Islamic Salon: Are DC Muslims building the BlackAmerica’s Muslim intelligentsia?

One of my friends pointed out that living in Cali I was pretty much living in an intellectual wasteland for African American Muslim intellectuals. Even with two other Black Muslim women from other parts of the Diaspora in graduate school, our schedules too hectic to come together. I didn’t have many peers to share my ideas, build on my research, or to find support. Even though my personal background and experiences had influenced my research direction, I had no one to share the insights I found in my research or make my research relevant to broader issues in the Muslim world. My friends and adviser said that I would likely find a support network outside of academia, through continual exchange online and academic conferences. Slowly I’ve been working on building a peer group, where the respect is mutual. I’ve been looking for people who are intellectuals and activists, people committed to asking deep questions in order to think about creating a better future.

That’s when I began to reach out through blogging. While there have been some amazing sites that have shown promise, I have been disappointed by the distracting posters who follow up discussion with uninformed and counterproductive commentary. Ultimately, I know the limitations to open discourse on blogosphere. I have found promising and civil discourse in academically based discussion groups. What is clear is that we need high standards for our discourse. Moreover, we need real human exchanges with discussion groups, work groups, and writing workshops.
So, today, when someone forwarded me a link to AbdurRahman’s latest post. I was happily surprised. Here’s a brief account of what’s going on in DC:

Imagine for a moment that you’re a highly educated African-American living in the segregated Washington, DC of 1895. Modern distractions like radio and television haven’t been invented yet, and most other avenues for culturally rich and intellectually stimulating entertaiment have been racially proscribed. What do you do? This was the predicament facing the elite members of the race at the close of the 19th, and beginning of 20th centuries. In those days, education meant a heavy dosage of Latin, Greek, or French, great familiarity with the classics of western civilization – like Shakespeare and Plato – and usually the ability to perform a difficult piece of music on either piano or violin.

In learning to cope with the injustices of segregation, these educated Blacks turned inward and developed their own avenues for cultural and intellectual expression. They formed debate clubs and literary societies, attended plays ( held usually in churches), and wrote books and papers. However, one of the more important outlets they turned to – one which we are attempting to rediscover in the Washington D.C. of 2007 – consisted in holding lively and engaging programs in each others homes.

So often we hear that our masjids maintain an atmosphere inhibiting free discussion and thoughtful debate, a lamentable state of affairs. Most masjids, whether African American or immigrant, usually follow some type of “line” ( some ideological Kool-Aid they want you to drink), and all topics not sanctioned by the administration are strictly prohibited. But the home “salon”can be the perfect remedy to combat the intellectual and cultural stagnation that so many Muslims are experiencing today.

Here in the nation’s capital, Muslims are beginning to meet not only in homes, but in little coffee shops as well. Some attend to hear the short lectures and the discussions that follow, while others go simply to find a mate, and that’s o.k. too.

I really hope this idea catches on. After reading Sherman Jackson’s work on BlackAmerica and talking with several up and coming leaders, I am convinced that we need to go back to the drawing board. While we may look at faulty ideologies and failed movements, I think this is an exciting time for Muslims in the West. I believe we may be on the brink of some cutting edge thought. Our thoughts in exchange with the thinkers coming from Muslim majority countries may really help provide some real world solutions to the problems that we face all over the world.

Getting Stuff Done in the Middle East

I’ve always struggled with time management. But I really like making schedules, both by hand and in my computer. I like to make little colored boxes where I promise myself that I’ll dedicate the block of time between 9 am to 1 pm Saturday to studying then 1 pm to 1:30 pm to a quick lunch, then 1:45 pm to 3 pm for organizing my room. But normally I wake up and read some annoying comment on a blog or think of something I need to blog about. That can last for a few hours, then I have my compulsive email checking, which can suck up another few hours. So then my little time slots are in disarray. By the 5th week, I stop following my pretty colorful schedules. But I still log in those study hours.

I normally made up for wasted time by taking it out of my sleep, multi-tasking (i.e. eating while reading or writing), or canceling social engagements (to my friends’ chagrin). Even now, I am writing, what I hope to be, a brief blog. But I have about 75 Arabic words to look up in Hans Wehr. Anybody that has used this dictionary can know how irritating guessing whether the word has a weak vowel or if you are getting the right definition out of the 30 possible definitions. It is especially bad if you don’t know half other words in the sentence so reading from context can’t help you. Plus, I need to review everything I learned in the past 4 academic years + 3 intensive summers of studying Arabic. Seems like everything is a haze, like I got Arabic amnesia or something. I’ll return to that thought as I transition this blog back to talking getting stuff done in the Middle East.

I find that the angriest travelers are those who come with their preconceived notions about how stuff should work in the Middle East. And the people are the most frustrated of them all are those who want to live their lives in the Middle East ordered in the same way as they do in the West.

During my first trip to Morocco, just about everything was taken care of. I was definitely spoiled, but I also learned to give up control. One of the graduate coordinators came to pick me up from the airport(a grad student from Arizona who I must say is one of the nicest human beings I’ve met) . We drove the four hours from Casablanca to Meknes, stopping on the way for a nice lunch. Everything was arranged, our housing, food, registration at the university. We had a driver who drove us from our lodgings in the countryside to the classrooms which were in a satellite of Universite Moulay Ismail. We had lunch at a nice restaurant everyday and dinner at a cafeteria. Our weekend trips were planned and we even had organized social gatherings. Once a week, our driver drove us to the new city where we could run errands, shop, go the ATM, get some sweets. While many of the other students (most of them had traveled abroad before) complained about this and that, I was pretty stoked to be abroad. One grad student began complaining from the very first day because the program was restrictive. Basically, she wanted to be able to wander around and possibly live elsewhere or make it to class on her own (i.e. stay out all night in good ole conservative Morocco). We had two graduate coordinators who did their best to see to all our needs and nurse us from the throws of gastro-intestinal illnesses brought about by microbes and possibly parasites. Over time, you learn to avoid food joints that will lead explosive diarehea (especially places where the cooks never wash their hands). I missed a couple of days from that intensive program. It sucked, but I managed to make up my work because so much of the footwork was done for me(from finding a late night pharmacy to shopping for yoghurt and water).

During this first trip, I fell into the stereotyped role of the ill-adjusted “Black!” girl Real World/Road Rules style with a group of 9 white women under the age of 26 and 1 white man. I got tired of the incessant complaining, and learned to just go with the flow. Everything was so well taken care of that I would have missed one of the most important lessons about living in the Middle East. Alhumdulillah, I decided to stay a week on. Plus during my final weeks, I took a trip to Fez with one of the graduate coordinators to interview students of sacred knowledge. It was during that trip that I learned my most important lesson in patience: if you got three things done in a day in the Middle East, you were lucky. Yes, this has helped me preserve my sanity during my three visits to the Middle East.

That important lesson became ingrained in me during my second trip. That was even with Maria’s help setting up our apartment and dealing with Alif Fez. We even had help from our good neighbors over at Julie’s Cafe (who helped make sure Maria got a reasonable price on the rent) and Lotfi and Haneen downstairs. But even then, there were things that had to be done. It took me three days to clean the kitchen to get it to a livable condition. I remember it was a struggle to get to the Bank, grocery store, and cook dinner in one day. Some days, it could take an hour to catch a taxi from the train station to our section of Medina Jadid. Even my research and writing came slower. I remember having a meltdown in 120 degree weather, trying to get out of Fez. I could barely type up an email. We were broke, so I washed all my clothes and the linens on the balcony. That took extra time, as well as learning to cook in a third world kitchen.

In the West, you can get a lot of things done. But time management is key. It is possible to set out with a day full of events and appointment. Here is a typical Friday:

  • 9 am Withdraw cash from Bank
  • 9:30-10:15 Oil Change and Car wash
  • 10:15 Pay electricity Bill
  • 11 am Appoint Dr. Benghazi (10 minutes early for paperwork)
  • 12-1:15 pm Lunch with Sofia @Chez Maroc
  • 1:30-2:30 pm Shopping LuLu Hypermarche (hypermarket, even though they have less stuff than our super markets)
  • 3:00- 5:30 pm prepare dinner
  • 5:30 Dinner with Rashida
  • 8:00-Book Tickets online
  • 8:15- 11:15 Work from Home, upload files

Seriously, in the Middle East this list isn’t going to happen. The Bank? You’ll likely be in long lines or somehow your wire transfer decides it isen’t going to show when you really need it. The mechanic could be having a bad day, or a better paying customer decides he needs his oil changed and car washed, so you time has been pushed back. Dr. Benghazi may be on ‘Umrah or vacation (without telling you), Lunch with Sofia is likely to take up 3-4 hours, getting to the shopping center is going to take you a good 1/2 hour to full hour (no matter how small the town is), Dinner’s not going to be done on time because you should have gotten the food the night before or early that morning. Rashida may come around 6, but she’s not going to leave until after a good 4 hours sitting. In fact, let that be your whole night. Now that your friend is gone, you may not be able to get online. The internet will likely decide to be down for some reason, depending on where you live there could be a regular power outage, the water stops running, or you cannot get DSL or even a phone line at home.

Even without the breakdowns in transportation, you have to be prepared for a slower pace of everything. Social and Business transactions can last for hours. Traffic jams are just the rule. Bureaucractic institutions means that you have to go from person to person just to get something basic done. You can’t just call to get information, a personal visit is often necessary. I’m still learning the rules. You may have to go to several stores. The items you may need may be spread over several locations throughout the city. Lines are long. You have to find delivery guys and spend a 1/2 hour negotiating with them. Just because things happen slower and at time, inconvenient, it does not mean that you can’t get jack done.

Normally for any appointment, I give myself an allowance of minimum three visits over a course of a couple weeks. Arabs also like you to come back to their store or office, and the more often the happier they are. They really want to know if you are serious about getting what you want. Plus the person who makes the big decision or has the most important rubber stamp is usually never there. The key is to find their higher-ups so they can put the heat on them. That way, you can get something done. Otherwise, you better hope that the person you gave the paperwork to happens to like you or happens to feel charitable that day. Otherwise, your paperwork will sit buried under piles and piles of papers.

Getting stuff done in the Middle East is really about balance. You have to be persistent, but never let them see you perspire. You have be firm, without being too harsh and developing a bad rapport with the paper-pusher or gatekeeper. In fact, they can be your vital advocates. If they don’t want to help you, you have to then find their superior who may possibly help you. Then, you have to seem important and well connected. Being the friend of some important people helps. Or they might help you and expect something in return (I believe that’s what’s called wasta). But then what happens if what they want,  you can’t give?Being American, depending on where you are in the Middle East and the proclivities of the person you’re dealing with, may help you or hurt your cause.

I definitely survived my first trip to the Middle East because a lot of people were looking out for me. I’m not rich or well connected.  And there are times when people bust out in some local dialect and I’m like WTF?? There are times when I get tongue tied and feel stuck and overwhelmed. I also feel shy with my broken and mistake laden Fushah. To get a lot of stuff done, I rely upon friends and family that are looking out for me and advocating for me. I am learning through our shared trials and tribulations that when you set out to do something here (and anywhere else), you better say insha’Allah. And you better mean it.

Long Time No Blog

About a month ago things became really hectic.  I stopped writing and disappeared from the Stanford community. This became kind of cloudy and I had to reassess a lot. I was exhausted and had to get some priorities in line. I was definitely on the grind, hustling to make things happen. At the same time, I was still reading some dense and difficult theoretical works and thinking about my research. I have stacks of works to review, about 30 books from the library. I’m going to plow through them before August, I promise myself.  Right now, I’m juggling two jobs: temping at various sites and my research assistant position at Stanford.  I’m still saving and raising money for my trip. I’m focusing on spending time with my family and real friends, because I won’t see them for a year when I go to Egypt.

 After the storm had passed, I attended a few events that reminded me of the reason why I am taking this path. One was a conference on the Islamic library and the other an awards dinner for Muslim scholars and entreprenuers. Over the past three years, I have felt like I paid a huge cost. I worked myself into exhaustion. Grad school is trying, and my trade is an isolating field. I didn’t want to write some woe is me blogs. Instead, I focused on commenting on blogs. Sometimes what I read was depressing, other times they present me with challenges that are motivating. But overall, I guess I am aware of the obstacles that  I face and I have to have faith that it is worth all the efforts of trying to overcome them. In doing so, maybe we can encourage each other to face our struggles and be better by doing better.

About Time: American Historical Association Denounces War In Iraq

American Historical Association Denounces the War in
Iraq

March 13, 2007
Contact: Alan Dawley 215-843-6754

In an unprecedented step, the nation’s oldest and
largest professional association of historians, the
American Historical Association (AHA), has ratified a
resolution condemning government violations of civil
liberties linked to the war in Iraq. The resolution
urges members “to do whatever they can to bring the
Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.” In electronic
balloting whose results were announced on March 12,
some three-quarters of those voting supported the
resolution, which was originally proposed by members
of
Historians Against the War (HAW), a national network
of
over two thousand scholars on more than four hundred
campuses. The resolution had gained earlier acceptance
from members attending the AHA’s annual meeting in
Atlanta on January 6, 2007, and from the AHA Council,
which decided to send the resolution out for
ratification because of its sensitive nature.

“The outcome indicates the deep disquiet scholars feel
about damage done to scholarly inquiry and democratic
processes by this misbegotten war,” said Alan Dawley,
Professor of History at The College of New Jersey and
a
former winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize, who
was the initial mover of the resolution.

The American Historical Association was chartered by
Congress in 1889. Past Presidents include two United
States presidents who were also historians, Woodrow
Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. President John F.
Kennedy was also a member. According to current
members, there is no instance in its 118-year history
when the AHA has dissented from U.S. foreign policy.
Staughton Lynd, a prominent supporter of a defeated
1969 resolution opposing the Vietnam war, comments:
“Back then we asked historians not only to oppose the
Vietnam war but to protest harassment of the Black
Panthers and to call for freeing political prisoners.
This resolution focuses on government practices that
obstruct the practice of history. It asks the
American
Historical Association only to encourage its members,
as individuals, in finding ways to end the war in
Iraq.”

In the weeks leading to the vote, many of the nation’s
leading historians, such as Eric Foner of Columbia
University and John Coatsworth of Harvard, both former
AHA Presidents endorsed the resolution.

For more information on the AHA and the resolution, go
to http://www.historians.org/. For more information on
Historians Against the War, go to
http://www.historiansagainstwar.org

The Resolution, 2007

I have contemplated doing the New Years Resolution thing. It is a nice ritual, but we often fall short and slip back into our vices within months, if not weeks. One New Years Resolution I had was to be good to myself. I haven’t done a very good job, but I have been treating myself better than I have in the past few years. Or maybe I’m feeling less beat up because of a complete turn around in my academic career. 2006 was a rough year for me, career-wise and personally. Today I ran into a professor who has been supportive of me work and continually encouraged me to keep fighting the good fight. He said that something must be wrong, because I looked happy. I looked happier than I had in the past two years. I think happiness is relative. But I’m going to try to be happy. And when times aren’t happy, I’m going to embrace the hardship, loneliness, and pain. Riding through those will make me stronger and during those times, I will draw closer to the Creator.

What lies ahead for me during 2007 seems like a scary and seemingly impossible journey. My journey will span a year or two and will take me to Egypt. Going to Egypt for so long is a big leap for me, but I’m committed to going. It is something that I knew I would have to do since 2002 when I decided to take this path. Going abroad is essential for my career as a researcher and scholar. Historians of Africa pride themselves with the emphasis on fieldwork. I will earn my stripes as a legitimate scholar. Going out into the field means living amongst the people you are studying for extensive times. Historians of Africa are in many ways similar to anthropologists. Years ago, anthropologists spent years, sometimes 4-5 years in the field. Great historians like Jan Vansina and Steven Feierman spent years in the field and are both trained as anthropologists and historians. They became fluent in the languages and cultural repertoire of their subject populations. (But for me, I am a member of the community that I am studying. For anyone that hasn’t noticed: I am of African descent and I am Muslim. So my research directly relates to my identity meaning that I have more of a stake in my work. I am transformed by my work and my identity transforms the meaning of my work. )The average Africanist spends 10 years getting their degree. Becoming an Africanist often entails language training in another European language besides English, such as French and German and an African language. We draw on various disciplines and sources to reconstruct past lives and events. We use ethnographic studies, collect oral data through interviews or collecting poetry, oral histories, epics, stories, and songs. We visit archives set up by colonial and state governments. A historian of Islamic Africa requires the skill sets of an Orientalist scholar who can master Arabic texts, European languages for colonial and state archives, and a ethnographic skills of an anthropologist. Stanford provides funding for 5 years. There is university funding for the 6th year. Fortunately for me, my research subjects speak modern standard Arabic. My research focuses on race in Muslim societies and I will be examining a communityh of West Africans in Cairo. I am taking a leave of absence for language training and research, which means my degree can take 7-8 years.

But who wants to be in their early thirties, during the prime of my life abroad surrounded by strangers? I’m not really happy with what that means in my life right now. Often, I think about what I’m putting on hold to go there. It extends my studies. It prevents me from establishing roots or real connections here. It in many ways leaves me vulnerable and alone. Being a woman in the Middle East is not very easy. There is less freedom to move, more chaos, cultural misunderstandings, and increased vulnerability. Then, there are all the people who see me as a walking visa, a ticket out. Sure, I have a few friends that live in Cairo, but I’m going to be far away from my family and people who have looked after me for years. I’m also trying to brace for a new flavor of racism, the Middle Eastern type. Sometimes, when I think about the journey ahead, I already feel the homesickness. I can imagine the loneliness, since I remember how alone I felt in Morocco at times. I can also feel the culture shock coming on. On the other hand, a huge part of me is relieved to be leaving the Bay Area, this isolated pocket community. I’m tired of the weird incestuous nature of both the graduate and Muslim community here. I’m restless and want to do something and be exceptional. I want to master Arabic, which I have been studying for almost four years. I want to pay my dues as an Africanist and maximize my field experience. I want to be around spiritual and good-hearted people. Sometimes I don’t mind the break from the struggles of being black in America. But really, I want to be around people who make me want to be a better person. Here, I find myself agitated, but not stirred, shaken, but not moved. I would like to surround myself by exceptional people who inspire me. Maybe there will be people like that in Egypt. The people I know who are there are good people. I hope there are more like them.

My mixed feelings about traveling and living abroad really reflect my acknowledgment of the benefits and sacrifices of undertaking this endeavor. I still have a long road to go to finish my degree and many obstacles ahead. In order to finish in that time, I must write and research expeditiously. I must be focused. I have to focus my energies, doing away with frivolity and nonsense. This is why I have extricated myself from chaotic and distressing situations and relationships. I must be good to myself and follow some of my unwritten New Years resolutions in order to take on this task.

I don’t think I’m going to find what I’m looking for in Egypt. But I do think that I’m going to have one piece of the puzzle figured out. Then it will be on to figure out the next stage. But everything I’m doing right now is preparing me for that. When I come back, I will be different. But I’ll also come back hungrier to finish my Ph.D. and ready to do the damn thing. Cairo is more real to me in my dreams. Sometimes those dreams feel more real than my reality here. Today, I spoke with a jewelry vendor. She said that I spoke of Egypt like I’m already there. While Summer is still far away, I’m there somewhere in Cairo.

Intellectual Snob

Yes, I have been called an intellectual snob. Someone pointed out this trait years before I began studying at a university in what seems like another lifetime before I became a graduate student. In my late twenties and early teens, I was sort of a street intellectual, in independent scholar. I used to have a box full of notecards with tempting quotes and information. I had charisma too. I could get up in front of a crowd, and hit some points that resonated with almost everyone in the audience. But more than anything, I valued knowledge. No particular reason, just the desire to know drove me. I took a class with a prominent Muslim scholar and he noted my curiosity.

During that time, many of my friends went to the semi-prestigious Santa Clara University. I used to hang out there in the library, unable to afford classes at the local community college. As a JC drop-out, I had a strong thirst for knowledge. And I had a strong sense of justice and a lot more energy than I have now. And I’d go toe to toe with anybody who wanted to test me on some issue relating to Muslims. I’d argue with white feminist scholars who came at me with some orientalist notions of Islam and women’s rights. I argued about Islamic Law and Women’s rights with a Harvard trained lawyer. Instructors, I’d check em. Professors, I’d confound them with difficult questions. And no, I didn’t have a degree nor a lot of training. But even in that early stage, during those formative years in and out of community college, I knew I had a strong disdain for anyone trying to test me in a debate that they knew little about.

The first time I heard the term intellectual snob was after a dinner party 11 years ago. There was some woman who was going to Stanford in feminist studies (who now does nothing with her degree, but stays at home married to a wealthy doctor in priveleged Atherton) had something to say about patriarchy in Muslim societies without acknowledging the ways she was also circumscribed by patriarchy in this society. She upset me and my best friend by accusing us of being oppressed for wearing hijab. While she, wearing her long curly hair free flowing and dress was free. My friend got upset and left the table. I lost patience and took some intellectual jabs at her. I had little patience for her inconsistence in this discussion. By the way, telling a non-Western woman that she is oppressed at a dinner party is pretty damn rude.

So, this is all a side-point. My major point is that I have and always will be an intellectual snob. I have a whole bunch of pet peeves in a heavy conversation. Here are some:

1. Devil’s advocates
This has got to be the lamest for of critical engagement. Just taking the opposing side insincerely is the most annoying tactic. Keep these people far from me. There are times when looking at an issue from both angles can be helpful. But for the most part, I see Devil’s advocates as the very spawn of Satan.

2. Those who argue over semantics
Unless you got a fricken dictionary, don’t quibble with me over you own chosen definition of a word. I hate those people who basically agree with you, but have to find that one little flaw that they have to interjects. At the point of understanding, you should focus on what can be agreed upon, where we differ, and what can we build off of it.

3. Ignoramous with an Opinion
Yes, opinions are like assholes, and everyone has one. But that does not mean that we have to smell your shit. So, unless you have an informed opinion, in the company of experts, you should STFU.

4. Know it alls
People who have to have an opinion on everything. Guess what? You do not know everything. So this means that you should defer, listen, and learn. Be humble. Not everyone is impressed by your constant ramblings and need to prove to the world that you know everything.

Okay, well I gotta run. I will add to this list. But feel free to add your own.

Addendum:
1c. People who sprinkle their speech with foreign words, especially French, German, or Arabic, to sound really profound. Things like: “Voltgeist” or “Ya’ani” or even trying to pronounce some ridiculous French word to prove adeptness with the French language makes me want to vomit. This is especially annoying when the English equivalent will suffice.

2c. People who name drop. Rubbing shoulders with some scholar or knowing some important person does not
make you smarter. In fact, I hate name dropping all together. Just drop it, okay. Work with your own merits.

3c. People who throw out book titles and feel like they have defeated you when they name a book you haven’t read. Academics are notorious for this.

4c. People who bait others into debates. You know, that seemingly innocent question that the baiter uses to launch into some campaign of proving their intellectual prowess.

5c. People who won’t concede that their stances are not well supported. Or basically, people who cannot admit that they are wrong.

6c. People who say you don’t get their point, especially if their point is not clear or evident in what they are writing or saying. We are not mind readers. What you put out there is what is left for us to interpret. If I missed your poorly presented point, then clarify your thinking and get back at me.

7c. People who try to quiz you on the languages you know. “How many languages you speak? Oh, I speak 5.” My response, “STFU, you barely speak anyone of them well.” sometimes, I come back with, “I speak broken ebonics, some English, studied other languages….” Or the finally question of snobbery:”How is your French?” My reply: “non-existent you pompous idiot savant!!

What To Do When Muslims Behave Badly

By behaving badly, I don’t mean Muslims not praying or transgressing personal morality. I mean things that violate someone else’s humanity and dignity. You know, things like genocide, terrorism, enslavement, child abuse, and violence against women. How do Muslims come to terms with the atrocities committed by other Muslims?

Should their actions cause a crisis of faith? Should we reflect upon our core beliefs to understand why the trans-Saharan slave trade occurred, why genocide is going on in Darfur, why there is still the enslavement of blacks in Mauritania, why female genital mutilation is praticed in many parts of the Muslim world inluding Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, and in some parts of the Levant and Iraq? Or should we Muslims try to defend our faith and seek the core spiritual truths. Do we explain that these actions were due to cultural practices, even though the perpetrators may sincerely believe that they are doing some actions in the name of the faith? How do we come to terms with the fact that religious ideology is used to justify all sorts of brutality?

My understanding of these issues have been shaped by my training as a Western scholar. But there is the part of me whose identity is tied up with the cultural religious complex called Islam. Although I try not to let my faith blind me from seeing historical realities, my identity shapes how I understand those realities. I have read several articles that make broad generalizations in their critiques of Muslim/African encounters and Arab/African encounters. Often Arab and Muslim are depicted as synonomous. Right now, Arabs are the only ethnic group that it seems generally okay to say vehemently racist things abou them. Many Arabs are Muslim, but clearly not all Muslims are Arabs. In fact the majority of Muslims come from Indonesia. Few people have bad things to say about Indonesians. But I digress.

I am in a society that is largely hostile to both my race and my religious beliefs and practices. Our communities tend to circle their wagons and in this defensive position we are less likely to be introspective or reform driven. Instead, any criticism from outsiders is taken as an attempt invalidate our beliefs and identity. But this does not mean that we should focus on defending our beliefs and cultural practices against important critiques. The truth of the matter is that Muslim women are still not able to secure the rights accorded them in the Shariah. There is a huge difference between High Culture, popular culture. Doctrine and ideology does not determine the actions of individuals. Instead, a full range of overlapping and conflicting interests can drive why individuals and groups choose to do certain things. What I think is important is to expose how individuals manipulate the naivete of their followers. It is important to look at the political economy of any movement. It is essential to look at the material motivations, as well as consider whether or not spiritual beliefs were sincere. And just because someone is sincere in their beliefs, that does not mean that they are not misguided. This is why it is important to move beyond the Us/Them mentality. The Us/Them mentality is really the thing that allows us to behave badly against other human beings. Anyways, that’s my thoughts for now. This meditation will continue…