguing in favour of the motion were Tariq Ramadan and Petra Stienen; against the motion were Douglas Murray and Flemming Rose.

The debate is available at Intelligence Squared and on YouTube (intro 1, questions, intro 2, Q&A 1, Q&A 2, closing statements)


The original title of the debate is not a question, it's a statement: 'Europe is failing its Muslims'. According to a pre-poll of the audience, there was a virtual tie between those supporting the motion, opposing it and undecideds. It seemed to me that the 'for' crowd was much more vocal (cheering and booing appropriately), but in the final result, the 'against' side won with 'For' supported by 37%, 'Against' by 51% and 12% undecided.

As one viewer from the floor summed up - the fact that this discussion is taking place shows Europe is not failing its Muslims.

I summarize the positions of the participants below:

Tariq Ramadan
Professor of Islamic Studies, Oxford University

The perception is that Muslims are bad and violent. That they're not European citizens. People ignore the Eastern European native Muslims. Muslims are facing class racism. They are accused of not wanting to integrate, but by being visibly Muslims, they are showing they're at home and thereby integrating.

The media doesn't talk about contributions of Muslims to their host country.

There are problems, but things are evolving. There's a silent revolution, constructive and positive changes on the grassroots level which are not seen on the political-media level.

Asked what he would say to a girl forced to wear the veil, Ramadan said he had given such a girl advice to resist her parents.

Muslims are here to stay. Muslims feel at home. They're past integration, they are now contributing. And we need to work together to change the perception and reality.

Murray to Ramadan: If you claim you are European, why do you call Muslims your 'brothers'? Ramadan: All humans are my brothers.

Petra Stienen
Former Dutch Diplomat; Human Rights Campaigner

There's lack of freedom in Muslim countries, but is it linked to Islam? What to do with Muslims who do not want to follow European norms? The one-sided debate is failing Muslims. There is true curiosity among Europeans to know more about Muslims, and not to take the Geert Wilders' stance as-is.

We're not enlightened if we only accept people who are like us. Having people who think differently and don't want to change their religion is also a universal human right. We should have compassion for others.

Douglas Murray
Director, Centre for Social Cohesion

Muslims are more violent, and they're the ones who committed terror attacks.

Western European societies managed to deal with immigration better than other places, and Muslims enjoy many more rights than they do in Muslim countries. The problem is Muslim intolerance, Muslims have let down Europe, and Islam has let down Muslims.

There is discrimination and racism, but this should not be mixed up with the right of people to voice their criticism of Islam.

The Koran might have given women advanced rights compared to 7th century Arabia, but not compared to 21st century Britain. Muslims teach hatred against other minorities, and that is not tolerable from anybody.

Flemming Rose
Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten

Every Muslim is first and foremost an individual, with rights and obligations. In many European Muslims communities they are not able to exercise those rights. Humans enjoy human rights, not religions. Muslims enjoy more rights in Europe than in Muslim countries. Who is failing the Muslims?

Islam is a set of ideas, not a race, and people should be able to change their minds.

There is a racism of lower expectations, people apply different standards to Muslims. By publishing the cartoons, they were saying that Muslims are European and should face the same expectations as everybody else.

Rose was asked whether he would mind if one of his children converted to Islam, but his point wasn't that people 'mind'. His children would never think they might be killed for converting. It's a shame that Ramadan wasn't asked the same question.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taqwacore SXSW Showing

For those of you who have not read the Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight, please add it to your Spring reading list. If you are not very familiar with Islam, then start with Blue-Eyed Devil, which is a great personalized and street level view of Muslims in contemporary America. Then you can move on to the Taqwacores. A film has been made about Taqwacore Muslim punk music and individual lifestyles, which I hope to incorporate into teaching over the next year. Below is an article on the film showing in Austin, TX.

A defining moment for punk Islam? | Basim Usmani:

"The Taqwacores is really a film about individualism – but attention is likely to focus on the music and its sexual content. The Taqwacores, a film directed by Eyad Zahra based on the novel of the same name by Michael Muhammad Knight, is playing at the media and music extravaganza South by South West (SXSW) in Austin this March. It's exciting to imagine who will be watching at a festival that features guests such as Spike Lee, Chuck D and Devo.

I had the pleasure of seeing the film at a sold-out screening at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last month.
Author and screenplay writer Michael Muhammad Knight and I first began communicating in 2005, when he originally reached out to me to play the character of Jehanghir in an adaptation he was scripting with a Brooklyn-based film-maker named Cihan Kaan. Budgeting issues proved fatal for that iteration, and Mike went through a few other directors before I left our fledging Taqwacore scene in America for Lahore.
It's been surreal to come back to the US three years later to a complete film and cast. In an interview, the celebrated director of Night of the Living Dead George Romero mentioned how Hollywood vetoed his first script for Diary of the Dead because it had a non-white lead.

I was reminded of Romero's words when I saw the vibrant, all-minority cast of Eyad's film. In many ways the book The Taqwacores should have been an impossible adaption to produce, with no major white characters, and its heavy ruminations on Islamic theology. In America and the UK, white audiences are not only unresponsive to minority leads, but overexposed to Muslims in particular.

The odds are stacked against the film. Eyad has taken Knight's book and trimmed it into a clearer narrative – one that begins and ends with the main character Yusef, played faithfully by Bobby Naderi. The movie follows Yusef on his safari through punk rock in America, which will likely surprise audiences. Yes, there are Muslims along the way, but the main subject in this film is Yusef's flirtation and growing disillusionment as he tries to navigate through both punk and religion. If there is a message to take from Zahra's film, it is that only you can only take what you can from the world around you. This is played out by each of the characters in their own way: burqa-cloaked Rabyah, reimagined by Naureen DeWulf, crosses out verses from the Qur'an that she finds problematic.

During the question-and-answer session after the screening, an elderly Muslim man asked the cast and crew how an unmarried woman who is obviously pious enough to wear a burqa could perform oral sex on a man. One of the crew members said that women are complicated, and dress is not a determinant in how she acts. The man said: 'Muslim women do not act like this.' There was a tense moment where the crew member responded: 'Are you trying to tell me you know more than I do, a Muslim woman, about myself?'

This movie is likely to be seen as the defining moment for Taqwacore, the way Wild Style was the defining moment for hip-hop. Many think that it was a unique feature of the Taqwacore music scene to have been inspired by a book, but so much English punk owes its own 'ultraviolence' to a fiction as well. Academics will eat up the self-referential elements of the subculture as some evidence of Generation Twitter, or whatever we've been touted as. But this relationship between people is as old as artists of different mediums being inspired by each other. In some ways, hearing my band's music open and close the movie was a testament to my enduring friendship with Knight over the past half a decade.

For other people, I anticipate The Taqwacores will be polarising. Many responded to the Muslim punk angle, which accounts for its uniqueness. But these elements are only a shrink wrap, and Eyad's adaption is not a Muslim-punk film any more than Kubrick's adaption of A Clockwork Orange is a Slavic-punk film. The film is about individualism, and how even the most rigid dogmas are, in effect, ideas we've come up with on our own. For those who are curious, the documentary Taqwacore is also being screened at SXSW.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gender Jihad: Muslim Women's Rights

Gender Jihad is a phrase coined by Amina Wadud, an African-American female Muslim legal scholar and activist, to describe the activities of Muslim women worldwide who are attempting to improve the lives of fellow Muslim women in respect to their faith as well as work and family. 

Margot Badran has written about how women have also struggled for equal access in mosques because they often have to pray in less than ideal spaces since the women's section is often behind, above, or sometimes below (such as in a basement) the main men's hall. This makes it harder for women to hear the prayer leader during prayer, and also to hear the sermon after the prayer service. As more and more women have sought to pray publicly in mosques (to which some religious leaders object) over the last century they also want to have equal access to perform this most central religious observance.

Badran also mentions that Saudi Arabia even attempted to exclude women from praying inside the main mosque in Mecca, even though they have a special section for women inside the mosque. In 2006 Muslim women worldwide protested this attempt and thwarted Saudi efforts. Who says Muslim women are voiceless victims who cannot stand up for change?

Mohja Kahf (Univ. of Arkansas scholar, poet, and novelist) has written Little Mosque Poems to point out such discrepancies that make women feel unwelcome at mosques in the US, as a call on Muslim mosque leaders to address their needs. Muslim women in America have been heard because the first female president of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), Ingrid Mattson, held a series of mosque meetings to show men how women felt by having them sit in the women's section and try to listen to her speak. Other organizations have followed suit and reports on the issue have been published in the attempt to address the issue in Canada and the US. See more on this topic in Altmuslimah's pray-in blog post.     

Also, UC-Berkeley anthropologist, Saba Mahmood, writes on page 72 of her work on Muslim women's religious activities in Cairo, Egypt (Politics of Piety (Princeton, 2005)) that as of 1996 there were more women preachers enrolled for certification than men. Take a look at  this youtube video for more: Muslim Women Preachers.

The pew Foundation today had a link to an article on how women activists, teachers, artists, and doctors are working to improve the general well-being of Muslim women throughout South Asia.

I view my role as a researcher and educator to focus more on what Muslims are actually doing, rather than taking part in the well-worn debates about oppressed Muslim women. People who generally make that argument seem to know very little about actual Muslim women's lives. Like most things, we need to talk in concrete terms, and when issues of oppression arise they should not be avoided, but neither should this stereotypical issue blind us to the efforts and achievements of women worldwide.

In conclusion, we should not think that all Muslim men oppose these efforts either. Actually, the renowned 10th century Qur'an commentator, historian, and legal scholar, Muhammad Ibn Jarir al-Tabari founded the now extinct Jariri legal school, which held that Muslim women could lead men in prayer if they were the most knowledgeable in the community. Khaled Abou El Fadl, UCLA Law professor and seminary trained specialist in Islamic law, currently stands in al-Tabari's footsteps by siding with him on this issue, based on the argument that intellect trumps gender.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Causes of Sectarian Violence: Resources or Religion?

I have long contemplated the issue of religious sectarian violence. I am glad to see a journalist taking issue with the subject, while all too often journalists and politicians accept religious sectarianism to be the self-evident cause of violence. Sectarianism certainly exists, but the level at which it operates as a cause of violence can vary greatly. It seems to me that religion plays the biggest role in organizing and then mobilizing violence whenever sectarianism is a real issue, but rarely are we informed about how religious leaders use rhetoric and rituals to motivate and mobilize their followers. As noted below, discussions of religious sectarian violence more often than not impede investigations into what resources are being fought over or for, such as land, water, political/military control, etc. This is something that we should always keep in mind whenever we read the code word: sectarian violence.

Here are some excerpts from the article, Violence in Nigeria: resources, not religion | Peter Cunliffe-Jones:

"Calling the killings in Jos sectarian is wrong. Resources, not religion, are the cause – made worse by bad government

Even by Nigerian standards, the city of Jos, which was the scene of hundreds of killings this weekend, is a disputatious place.

In a country where bloodshed is all too frequent, the Tin City, set in among the hills of Nigeria's central Plateau region, has gained an unenviable reputation for bloody violence in recent years – a symbol to the outside world of the supposed enmity between the country's Muslim and Christian populations.

Many hundreds – some say, up to 2,000 – died there in fighting between Muslims and Christians in 2001, when I was reporting on Nigeria for the AFP news agency. Hundreds more died in new fighting in 2008, and hundreds again died in January and this weekend.

In Jos, as elsewhere, the cause of fighting has, more often been the struggle for resources than it has religion. In Jos, my AFP colleague Aminu Abubakar reports that the original cause of the latest clash was the alleged theft of cattle, blamed by a group of settler-farmers on a group of cattle herders. Often the fighting in the north is between the semi-nomadic cattle herders (who happen to be mostly Muslim) and settler-farmers (who happen to be mostly Christian), fighting about the diminishing access to land.

'For all those who will go out and fight their Muslim or Christian brothers on the streets, there are many more (Nigerians) who will take them into their home to protect them, when fighting breaks out,' a Nigerian Islamic law student once told me, attending an animist festival in the south.

The reason these conflicts turn deadly in Nigeria is not any greater degree of religious animosity there than elsewhere, however much exists. The reason is poor government: one that fails to send in troops early enough to quell trouble when it flares and never jails those responsible when it is over. Mediation of disputes is too often left to others, too.

Religion may indeed be a dividing line in Nigeria. But politics, problem-solving and resource management hold the key to peace in Nigeria © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds "

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Studying Islam: Initiation through Interrogation

Everyone is by now aware of the issues surrounding security interrogations of Muslims post-9/11. The Iraqi-Canadian hip hop artist, The Narcicyst, has a relatively recent song and youtube video about this issue (PHATWA).

Also, organizations such as CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) document civil rights abuses against Muslims, and scholars such as Katherine Ewing and Moustafa Bayoumi have published books on this and other related issues.

So, before bombarding the blog with news headlines and commentary, let me introduce myself by way of an anecdote. Although I am not Muslim, my academic study of the religion has often confused security agents due either to my appearance or objects in my possession.

I finished my bachelor's degree in the winter of 2001 and studied intensive Arabic in Morocco in 2002. Oddly enough, I had decided to grow a beard in June 2001 while I was living in the mountainous region of northern Arizona, as I was really into hiking and being the outdoors type. After 9/11 I decided that I should keep the beard as an experiment in gauging people's reactions.

As I left the US for Morocco I was briefly detained and interrogated by a FBI agent regarding my destination, funding, and reasons for studying Arabic. But he was mostly trying to see if I became nervous in response to his rapid-fire questions. When I arrived in Morocco word on the street was that anyone with a beard was under government surveillance. I never noticed anyone following me or the like, but many people did believe that home wire-tapping was common.

Upon leaving Morocco in the summer of 2002 I was surprised that the military airport security guard did not search my carry-on bags simply because he was impressed with my Arabic as we exchanged polite conversation. However, the customs agent was very suspicious of my beard, combined with my choice to wear the traditional Moroccan jalaba robe. He interrogated me for about half an hour about my residence in the religious capital of Morocco (Fes), my contacts, funding, reasons for studying, etc. Finally, the customs agent asked me why I had a chrome hookah piece in my bag because good Muslims should not smoke. I quickly stated that although I respected Islam and Muslims I was not a Muslim myself, but only a student. He looked very puzzled and then sent me on my way as he no longer viewed me as a possible security threat. Yet, when I boarded the KLM flight to Amsterdam a flight attendant literally ran up behind me and tugged on my bag. She said that my chrome hooka piece was a potential weapon and that I must check it in, which I found to be a direct correlation between the assumption that my Muslim appearance and carrying a metal object could equal a security threat.

FYI, I am simply repeating the events and I can actually see where they were coming from despite my views on the issue.

This happened again in Austin, TX in 2008 when I missed my flight because airport security was suspicious of a metal scroll that my brother (former Army tank mechanic) had welded for me with our last name transliterated into Arabic. After explaining the story I was released with my Arabic metal scroll, but then had to wait a few hours before the next available flight.

But none of those experiences came close to a 2004 summer run-in with the police of Mathis, TX on hwy 666: bad omen anyone? I no longer had the beard, but I was taking a Mexican citizen friend to the border as he was preparing to return home with a load a vehicles he sells in southern Mexico. When we were pulled over with no explanation the chief of police searched the truck and found an Arabic book in the console. His demeanor immediately hardened and you could see the connection forming in his mind that he had found the first case of a Muslim terrorist near the Tex-Mex border, which was truly a major concern among federal politicians and law enforcement agents at the time.

After much debate I finally quoted this line from the book: sharibna 'ala dhikr il-habib mudamatan, sakkirna biha min qabla an khuliqa al-karmu (we drank to the memory of the beloved constantly, we were intoxicated with her before the creation of wine's vine). I finally got his attention and convinced him that the book was not a terrorist manual, but a centuries old collection of Sufi mystical poetry. But instead of backing off he then chose to accuse us of stealing property to sell in Mexico, and he then went so far as to accuse me of being a coyote (border smuggler). What he did not realize was that my friend was in the US legally and since the chicano police officer couldn't speak Spanish that well I ended up having to correct his understanding on several key points and ultimately translated for him. He did not even know that most other countries reverse the month and day on passports, which is what caused his confusion about the legal visa status of my friend. After disproving all of his attempts to make us out to be national security threats, he finally settled on giving me a speeding ticket.

Lesson learned: confusion often leads to heightened anxiety among security professionals, and if you can't be pinned down as a security threat then you just might get fined for the time they mistakenly wasted on you.

Well, that's my interrogation initiation story related to my ventures in the study of Islam.

Up next: world news headlines and blog commentaries.

Islam Analyst Blog: Anecdotes and Analysis

My name is Garrison Doreck and I am an adjunct university instructor in the study of Islam. I've created this blog for a few reasons:

1) to provide web links to current events involving Muslims around the globe

2) to provide analysis of issues related to Islam and Muslims for educational purposes

3) to reflect on humorous and informative anecdotes about my experience and education in the study of Islam/Muslims

On this site you will see everything from news headlines to commentary on other blogs related to Islam to stories about Muslims and those of us who study the Islamic faith and its adherents. I look forward to your feedback and hope to link up with others pursuing similar endeavors.