How Lack of Accountability Led to Rise of a Monster

Zerqa Abid wrote a very important post that highlighted some of the issues and concerns that I have with accountability in our Muslim communities. How could we have allowed someone like Muzzammil Hassan, a Muslim man of questionable moral character with legal documentation of a history of abuse, to rise to such a position of leadership?

It’s been five days now that my family along with the whole American Muslim community has been in shock. The fact that Muzzammil was married to my first cousin before marrying the victim still horrifies us. Ms. Zubair was his third wife. Both of his earlier wives filed divorce on the same grounds of severe domestic violence and abuses.

My cousin lived with him for only a year. Yet, it took her several years to get rid of the fear of living with a man in marriage. He was known as violent and abusive in the community. He had nothing to do with Islam. He had changed his name from Syed Muzzammil Hassan to Mo Steve Hassan. He had no background of community service or involvement in the Mosque or in any other organization. Neither his character and nor his faith were sound. In addition, he had no background or expertise in TV production or media.

But it did not matter. Even with this bad reputation, horrible background and lack of experience in media market, he still got the stage at the most reputable American Muslim conventions. Our leaders and established organizations did not bother to vet him. No questions or flags were raised about him. He was introduced at these conventions with huge respect and the Muslim community was told to give him generous funds for Bridges TV.


The surprise was changed into shock and worry when I learned that Bridges TV was owned and operated by the same Muzzammil Hassan who I knew as a serious criminal. To me domestic violence is a serious crime and a person’s character must be judged by the way he deals with his family. At my return, I warned some community leaders, but the response was not encouraging. People told me that his personal life may be messed up, but he is doing a good job so we should support him no matter what.

The Vice President of Islamic Society of North America, Imam Mohamed Hagmagid Ali, has posted an open letter on ISNA’s website. He writes, “Our community needs to take strong stand against abusive spouses and we should not make it easy for them to remarry if they chose a path of abusive behavior.”

What about making community leadership easy for them, Imam?

Shouldn’t Islamic organizations also take responsibility of vetting new comers before presenting them on the stage? Common people rely on organizational leadership and judgment.
Vetting of community leader has been established since the time of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and is now in practice within the conscious communities all over the world….

Clearly, this is a rare case that has ignited the nation’s imagination. It is fodder for Islamaphobes and Muslims throughout the country are scrambling trying to deal with the PR damage. While I do not feel that I have to go around apologizing for every wrong action a Muslim does, I decided to write about this case because it brings to light some underlying issues that are poorly addressed in our community. There is little accountability in our communities. Every media report reminds us that Muzzammil was a respected and influential member of the Muslim community. This is why it is absolutely imperative that we not shield abusers and turn a blind eye when we see something funky go on even with the most promising and prized leaders.

My friend recounted in horror about a case a few years back in the Bay Area where a South Asian Muslim man had beaten his wife so badly that she had to be hospitalized. Both of us were hurt and angered when we found out that a number of people in the community came out to support the abuser. It is this type of backwards thinking that not only infects immigrant communities, but it is prevalent in convert communities where the jailhouse Islam and criminal culture is prevalent. Sometimes communities will give shelter to convicted sexual offenders and violent criminals. On rare occasions those communities get raided by the FBI. Before we lend some material support, let alone marry off some hapless new convert sister to sketchy Muslim man, do we do any background and criminal reports? And women, when you are marrying someone who has been divorced, has it ever occurred to you to have an honest and upfront conversation with the ex-wife? Do you think you can do it better than she did? Or are you afraid that you may hear something you don’t want to hear? Why didn’t Aasiya’s family contact the first two wives? Why did everyone fail to look into the divorce cases?

I’ve heard cases where a Muslim leader used his wife’s work, treated her poorly, was booted out of one community to only cross the country and set up shop somewhere else. On several occasions I’ve heard stories from the mouths of women that really shocked me. Too often the women refuse to identify the leaders who abuse their power in an effort to not backbite. Often these stories are dismissed as gossip. Our Muslim communities need to start listening to women a lot more. A large part of it lies in what Tariq Nelson calls “the culture of denial pretense,” the one where we are always trying to cover up our bad deeds and our brothers’ (but not so much the sisters’).

Letter From a Brother

For a long time, I’ve wanted to post a link to Charles Catching’s post titled, A Letter From a Brother.

It should be easy for me to close my eyes and ears, to ignore all the problems BAM women and men are having with one another but I have daughters. One sister responded to me being concerned about my daughters by saying other brothers are simply disconnected, that they do not relate their objectification and mistreatment of BAM women to their daughters, and if she is right then woe to us.
….

In the past year I’ve read numerous blogs and articles about the suffering hearts of Black women. I have heard countless conversations depicting the atrocious acts of Black men against women. Keep in mind here, I’m talking about Black Muslim women, women who came to the religion for God and a good man! If you haven’t read, and you probably haven’t because you’re a guy, you should read a book called Engaged Surrender: African-American Women and Islam along with some critiques, questions, and concerns from other Muslim women about the book. Women have absolutely no problem reading the latest from a male scholar/author/activist/blogger about issues in the community. But hey, if women are championing mens’ causes don’t you think you need to take a second look at theirs?

Just the other day egg was thrown on my face by a co-worker. The African-American woman praised Black Muslim men stating that the reason she loved us so much was because of our respect and love for “the Black Woman”. I wanted to receive her praise as a truth but no longer had I started puffing out my chest when I got an horrible email, a story I will share in a moment. Seeing as though this woman is 50+ years old, I gathered that she was speaking more about the men in the Nation of Islam and not of Muslim men in America at large and that was sad. At that very moment, I felt my obligation went beyond informing her of any differences between the Nation of Islam and others to factually stating that many African-American Muslim women are well beyond fed-up, sick-and-tired, and too-through with brothers because of our shady ways. These women came to Islam hoping to find protection and security in addition to monotheism and have been struggling to accept the prophetic message against the backdrop of criminals, deadbeats, cheaters, liars, bigots, and bootleggers posing as lovers of Allah.

Lastly, as you read this there are others doing the same, wondering if I have any solutions or if I am even qualified to talk to African-American Muslim men about marriage. I have two answers; first, it’s time for those of us who have decent marriages to help others cultivate the same for it is so easy to read about horror stories all day. I know single sisters who have never been married swearing off men because of these stories. They need happily married Muslim women to look up to and brothers need solid examples, not charlatans. Secondly, I have daughters, and there is just no way on this earth I’m going to subject them to the kind of nonsense present today so over time, as it permits itself, I will continue this letter of sorts to my brothers, hoping that someone out there heeds the call to be more and do more without wanting more.

I frankly, was shocked by the treatment of women in the sunni Muslim community. A number of womanizers use their Muslim celebrity status and their close relationship with leaders in the community to prey on women and misuse their position to garner free services. I’ve written before about pathological narcissists and as I stated they are often charismatic. I am not saying that we should start gossiping to uncover everybody’s dirt or create the religious police with some gestapo like investigation capacities, but our leadership should take active steps to ensure that the brothers in their circle are upstanding members of the community. If they have some dirt in the past, they should repent and be currently living upstanding lives. I believe we should forgive our brothers and sisters who make honest efforts to clean up their acts. At the same time, anybody with some nefarious dealings, should be checked. The sad thing is, the women who have been preyed upon and subject to multiple sham marriages is seen as damaged goods. Women who have even been in legitimate marriages, but are divorced are often seen as damaged goods. However, a man who leaves a trail of broke-up women is never seen as damaged. Rather he is a pimp, and a lot of young brothers celebrate him.

I had a conversation with a man from the Nation of Islam who commented that sunni Muslims often show very little respect for their women. He said, “Sunni brothers are just HARSH with their women.” He believed that some of it was the misogyny that is now prevalent in our culture, but also due to the adoption of some foreign attitudes towards women. In some ways I agree, its like a number of convert men adopted the misogyny from the BAM movement and Hip Hop culture and combined it with the structures of gender relations from the Middle East and South Asia. It is as if they gained the worst of both cultures when it comes to dealing with women–misogyny and patriarchy. The same man recounted a story about how a brother who was going to jumu’ah made his wife drop him off at the door and she had to go part the car and walk a long distance in the rain to get into the crummy women’s section. He also commented that there was nothing in place in the sunni Muslim community to protect convert women from predators.

Not all of us are wallowing in misery. And there are a number of men, like Charles, who are appalled by the current state of affairs. Simply put Charles is calling all the ethical brothers, especially the married brothers, to provide examples. There are countless examples of good men who are striving to be good to their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, cousins, associates, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Please check out the site and respond to the brother’s call.

What Black American Muslim Women Are Reading, Isn’t it Fascinating?

It’s not just Black American Muslim women, but a number of college educated Muslim women are reading this book. No, they are not reading some Muslim feminist manifesto outlining the steps to unreading patriarchal interpretations of proper gender relations. They are not forming study groups to closely read Nawal Sadawi or Fatima Mernissi. They’re not even studying Amina Wadud or Asma Barlas. No, the are reading a book written in the 60s by a Mormon woman–Fascinating Womanhood. I’ve met half a dozen Muslim women who personally swear by it. FW is their marriage manual.

It has been nearly a decade since I went through my phase of reading popular psychology and self-help relationship books. I had read several books, including John Gray’s Men are from Mars Women are from Venus and Deborah Tannen’s You Just don’t Understand, Women and Men in Conversation, to try to get a grasp on the different ways men and women interact. My quest for understanding reflected my desire to improve myself, as well as my relationships. My life circumstances changed, and I focused on myself. I wanted to improve my condition by finding a purposeful life and pursuing my dreams. But that’s another story. Needless to say, I’ve am skeptical of any book or program that makes broad sweeping guarantees of transforming your life.

In the 90s, I was really into understanding relationships. I even took a Fiqh of marriage class. Those classes agitated some brothers. They were taught by traditional scholars who taught women their traditional rights in Islam. As any of us Muslim know and one of my Muslim professors affirmed, Muslim women are not even granted their rights accorded to them in Shari’ah. So, when women would march home demanding their rights and telling their husbands that they were not obligated to do housework, some husbands tried to ban their wives from attending classes. Back then I devoured the gender equity in Islam literature, along with fiqh books. It was all about my pursuit of the Islamic ideals of marriage and gender relations. But I also wanted to break the cycle in the Black community, raise a healthy family by beginning with a solid marriage.

In my peer group, I was one of the first waves to get married. So, relationships were new for many of them. And for many of us coverts, serious relationships were just as new. Marriage was a whole new territory. At the same time, it was an exciting and new topic. We were full of ideals and we talked about relationships constantly. I think one friend had ordered a whole series of relationship tapes. I knew she was trying to gain the upper hand in that engagement, to be able to get what she wanted without direct confrontation. After that engagement failed, we never really talked about the self-help literature after that. So years passed by and all that men are from another planet stuff went by the way side.

This past year I began mingling in my old Muslim circles and finding myself in new ones, I found that FW was a hot topic of discussion. Most of my friends are married, some for almost a decade and others more recently. A few of my friends are divorced, some within the past few months and others have remained single for almost a decade. You get women together and we are going to talk about relationships. So, this book came up. I first heard of it from a friend who hated it. But just last night, a young woman swore by it. So I asked my friend what did she think. She said that even though she was unable to apply the principles, she believed that’s how things worked. I began to look it up, to see what other Muslims thought of it. It looks like a number of Sheikh Nuh Keller’s female students were reading this book.
The website, “Marriage the Fascinating Way” states:

Muslim women, for example, claim that the teachings of FW are fundamental to their religion, and found in their book of instruction, the Koran. Women of the ancient Shinto and Buddha faiths make similar claims and Jewish women rely on teachings found in the Old Testament. The Mennonite and Amish women also claim that FW is supported by their strict Christian doctrine.

One well read Muslim woman blogger wrote:

fascinating womanhood by Helen Adeline , ok this book taught me all about men , it beats men are from mars and woman are from Venus , this book I would recommend it to anyone if they want to know how to win their husbands heart . It totally destroyed my feminist ideas and views. Oh and it actually works.

Surprising I found a number of Black American Muslim who read the book did not dismiss it outright. These sisters believed in the principles and they were applying it to their lives. What makes it so interesting is that their views on femininity contrasts with the negative perception that Black women are these independent, domineering, emasculating, ball busting hell on wheels types. I know dozens of Black American Muslim women who are the Martha Stewart types. They are baking, doing crafts, sewing, educating children in the home. They are articulate, charming, soulful, and beautiful. They are smart dynamic women with a wide range of skill sets, from business to engineering as well as cooking. Almost all these women keep immaculate homes and devote a great deal of attention to rearing their children. The second wave feminists dismiss their contributions. But I read one Black woman intellectual write that the form of feminism dominated pitted Black women against Black men. It undermined the solidarity of the Black nationalist movement. But these women are beyond the nationalism phase. They are trying to find a way to rebuild families and healthy relationships. These women are trying to do something that we have seen fail in those earlier movements. They are promoting a revolutionary agenda by being conservative and maintaining traditional values. Now, that’s a fascinating read.

Azizah Weighs in on African American Muslim Marriages and “Morocco is Not the Solution” From Kuwait

Sometimes I wonder why I am so preoccupied with concerns that are in the states. Right now I’m living in an alternate universe. I’m abroad in an oil rich country where “Fair” equals “Lovely.” All the way across the world, I’m not feeling the reach of many of the containment policies and strategies during this Cold War between Black Men and Black women in America. At this point, I’m joining the non-alignment movement, to focus on development. But I will have my defenses up just in case some missiles shoot my way.

Non-alignment is a good strategy right now. Relationships are just no big on my mind right now. I got some immediate things to take care of. But, the marriage issue does come up often. I get the usual question of whether I’m married or not. Women usually say something like, “Maybe you’ll find someone here.” “Maybe when you get married you can visit us in Yemen.” etc…etc.. A couple of occasions an expat mentioned somebody’s name.But because I’m not doing a back flip just hearing about the random brother. I’m not ready to drop out of my Ph.D. program and become an instant homemaker. So the issue usually passes. A sigh of relief, I get back to focusing on my Arabic and surviving.

I’ve been trying to play matchmaker for a while. And so far, I have a zero success rate in match making. And not so much luck in my own bureau of internal affairs and love. I know all about what not to do. But still who am I to be a matchmaker? Despite any blow back that I have received from a possible link up gone wrong, I still discuss gender relationships with a number of my married and single friends. I like having conversations about Muslim marriages and Black women in healthy relationships. I like seeing positive examples. For many women of different ethnic groups getting married is a given. But not for Black women. Who said life was fair? I guess it will all balance out in the Last Days.

One of the things that drew many Black women to Islam was the idea that women were honored. In fact, as women we applied the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last speech to ourself, “a white is not better than a black, a black is not better than a white.” When I went to a mosque for the first time it was a predominantly Black mosque. That was the first time I saw so many Black families, in tact families. Sadly, over the years, the reality of unstable marriages in the African American Muslim community settled in. I had saw figures like Malcolm X, loyal to his Betty Shabazz, with a strong sense of self. I just kind of expected Black Muslim men to not buy into gendered racism or colorism. But over time I have seen that there is a small but increasing number of Black men who exclude Black women as viable partners.

Clearly, the growing trend has roots in some shifts in the consciousness of Black American Muslims. In the early 90s there was still that tinge of Black nationalism from the sixties movement. Black Power, Black consciousness, what ever you want to call it, whithered away. More of younger brothers moved away from the W.D. community, critical of what they saw as syncretic practices of “Baptist Muslims.” These Muslims aspired to engage with other mainstream Muslim communities. They began to seek training from immigrant teachers and some even went abroad to study. This generation hoped to integrate into a singular Muslim identity. Bloggers like Tariq Nelson seems to be of this ilk, he sees intermarriage as a way of forging a new American Muslim cultural identity.

As Black Muslims shifted from thinking of ways that Islam could solve issues that plagued the Black community, they begin focus on global issues that seemed to rock the “Muslim world.” During this time Many Black Muslims began looking for a culture. They adopted markers and signifiers. They began wearing thobes, Moroccan jellabas, shawal kameeses, turbans, wearing sandals or those leather socks in winter, speaking with an Arabic or Desi accent. Some men say they want a native speaker of Arabic, so that their children can speak Arabic. Others say they want their children to ahve a culture, especially one they see as closer to the culture of Rasullah (s.a.w.). Basically, they seem to be aspiring to create a new ethnic identity for their children by marrying Arab women or South Asian women.

But over the years, a disturbing trend began to emerge, where professional and educated Black men were buying into some negative stereotypes about educated Black women. I found that we were traded in for Moroccan and Malaysian women, many of whom were not well educated. For these men felt they were trading up. Often these men let us know why these women were the types of women that we never could be.It didn’t take me long to notice that in my immigrant community, white convert women were hot commodities. Initially immigrant Pakistani, Indian, and Arab men pursued them. Over time, I began to see more African American sunni men married to white convert women, as well as immigrant women. As this trend rose, I began to see more and more single African American women. Mind you, these observations are anecdotal. There are no studies, besides one conducted by Zareena Grewal on marriage preferences in four Muslim communities. It affirmed that Black Muslim women were the lowest on the totem pole of marriage choices. Not surprisingly, even the African American informants stated they desired an Asian or Arab bride.Overall, it is a negative message that they are sending. But then again, isn’t this world full of negativity?

African American men frequently feel the brunt of racism when their immigrant brothers at the masjid won’t let their daughters marry African American men. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a Black Muslim man tell me that was his primary grievance. South Asian families are even more resistant to interracial marriage than most other groups. And they are very unlikely to approve of their daughters marrying an African American male. So some men , with the aspirations of transcending the ethnic, tribal, and so-called racial boundaries have found other ways around it. They have found a place in the world that seems not only to accept interracial marriage, but families seem to welcome these African American men as knights in shining armor who will wisk their princess away to the Land of opportunity.

While this fairy tale should have a happy ending. One where, that the newly married couple cursed, harrassed, or bothred by all those evil Black spinsters and their jealous glares. But apparently some Muslim men are finding certain trends problematic. Maybe I’m not such a evil wench after all.
Umar Lee wrote about the Muslim marriage session at the MANA conference in his blog entry,
“Morocco is Not the Solution” and Thoughts of Muslim Marriage Discussion
. He wrote:

Brothers have personally told me that they would go over to Morocco and spend a lot of money on getting married (flying back and forth a couple of times, flying the sister back, the visa application process, paying the necessary bribes in Morocco to get the marriage license, paying the actual dowry, paying for the wedding, paying for the wedding celebration, giving the family money, etc.) ; but would not give a black woman in America a significant dowry because in their minds black women weren’t worth that much. They would say you can always marry a black woman who will only want you to teach her a sura because she may be hard-up and needing to get married ASAP.

For anyone not familiar with Umar Lee, he is a white American convert who writes a popular blog. And no, I don’t think he’s mad at all the brothers who are stealing those white convert women, let alone the seemingly endless supply of third world women. He continued:

The moment that brought the loudest applause though came towards the end when a brother from the Washington, DC area came to the microphone and simply stated ” brothers, going to Morocco is not the solution” and at those words the sisters erupted in cheers and laugher and many of the brothers chimed in ( although more in laughter).

So then the brother who stood up and said the infamous state, Abdur Rahman, wrote a blog entry explaining his reason for the statement.

It sends a loud and pernicious message to the world that our Black women are too unruly, uncouth, unmanageable, unlovable, unredeemable to take as a wife and to build a life with. I’m sorry, I believe she is not only lovable, but worthy of love. She’s crazy at times, but who isn’t. You can’t be a Black man or women in America and not be a little crazy? And if she happens to be in a lowly condition, isn’t it our responsibility as men, followers of the final Prophet and Messenger to humanity (pbuh), to raise her up by Allah’s permission and place her in her proper station. Does it ever occur to us, or do we even care really, that her lowly and unrefined condition stands as an indictment on our own manhood. I should like to know what other people turn their backs on their own women, heaping scorn and invective on her, calling her vile and despicable names (”chicken head”, “Safire”, “B*#th”).

Over the past year, I have written about this issue. Several times I have weighed in on this subject in comments and other discussions. People may consider me a racist for exploring the damaging effects of racism in the communities that I consider myself to be a member of. Sometimes I speak some uncomfortable truths (well, they’re true for me) from a very unique perspective. But just to be clear, I am not angry that someone made their personal choice. But I am angered when I hear about men who abandon their Black wives and children in favor of their new “mixed-raced” family. I am angered when I hear unfair statements about Black women thrown around to justify their personal choices. But ultimately, I have to let those statements roll off my back. I move on. I can’t internalize it. Yes, there are people who will judge me by color of my skin and say I’m not good enough even though they have felt that how much that hurts when they were discriminated against. Perhaps in their pain, they can’t see the hurt they dish out when they tell women who are not blond enough, not light enough, hair not straight enough, too educated, and have some genetic predisposition to have an attitude. I guess it is hurtful when you live in a society that discriminates against you, then in your own little ethnic enclave, you get devalued. To tell someone they are unworthy of love is truly an injustice.

I don’t think that every Black man who has traveled abroad has consciously though about denigrating his sisters in the states. Nor do I buy into the negative stereotypes about Moroccan women or women from developing nations. Once again, I would like to assure my readers that I am not condemning interracial relationships, but I am condemning racist, essentialist notions that may drive the popularity of a growing trend. I just hope we think about the underlying reasons of why we do things. Ultimately, it is not up to me to judge, but Allah will know your intentions. And that’s what you’re going to be judged by. That’s what we’re all going to be judged by.

An Inspiring Muslim Man: Salah Lashin

Admittedly, much of my blog focuses on negative or quirky things I observe in the multiple worlds that I occupy. As I am going through these challenging times, I’m trying to remember all the things that inspire me. Time and time again we read about horror stories of the miskeena Muslim woman. One of the most common mantras you here in women’s gathering is how wack Muslim men can be. Even if the women aren’t implicating their own spouses, few hold up good examples that others should follow. That really raised a big question: Where are the examples of good men in general, and good Muslim men specifically? I know several who I really admire.

The other day I had a conversation with my friend where our mutual friend’s father’s name, Salah Lashin, came up. His name really set a smile on both of our faces. My friend said that she wanted to write him and tell him what deep impact he had on her life. Both my friend and I went to school with Salah’s daughters. Occassionally I’d spend the night and on the way to school or to the masjid he’d start the car and make a du’a. My friend pointed out it was a heartfelt du’a. All his bismillahs were. My friend and I were both moved by his constant dhikr. His heartfelt connection to Allah contrasted with the dry version that I was acquainted with. He was is hard working man, devout Muslim, and happily Muslim. His example showed me that you didn’t have to drop everything, perform hijrah, or join some Islamic program to be a good Muslim. Islam was about balance and the emodiment of ideals. I saw how his life was centered around Islam and it manifested itself in the love and care he expressed to his wife and three daughters. Masha’Allah, I really admire him for his role as a husband to Madeha (Allah Yarhumha) and as a father. Over the years I became convinced that this man was destined for jennah. I even have proof based upon Prophetic traditions:

The Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said, `Whoever had three daughters and showed patience in their keeping, their pleasure and displeasure, Allah admits him to Paradise for his mercy over them.

A household of four women is not easy. Women are moody and it is easy for the lone man to get ganged up on. That’s why I especially admired Salah. He didn’t have an complexes about his manhood being attacked. He never seemed mournful that he didn’t have sons. I never saw him be mean to anyone and he supported his wife and her community work. Did I mention he loved his wife? He defied all the stereotypes we read abut in the West about Arab and Muslim men. Masha’Allah for some of us salty Muslim sisters, he was proof that there were good men out there.

Salah and Madeha inspired me because they supported three daughters through college. One of the things that makes supporting daughters through school even more laudable than supporting sons is that parents invest in their daughter’s education not for prestige nor for future investment with an expectation that their daughters will take care of them. Daughters often go to their husband’s households, their careers may stop because they have children. But Salah and Madeha educated their daughters as a way to ensure their daughter’s future and to afford them all the opportunities young women should have. And they didn’t half step. They sent them to a prestigious private school. And that was no easy feat on their salary. They sacrificed and strove and made it happen. The third daughter to attend the university applied for financial aid so it would not be such a burden.

I was definitely inspired by the value that many of the immigrant Muslims placed on their daughters’ education. It contrasted with the culture in my family where when you were 18 you were expected to hold it down on your own. My mom pointed out that from age 16, I basically took care of myself. I gave up my college aspirations in high school because I felt like I could not afford to go to school. Years later, after I transferred to Santa Clara, withdrew in 1998, and finally went back in 2001 I got more family support. It took a lot of encouragement and some solid examples–the primary one being Salah and Madeha’s hard work. In the back of my mind, I felt that the way Salah and Madeha raised their daughters was the way to go. It was also my aspiration to work in Islamic schools at the time that drove my initial academic interest at Santa clara.

It just wasn’t in our rizq to have two dedicated parents. I have been blessed to see a wonderful Muslim man embody the beauty of our Islamic values. I witnessed the inner workings of a functional American Muslim family.They worked hard contribute to the Muslim community in Silicon Valley. The family pulled together during hard times and sickness. During that time, the only thing many of us could do was make du’a. Normally I don’t do this. I try not to name names on my blog. But for years I wanted to dedicate something to this brother, for all the hardship he endured with patience and constancy. I think that we should acknowledge everyday heroes. We should remember the people who touched our lives in positive ways. Mr. Salah Lashin, you have touched many people. I will ask anyone that knows you, and even those who don’t to make du’a. May Allah reward your efforts.

The Veil and the Male Elite

Yes, I read Fatima Mernissi’s book. I think she has some interesting ideas, although her writing is problematic. I especially found her memoir super problematic with its orientalist imagery of Morocco. She also had some ridiculous notions of race, i.e. planting of the banana tree to make the sub-saharan African woman feel at home. But that is besides the point, we can forgive her for having the perspective of an elite Fessi woman. So, as I was saying, I read her book years ago. She brought up some interesting points about the relationship between men and women in Islam. I admire her courage for bringing it up. The interaction with the opposite gender is a true testament to their moral character and spiritual state. The relationship between men and women in both the African American community and the Muslim community has so much more to be desired. But being that I’m talking about the veil and male elite, I will focus on the relationship between Muslim men and men. And in particular I am focusing on my own subjectivity as an African American Muslim woman. 

One of the teachings in Islam that really attracted me to the religion was conveyed in Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon: “The best of those are those who are good to their women.” Coming from a broken home, I was so drawn in by the image of idyllic Muslim home life that was painted in dawa books like “Islam in Focus.” When I initially became Muslim, my mother’s friends told her that my husband would beat me, that he would have multiple wives, and take my children away. Before I got married when they found out that he was Muslim, they kept warning her that I would be treated badly. To this day, Muslim men have a pretty bad reputation.Now, not all of the bad stuff happened and a Muslim man has never laid a hand on me, nor do have I any children to take away. I do think Muslim men get a bad wrap. But then again, I am tired of sweeping some horrifying stories under the rug. 

I think our community leaders are not very responsible when it comes to dealing with the conduct of some of the men. I know of cases where the community has come in support of the brothers who abused their wives. I know that the Muslim women’s shelter gets death threats. Domestic abuse comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and religions. Muslim men are not the only perpetrators, but the fact that this institution is a threat to Muslim community identity is telling of some of the problems we have. So, some traditionalists say that you can beat your wife lightly, or with a miswack toothbrush. I have some miswack, and it is kinda big. Besides that, it is just plain humiliating to be reprimanded as a child. Abuse comes in many forms: some emotional and some physical. Which ones leave the most scars? It depends on one’s resilience, how deep the wound, how brutal the blow. Abuse is about power and control. Abusers use a number of tools to manipulate their victims. Often the blame is laid upon the subordinate member of this assymetric power relationship. A number of academics have written that in every relationship there is a power dynamic. Often this power dynamic is assymetrical, meaning that one person has more power than the other. In relations between a man and a woman, it is often the case where the woman is subordinated to the man. While in the Quran says that men have power over women, it advocates being giving more allowances to the woman and not abusing that upperhand. This indicates that Islamic scripture recognizes female gender vulnerabilities and encourages Muslim men to be sensitive to that in disputes with their spouses. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out this way. 

Some American Muslim men claim they are down for the liberation of women from patriarchy. But they insert their own culturally specific misogyny. While Muslim women in America have more options than many of their counterparts in the Muslim world, they still have a number of gender vulnerabilities and struggles. I have seen women subject to a number of abusive situations: verbal, emotional, and physical. I have seen men prey on young women in an effort to find someone they could control and manipulate. Others prey on the insecurities of older women who have settled for less out of despair. I suppose this makes them feel more powerful, huh? It sort of shows me that they are much less of a man and that machismo front is a facade for a dislocated spirit, diseased heart, a broken soul, and a weak mind. 


You are what you do, not what you imagine yourself to be, not the image that you construct for yourself: If you lie, you are a liar. If you cheat, you are a cheater. If you steal, you are a thief. You are what you do. Who are you really? What are you doing? Are you trying to change what you’re doing? Rumi said something along the lines of “Be as you appear and appear as you are.” This was part of my reason for unveiling, this is me. I still love my tradition, I can historicize the process by which the laws and regulations were transmitted. But, I respect the scholars, I know right from wrong. I know when I’m doing wrong and when I’m doing right. 





But I appear now as I am, in protest for the lack of commitment from my entire community. You get your act together and be as you represent yourself. Me, I’ll do what I do. I’ll keep speaking my mind articulating for the voiceless. You want to see me bagged up, wrapped in that more traditional role. But, I’ll do that outward more superficial veiling when you lift the real veils off your eyes. In the meantime, your motives and weaknesses are transparent. Wake up brothas, do yourself a service and stop selling your sistas out. And for those who have stayed true and are striving on all fronts, you have my utmost respect. For the misguided, I keep praying and hoping that the word gets out to you. Insha’Allah, one day both my African American and Muslim brothas will have a reputation for being the best of husbands, fathers, brothers, son, and friends.

 (Also, I’m really pissed off about the execution of a 16 year girl for adultery in Iran. WTF??)