Cross Dressing For Allah

So one of my friends asked me what did I think about the Red Mosque stand off. You know, the one where the pious Muslim leader tried to escape out the backdoor dressed as a woman. I’m not one to write too much about politics. I am also very careful about writing on events that I don’t understand. But who could ignore the dramatic events and the burqas. Umar Lee has made some very interesting comments on this piece in his blog. My response is delayed because I’ve been really swamped with my work and studies. But with the flurry of blog entries, here’s my two cents.

There is so much discussion about women’s dress, hijab, niqab, and burqa. A few years back, Michael Jackson made headlines by dressing in an abaya and veil and powdering his nose in a bathroom. Himesh Reshammiya pissed off a lot of Muslims in a shrine. Himesh and Michael were just trying to escape paparazzi. But there have been a growing number of stories where bank robbers and Muslim militants donned the burqa to escape police or military capture. In the case of the mosque standoff, I think I’d cut the brother some slack if he didn’t have such a hard core deen-or-die-rough-rider-pakistani-style rhetoric. So what’s up with that ready to die as a shaheed, but dressing up as a meek Muslimah? I’m really rusty on my Fiqh, but last I heard was that cross dressing was haram. In fact, I’ve read works by Muslim writers who condemn Muslim women for wearing jeans and pants like men. But maybe in this case they used ijtihad and came up with some ruling that it is okay to cross dress fi-subil-Allah.

Diary of a Lax Muslim Pt. 2: Trendy Muslims and Titles We Take for Ourselves

Muslims love titles. We love to create nisbas for everything (adding an “ee” sound to a location or characteristics. Hence Wahhabi, Sufi, Salafi, Sunni, Shi’i, Farsi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanafi, Hanbali, Naqshabandi, Mevlevi, Qadiri, Khariji, Deobandi, Maghribi, Sharqi, Ifriqi, Faranji, Arabi, Turki, etc…. Add that “i” and VOILA!! You have created another group or divide. We like group titles and nisbas so much that you’d think we added the “ee” to crazy. Muslims love nisbahs as much as Americans love “isms.” Communism, Capitalism, feminisism, traditionalism, protestantism, Catholicism, fascism, socialism, communalism, liberalism, conservatism, republicanism, humanism, pragmatism, etc…. I have read debates in blogs and online forums. I have read articles and critiques of various scholars and groups where nisbahs are used like curse words. People often use nisbahs to essentialize other groups in order to assert their superiority. Often, we may take a nisbah for ourselves in order to mark ourselves as distinct from those “other” Muslims. Those “other” Muslims don’t have the right Islam. They are deviant. They miss the spirit of Islam. They are extreme. They are too lax. They are irrational. They are too backwards. They are too westernized. They are too cultural. They don’t have a Muslim identity. They are too nationalistic….etc. Give a group a nisbah and those generalized traits that we have ascribed to that group apply for all eternity. When we attach a nisbah to an opposing group, it is sort of a way of dehumanizing them and invalidating their point of view.

Lax Muslims often think they have risen above this. But I will take a case of a lax Muslim to show how they contribute to the problem. I will focus on the lax Muslim woman whose enthusiasm for practicing has petered out. This lax Muslim may have been disillusioned. Somehow, she may have thought that by praying, fasting, attending the mosque, and replacing clubbing and movies as entertainment with Friday and Saturday night lectures and talks would solve all her problems. She may have thought that by practicing she could find a good husband and financial stability. She may have thought that by practicing, life would be easier and less complicated. But after a few years of floating in the community, this Muslimah begins to tire out.

She may have been frustrated with the neurosis running through her particular community. She may have been put off by some halaqa that may have told her how evil she was for plucking her eyebrows and growing out her fingernails. She may have felt excluded from the mosque politics dominated by men who want to keep women from sitting on the governing board. Or maybe they only allow one token woman. She may have felt burned by some fierce competition over some hot male Muslim brother. That hot Muslim brother may be some rising super star on the lecture circuit. She may hear the call of the dunya and really miss having careless fun. The call of the dunya may be too enticing. She may miss dancing on a Friday night at the local night spot. She may want a T-bone steak, as opposed to devouring some spicy halal paki food. This lax Muslimah may be a muhajabah who wants to feel feminine and not feel the brunt of anti-Muslim sentiment. She may even want to wear hijab and curse out the jerk who cutt her off on the Freeway while not feeling like she mis-represented Islam. She may be pissed off for representing the Ummah while the brothers get to be all ambiguous or even be cool and Muslim. Said former muhajabah may resent the fact that Muslim men develop relationships with non-Muslim women. She may resent the double standard. The former pride she took in reppin’ the Muslims dissapates. Former Muhajabah may still like men and wants men to affirm her self-worth. Maybe more than anything else, she wants to feel like a regular girl on the streets.

But said former Muhajabah still wants to be Muslim and would like respect from at least some of the Muslims. But for the most part, the Muslims who practice think she’s wack. Former Muhajabah is angry that the pious Muslims she knows now judge her. Perhaps, they even talk about her behind her back. Former Muhajabah begins to question her faith, but still feels as if Islam is part of her identity. She may go to different scholars looking for dispensation for certain requirements. Maybe hijab is a hardship and even though her life is not in danger, she is tired of funny looks from her possible employers. She doesn’t want to feel guilty, weak, or like a failure.

In her anger and frustration over the way she has been treated, miss former muhajabah lax Muslim begins to curse all the practicing Muslims. She calsl them hypocritical for judging her. Former Muhajabah may begin to find all sorts of faults in the Muslims who follow the sunnah. Practicing Muslims then become the worst people on Earth. She may sound like a mouth piece for Fox News as she generalizes about the Muslims. They are fundamentalists. They are extreme. They need to get with the real world and real world issues. They are isolationists. They are backwards. They are superficial…etc…..

As she moves more and more into a comfortable place of laxity, she begins to take a new-agey version of Islam. She may even call it Sufism, although this is such a general category that can mean a lot of things. Spirituality becomes her primary concern and she doesn’t consider the practicing Muslims spiritual at all. She creates a false dichotomy between purification of the heart and outward practice. Instead, lax Muslim Former Muhajabah thinks of herself as spiritually superior and even more advanced than her practicing counterparts. She may consider herself superior because she read an incomprehensible Ibn Arabi text all by herself. But she’s still reliant upon Chittick to provide his tafsir. While her own personal morality falls within the grey zone, she sees the others as misguided.

I provided this little story to talk about one of the traps that many lax Muslims fall into. Lax Muslims can sound awful self-righteous. But if we are truly sincere, then we will be humbled by our shortcomings and should admire those who maintain their integrity and preserve upright practice. Instead, lax Muslims feel threatened by difference especially when the difference highlights our moral laxity. They may be paranoid about meeting other Muslims, especially practicing Muslims. They may project their own insecurities and think that every devout Muslim judges them. In that process they may become just as judgmental and intolerant as the people who judged them–if not more so.

Many struggling Muslims take on the title of Sufi without really committing to tasawwuf (purification of the heart). I have met numerous pious and sincere Sufis. Last night, the Stanford community held an event with the Mevlevi order and it is was enriching. I have been to Naqshabandi dhikr circles. I have listened to Sufi tapes and Sufi Music. I have spent time at the shrine of Ahmad Tijani in Fes. I came upon my research topic by my experiences in Fes where I saw women from Mali and Senegal praying side-by- side with Fesi women. I realized that the zawiya can facilitated inter-ethnic communication. I do not consider myself a Sufi because I am not in a tariqa, nor have I given bayyan to a sheikh. As an academic, we tend to enjoy difference and the various ways people express Islam. I sort of take an anthropological approach and accept difference. I don’t mind a little flair and innovation is not a bad word. Importantly, I recognize the difference between Islamic ideals and what people do. But I have noticed the ways American Muslims deploy Sufism. Many lax Muslims are drawn more to “spirituality” rather than following the rigors of practice that forces you to do some real self work.

The Sufis I know, the responsible ones, the ones who were Sufi before Sufi became cool are often just as devout as non-Sufis. In the post-9/11 world, Sufis became cool. Real cool. Many of the people in tariqas are often welcoming and kind, but I do not think that they would consider many of those who are picking up books and claiming the Sufi nisbah to be people who are following that tariqah (narrow path). Sufis may just be nicer to a lax or wacked out Muslim, and their motivations for doing so may be numerous. They may be forgiving because it is better to attract flies with honey, than let’s say vinegar.

These lax Muslim Sufi title holders need a nisbah so that they can feel as if they are doing some real self-work instead of backsliding. They take on the label of Sufi, or another such as Progressive Muslim, order to hold on to something. Real self-work is painful and it takes lots of discipline. Unfortunately, many so-called Sufi Muslims have bought into some New Age beliefs about spirituality which outside the traditions. These New Age beliefs reflect a Western phenomena of bastardizing spirituality (whether Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Kabbalism, etc…). People simplify it, commodify it, and wrap it up for mass consumption. Just like it becomes a trend to eat Tofu and sushi, do yoga, drink Lattes, or bubble tea, Sufism becomes that trendy thing over-intellectualized and simplified and devoid of its cultural and historical context.

Diary of a Lax Muslim Woman pt. 1

I wanted to reflect on a number of issues that many of us struggling Muslims face as we try to reconcile our own personal challenges, diseases of the heart, weakness of character, and our desire to be near our Lord.

Devout Muslim scholars, and their followers, have taken various stances on lax and non-practicing Muslims. In some texts, non-practicing Muslims are considered hypocrites. But to me, the Arabic term for hypocrite, munafiq, has such harsh connotations that I don’t think the term fits a non-practicing Muslim. But for the most part, Muslims accept somebody else as a believer and member of the community upon declaration of faith ( saying: “There is no Deity but the One God (Allah is the word for God in Arabic) and Muhammad is his messenger.”)

But let me reflect on the term hypocrite or munafiqun. From what I understand in the early history of Islam. The hypocrites, who are referred to in the Quran, were the groups of people in Medina who joined the Muslim community. They took Shahada, but did not believe in Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) message. Some joined the Muslims for financial or political gain and secretly they worked with the Meccans who wanted to stomp out the Muslim community. Muslims believe that the hypocrites are damned to the lowest depths of hell, lower than those who outright rejected Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) Message.

Main Entry: hyp·o·crite
Pronunciation: ‘hi-p&-“krit
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English ypocrite, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrita, from Greek hypokritEs actor, hypocrite, from hypokrinesthai
1 : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2 : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings
– hypocrite adjectiv

Here’s a definition of hypocrite that I picked up from USC MSA Compendium

a hypocrite, one whose external appearance is Islam (praying, fasting, “activism”, etc.) but whose inner reality conceals kufr – often unbeknownst to the person themselves. (See Al-Baqarah: 8-23). A Munafiq is more dangerous and worse than a Kafir.

According to Sahīh Bukhārī, the Prophet said, “Whoever has the following four (characteristics) will be a pure hypocrite and whoever has one of the following four characteristics will have one characteristic of hypocrisy unless and until he gives it up. 1. Whenever he is entrusted, he betrays. 2. Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie. 3. Whenever he makes a covenant, he proves treacherous. 4. Whenever he quarrels, he behaves in a very imprudent, evil and insulting manner.”

So, the lax Muslim may reflect #2 of the English definition of hypocrite. Some devout Muslims are completely intolerant of lax Muslims. I have always wondered why it was so threatening for some people. But I will explore those issues throughout my blog. Definition of lax:

LAX
Pronunciation: ‘laks
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin laxus loose — more at SLACK
1 a of the bowels : LOOSE, OPEN b : having loose bowels
2 : deficient in firmness : not stringent
3 a : not tense, firm, or rigid : SLACK
b : having an open or loose texture c : having the constituents spread apart
4 : articulated with the muscles involved in a relatively relaxed state (as the vowel \i\ in contrast with the vowel \E\)
synonym see NEGLIGENT

Some people still believe that a non-practicing, sinning, or selectively practicing Muslim is a hypocrite. But there is a better Arabic term for a Muslim who openly violates Islamic law, Fasiq or fajir, an evil doer. But I remember reading a famous text, I’ll leave the name out for those who are still a fan (despite disregarding the appalling consequences if you follow the logic to its fullest extent). I remember the author finding hypocrites everywhere. Hypocrites could be secular Muslims, hypocrites could be non-practicing Muslims, hypocrites could be Muslims who wanted reforms in the way Islam was instituted in public life. But this mid-20th century definition of hypocrite, and eventually the takfir movement, would come to have dire consequences for the state of our Muslim community. The kind of hard core takfiring going on reminds of me of the Kharijites.

During the time of the Righteous Caliphs, a small group of fanatical Muslims believed that if you sinned you were no longer a believer, and therefore an apostate. They took this to the extreme and believed that a sinner could be executed. Their fanaticism led them to assisinate, the Prophet Muhammad’s (s.a.w.) nephew and son and law, Ali Ibn Abi Talib. They believed he sinned because he gave up his position as leader of the Muslims in arbitration. So, they murdered one of the best of among us. Through their terrible actions, the Kharijites, as they are known in historical record, sparked discussion by some of the best scholars. Many asked:”What makes somebody Muslim?” Shahada got you the club card, but how does one stay a member? Scholars came up with different positions. Only the Kharijites really took the stance that sinning, whether eating pork, drinking wine, or fornicating, equated disbelief. Some scholars argued that only Allah knows if someone is a true believer and it is not for humanity to judge. Others argued that a sinning Muslim was a hypocrite. The dominant position, and most reasonable opinion, seems to be that there are gradations of faith. There are weak Muslims and strong Muslims. Faith can change at a given time, for example Imam Ghazali (d. 1111) wrote about his own crisis of faith. From that crisis of faith, he returned and became the consolidator of sunnism. His works still inspire us to this day.

I hope to reflect on my journey from devout Muslim, to fallen Muslim, and my several attempts to find myself and my way again. I hope it will be an honest and informative blog. While I hope to keep it real, I will try my best not to reveal anyone else’s faults. I will only expose my own in hopes that some of you will avoid the pitfalls that I have been trapped in. For those who have navigated the treacherous dunya without backsliding or falling off, perhaps you can learn a lesson too. My main lesson that I hope to teach yall is the lesson of tolerance because Allah is truly the Best of Guides.

Sunnah-tize My Life

I spent the entire day locked in my room writing my second qualifying paper. I have a draft due to turn in on Sunday. I heard a loud assured knock on my door. Mind you, Im sitting in my pink Pajamas all day, (still am). I ordered from Halalco almost three weeks ago. Everyday I came home with some faint hope that Id get a nice surprise in the mail. So, the joy must have been plastered over my face as I answered the door in my pink pin-striped PJs and black fluffy slippers with my delivery. I signed for it on that magical electronic signature thing. The delivery guy commented, You look like a kid at Christmas. I was so excited, but it wasnt Christmas. It was like a Muslim holiday of Eid.

I ordered all this stuff a month ago, inspired after watching some videos on You Tube.
I was procrastinating late at night and saw this clip from some kids at Davis.
Extreme Muslim Makeover: Home Edition

After watching the video, I realized I wasnt keeping it Sunnah. I fell off on the essential oils, no longer owned a Qiblah compass, and didnt have the miswak, and I couldnt find my dhikr beads. *
I felt like my room wasnt Muslim enough. People have been in my room and said it looks like Rock the Casbah. I brought back a bunch of interesting things from my travels. Sure, I got the Kaba picture, the 99 names glitter picture, prayer rugs, a hookah, a calendar of Mauritania boys and the white sheets, ahemI mean prayer clothes.** So, for days I searched on line, for black Abayas, big scarves, big gigantic prayer clothes, miswak, necklaces. I searched for all the things I find in Muslim peoples homes. I looked for the arsenal of cultural representations that say, Hey Im doing something Islamic. Sort of like the slippers to walk in the bathroom, or the water battle that in the bathroom.
Still, I felt like I had to Sunnahtize my life. What is Sunnahtize? A word I just made up. For me it is a slow process of beginning to incorporate aspects of the Prophetic traditions. Sunnahtize by adding Muslim traditions, cultural patterns, quirks, or objects that make you pretty cool. Just like the slippers in the bathroom thing. Or that Quran as the highest book in the house. Or it is hanging that little tiny Quran that you cant possibly read on your rear view mirror. Or it is that Allah necklace that says hey Im a Muslimword. Or it is that hijab or extra long beard. # Sort of like going to that shop and the Quran or nasheed tape playing in the background. ## Years ago, I used to never understand what they were saying, but hey I thought that sounds pretty nicecool.
You can even Sunnahtize your lingo. Saying things like Akhi or Ukhti (Brother or sister) MashaAllah Alhumdulillah, and Subhan Allah. (It is as God wills it, all praises due to Allah, Glory to Allah) all the time, If you are super fly with your Sunnah-slang, you got all sorts of expression. InshaAllah kheir, (If God wills it will be good) Barak Allah fik (Gods blessings in you). Youll call people Habibi and Habibati. (My love)You may even say Yaani (It means).If you are super Sunnahtize, you may even develop a Pakistani or Arab accent, depending on who you spend the most time with.
Sunnahtize can mean a lot of things for different people. Sunnahtize by adding Muslim traditions, cultural patterns, quirks, or objects that make you pretty cool. Some of us Sunnahtize by listening to Islamic music with clean lyrics, people like Sami Yusuf, Mecca2Medina, Tyson, or Sidi Yassir. Some of us Sunnahtize by attending every Islamic talk, lecture. Anyways, Im making baby steps, realizing Sunnahtize is really about making myself a better person. That requires inward change and not just outward symbols.

*Essential Oils because Muslims arent supposed to use alcohol; Qiblah the direction to Mecca; natural toothbrush made from the root of an Arak bush; Dhikr means remembrance. Muslims use them to remember Gods Attributes sort of like how Christians use a Rosary
** Kaba is the Holiest Muslim site located in Mecca ; 99 names of God that are mentioned in the Quran; hookah is a tobacco water pipe; Prayer clothes are extra modest gear for Muslim women.
# Hijab Head scarf worn by Muslim women
## Nasheed is Islamic music

Intelligence and Hair in the UK

I’m back home and I feel kind of dizzy. Maybe it is the jet lag. To took a shower and washed the travels right off me. I have a swollen ankle from nearly busting my ass on the cobble stone streets in Durham. I got to London Friday afternoon an did the 2 hour bus tour. I stayed at a hostel, first time ever. It was called the Generator. It was full of drunk Australians and New Zealanders. They were singing Oasis songs, remember them? Wonder Wall, back in the 90s? Those t two brothers with unibrow who spoke incomprehensible English, didn’t get a long and sang alternative-poppy British songs. The garage is a happening place, I guess. Hostels aren’t so cheap any more 17GBP per night. Times that by two, and you will see why I think a 8 person room and communal shower is ridiculously expensive. Saturday morning, I headed to the airport at a responsible hour. But there was an adventure waiting for me as I caught the Underground to get to the airport. It normally takes an hour to get from Heathrow to The line to the airport was stopped, which meant that I had to make several exchanges. Long story, I’ll get back to that. I was so tired, I have never worked so hard to lift, carry pull climb, drag, stand run, roll, push.. Luckily Londoners are more friendly than New Yorkers and a family helped me carry my luggage on a few of the exchanges. I was stopped by an officer/agent/official after I checked in. He asked where I was going, I said back to the United States. First he said that I was late for my flight, but perhaps it was delayed He then me what was I doing in the UK. I said I was doing research at the University of Sudan. He then took my passport, and I waited to find out how long would the questioning be. I was a little concerned about being held up, I’ve heard some people were held for four hours. When he returned, same line of questions, a barrage of them. He asked me what was I studying. I said at the Sudan archive. He asked what was I studying. I said interwar period Sudan. He didn’t know what that was, I said Sudanese history after World War I and before World War II. He then asked if I had plans to travel to Sudan. I said, if my dissertation topic will be Sudan. He asked if I had plans on traveling to the Middle East. I said I am a student of Middle East history, so I plan to. He asked if I work for any companies. I said no, I am a Ph.D. student at Stanford University. He asked what do I study there. I said study Nigerians in the Middle East. Do I just study? I said I also teach classes. He told me he was interested in people like me, people who travel to conflict areas, hot spots. He works for intelligence and he is interested in information on people like me, you know people like me. Long story, he couldn’t say at the moment. I was allowed to leave and he said, “I don’t know how you do your hair.”

I have had a lot of hair comments since I went natural. So, it wasn’t surprising to get comments from Europeans. “Amazing Hair” on the train. “Big Hair” “How do you do your hair” at the air port “I love your hair” and “Is it all yours?” at the hostel. One woman asked to touch my hair. It is weird, like it is some type of anomaly. Maybe we should gather all the brown women with curly hair and make a petting zoo. We could get young multi-racial children, brown and black babies and the people can gawk and talk about how cute they all are. But I don’t want to blame just our European sisters and brothers. When my hair was straightened, I’ve had African American sistas reach into my hair, asking “Is that all yours?” while feeling for tracks. As if they were going to catch me in a lie. I used to get made fun of for having big hair. They used to call me “Bush!” I have been called a liar about my hair, criticized for bad hair, made fun of for having “fake” hair, I have had girls beef with me over hair, people compliment my hair. I should start singing India Irie, “I am not my hair.” Women’s hair is a crazy powerful thing. Mashallah there is definitely hikmah in hijab.