Female Genital Cutting

FEMALE GENITAL CUTTING

“In the world today there are an estimated 100 million to 140 million girls and women who have been subjected to the operation. Currently, about 3 million girls, the majority under 15 years of age, undergo the procedure every year.”
–World Health Organization


Waris Dirie, supermodel and UN advocate for the abolishment of female circumcision.

When I was a teenager, I believed a number of negative stereotypes associated about Islam. One was that all Muslim women were circumcized (a euphemism for Genital cutting or mutilation that ranges from removing the outer hood of the clitoris to the cutting all external female genitalia). As I learned more and more about Islam my own pressumptions melted away. I learned that women had rights. I read Islamic legal books which detailed women’s rights to sexual gratification during intercourse with her husband. Also, I learned that Islam forbid the mutilation or alteration of the body (outside of the male circumcision). As I spoke to more and more Muslims, I learned that the vast majority of Muslims I knew considered the practice abhorrent and backwards. As I investigated it further, I learned that some Sham in bilad al-Sham and Palestine were either given the sunna symbolic circumcision or had a minor procedure splittng the hood. But it wasn’t until recently that Muslim scholars have spoken openly in the West about the practice. Yet, for years there have been Muslim scholars working against cultural traditions and practices that harmed women. These were largely grass roots campaigns and they rarely garner the same public attention that people as figures like,Alice Walker (author of the Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy) and Nawal Sadawi (author of Woman at Point Zero and The Fall of the Imam).

I want to clearly state from the outset that I am not trying to impose a Western view of feminity on the African and Muslim women who have undergone the procedure (whether forcibly or with consent). I do not believe that a woman’s wholeness rests on her clitoris. Nor do I think that Muslim and African women are helpless victims. I have argued elsewhere that women take active part in this practice and promote the norms and standards that not only condone the practice, but bake it desirable. As a writer, I try to write thought provoking and well informed pieces. For over a decade I have been passionate about this issue, but am increasingly aware of the complexities that surround the controversy of Female Genital cutting. This essay is not an exhaustive exploration of the subject. Nor do I a comprehensive list of resources on the subject. But what I intend to do is to raise this issue in support of the grass roots activists who are trying to curb a practice that is harmful to the minds and bodies of underage Muslim women. As an issue piece, I will first describe FGM (without showing any pictures that may offend my readers) using selections from the World Health Organization and UNICEF. I will also include some facts about the procedure in order to bring to light how widespread it is. I will then provide a few recent cases that have gained media attention. Finally, I will explore some of the controversies surrounding Western women’s focus on FGM and the negative outcome. This may be a choppy ride. But please read the block quotes because they detail very important information.

FGM comprises a range of procedures. The World Health Organizationstates:

Female genital mutilation (FGM), often referred to as ‘female circumcision’, comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons. There are different types of female genital mutilation known to be practised today. They include:

Type I – excision of the prepuce, with or without excision of part or all of the clitoris;
Type II – excision of the clitoris with partial or total excision of the labia minora;
Type III – excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching/narrowing of the vaginal opening (infibulation);
Type IV – pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissue;
scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice (angurya cuts) or cutting of the vagina (gishiri cuts);
introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purpose of tightening or narrowing it; and any other procedure that falls under the definition given above.
The most common type of female genital mutilation is excision of the clitoris and the labia minora, accounting for up to 80% of all cases; the most extreme form is infibulation, which constitutes about 15% of all procedures.


Depending on the severity of the operation and health precautions taken during the procedure, there can be serious health consequences. Some studies have shown that women who have been genitally cut are more vulnerable to getting HIV. This is opposite of the effect of circumcision reducing HIV transmission for men. WHO goes on to list the negative effects of FGM:

Health consequences of FGM

The immediate and long-term health consequences of female genital mutilation vary according to the type and severity of the procedure performed.

Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue. Haemorrhage and infection can cause death.

More recently, concern has arisen about possible transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) due to the use of one instrument in multiple operations, but this has not been the subject of detailed research.

Long-term consequences include cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse) and sexual dysfunction and difficulties with childbirth.

Psychosexual and psychological health: Genital mutilation may leave a lasting mark on the life and mind of the woman who has undergone it. In the longer term, women may suffer feelings of incompleteness, anxiety and depression.

Proponents of the procedure claim that it increases sexual pleasure for their partners, reduces promiscuity and is cleaner. In Africa is is a right of passage and a tradition that cannot be broken. New Study on Female Genital Mutilation Dismisses Proponents’ Justifications Two claims about circumcision were proven incorrect in this study that compared circumcised and uncircumcized women. One, it did not reduce sexual pleasure. Two, circumcized women were more likely to have urinary tract infections.

Outside of accounts in books, documentaries, and internet. I have not had a conversation about this subject with a woman who has undergone this procedure. But I have spoken with people who have known women who have struggled after undergoing the procedure. I have heard accounts of Muslim convert men who married East African women only to find them infibulated. In one case it lead to a divorce. I have also spoken with a mixed Arab/West African who has known women who have undergone the procedure. He stated that the woman had no sensation during sexual encounters. One of my friends recounted stories about an East African woman who suffers from bouts of depression, continually bleaches her skin and wears foundation shades lighter than her actually tone, and has rejected Islam because the religion as a primary source of their gender oppression..

FGM is farely widespread in Africa and in Southwest Asia. UNICEF Reports:

Estimates of the total number of women living today who have been subjected to FGM/C in Africa, range between 100 and 140 million. Given current birth rates this means that some 3 million girls are at risk of some form of female genital mutilation every year. Most of the girls and women who have undergone FGM/C live in 30 African countries, although some live in Asia. They are also increasingly found in Europe, Australia, Canada and the USA, primarily among immigrants from Africa and southwestern Asia.

I found these alarming statistics on the prevalence of FGM from the State Department:

Guinea 98.6 percent
Somalia 90-98 percent
Djibouti 90-98 percent
Mali 93.7 percent
Sierra Leone 80-90 percent
Eritrea 90 percent
Sudan (northern) 89 percent
Egypt 78-97 percent
Ethiopia 72.7 percent
Burkina Faso 71.6 percent
Gambia 60-90 percent
Chad 60 percent
Guinea-Bissau 50 percent
Benin 30-50 percent
Cote d’Ivoire 44.5 percent
Central African Rep 43.4 percent
Kenya 37.6 percent
Nigeria 25.1 percent
Mauritania 25 percent
Yemen 23 percent
Senegal 20 percent
Liberia 10-50 percent
Ghana 9-15 percent

The State Department goes on to say that inn Indonesia there are no national figures that reveal the extent of the practice. But I have heard of cases in Anatolia, Pakistan, and Central Asia. But I have not learned of information on Malaysia, Syria, Lebanon, or Palestine/Israel. World health reports state that there are almost no cases of women undergoing the practice Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Iran. But African immigrants to the gulf may or may not practice the procedure. However, with growing immigration from AFrica and the Middle East, the practice has spared to United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. With the growing number of cases in the West, legislators seek to ban the practice. For example, UK passed Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003making it illegal to perform the procedure, assist a girl perform the procedure on herself, or go abroad to perform the procedure.

As we can tell from the statistics, FGM is not some dying practice. In fact, the debates surrounding FGM have become prominent in the news. I wanted to briefly discuss two cases, one in Burkina Faso and one in the center of the Arabo-Islamic World–Egypt. Before we take a brief look at these cases. I wanted to point out that FGM is often practiced secretly in the Muslim world. The procedure done contrasts markedly from the male circumcision ceremonies in the Muslim world.

In counries like Turkey boys are circumcised between 2 and 14. They dress up and are given gifts in celebration of this major step in the transition from boy into manhood. Female cutting on the other hand in Muslim countries is secretive. It does not have the same right of passage ceremonies as in Africa.

So, with the cultural differences in mind. I wanted to reflect on two recent deaths.

Last month 15 FGM procedures were done in a village of Burkina Faso, which resulted in the death of one girl and several hospitalized for infections and hemorrhaging. Many African countries have stepped up efforts to eliminate the practice. One article explained that the rate of FGM in Burkina Faso had been reduced by half. The government is hoping to step up cammpaigns to reduce resistance to the measures.

Years ago when I was in Morocco there was a Moroccan author who was criticizing Tahar Ben Jelloun. One of the things that bothered me about the novel was that it promoted negative stereotypes about Islam, plus it seemed as if he got things wrong (having not lived in a Muslim society for years or practiced. In Sand Child he wrote that a woman living as a man prostrated during janaza prayers. But no one prostrates during janaza. The other mistake was that the main character wondered if his wife was circumcised. FGM is not known to be practised in Morocco. It is considered abhorrent by Muslims in Saudi Arabia and man reform minded Muslims. For many of us Muslims in the West, nothing is more troubling than the continual prevelance of FGM in Egypt.

(AP Photo/Al-Masry Al-Youm)
Badour Shaker, the 10 year old whose death at the hands of a doctor performing female circumcision at an illegal clinic has sparked a national outcry. Health and religious authorities banned teh practice June 28, 2007, a ban on the practice. In July Egypt’s Muslim religious authorities issued a fatwa decreeing that female circumcision was un-Islamic.
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance’s article, “Debates about FGM in Africa, the Middle East & Far East” lists the various decrees given by Egypt’s top clerics on FGM over the years:

1949-MAY-28: They decided that it is not a sin to reject female circumcision.
1951-JUN-23: They stated that female circumcision is desirable because it curbs “nature” (i.e. sexual drive among women). It stated that medical concerns over the practice are irrelevant.
1981-JAN-29: The Great Sheikh of Al-Azhar (the most famous University of the Islamic World) stated that parents must follow the lessons of Mohammed and not listen to medical authorities because the latter often change their minds. Parents must do their duty and have their daughters circumcised.
2007-JUN-24: the Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gum’s announced that: “… this custom is prohibited.”


Alhumdulillah, Egypt’s top religious scholars are taking a stand. But the outright ban on FGM has given rise to a backlash. A recent New York Times article,
“Voices Rise in Egypt to Shield Girls From an Old Tradition”, reports:

Circumcision, as supporters call it, or female genital mutilation, as opponents refer to it, was suddenly a ferocious focus of debate in Egypt this summer. A nationwide campaign to stop the practice has become one of the most powerful social movements in Egypt in decades, uniting an unlikely alliance of government forces, official religious leaders and street-level activists.

The Times article points out that there are many who don’t see the ruling as legitimate. In addition state aligned ‘ulema are discredited (well unless they are ruling in support of commonly held beliefs and practices).

One of the things Western scholars are challenged with is the desire to respect the culture of the subjects we are studying and the desire to end practices that we see as impeding upon the freedoms and well being of weaker members of society. Before I go any further, I wanted to make a point that there are people in the West who are neither Muslim nor Africa, or even traditional in any time of way who do Female Genital Cutting. There are some women who have liposuction and labia reductions . Outside of the women who have enlarged labias that may cause pain during intercourse, there are women who want in order to make their vaginas more attractive. Part of this growing trend is due to the prevalence of pornography where regular women compare themselves negatively air brushed images and plastic surgery enhanced nude models and porn actresses. I found this one website for Clitoral Reduction and Clitoral Hood Removal at a Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery Clinic. Some proponents of FGM have argued that type I, removal of the clitoris head increases sexual pleasure. This plastic surgeon also supports that claim. If that is the case, then I would argue that only adult women who are willing to take medical risks should undergo the procedure–and not little girls.


There are several controversies about FGM. One, the intense scrutiny Western women place on non-Western women’s sexual organs. Two, the backlash against Western efforts at eradicating FGM. And Three, the comparison of FGM to male circumcision. I am only going to focus on the first two. Caroline Scherf writes in British Medical Journal“Female genital mutilation must be seen as one of many harmful practices affecting women in traditional societies, and the planning of programmes for its abolition must involve the women concerned and their own perception of wellbeing and improvement… Women in developing countries are facing a multitude of suffering; we need a more wholesome approach in order to reach the ultimate goal of a dignified and healthy life for all women, everywhere.”
A review for Ellen Gruenbaum’s book states, ” Western outrage and Western efforts to stop genital mutilation often provoke a strong backlash from people in the countries where the practice is common…Gruenbaum finds that the criticisms of outsiders are frequently simplistic and fail to appreciate the diversity of cultural contexts, the complex meanings, and the conflicting responses to change.” I suppose this is why I differ from Alice Walker’s accounts of FGM and Nawal Sadaawi (who had undergone infibulation). If we truly want to help women eliminate the procedure we have to shed some of our western assumptions about FGM. We have to let the women who are subject to these procedures speak for themselves.

But I do not believe in a cultural relativist approach, especially when we have women who have spoken about the harm it has caused them. But instead of just supporting international NGOs, we should also find ways to support local grass roots movements. This is where us Muslims in the West can help. We are part of international networks. Many of us have roots in these countries where it is practiced. We should find ways to support local organizations that have little funding but do the real work supporting society’s most vulnerable members.

Islam and Hip Hop: Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?

Repost: After a walk down memory lane, I thought I’d repost this entry:
Gangstarr’s 1991 track must have dropped a seed. Three years after viewing this video on the daily on Rap city, there I was, as a Muslim. It was summer of 1994, in Atlanta. I was covered, rockin the head wrap and a printed wrap around skirt. I was so pumped when Guru hit the stage,One of my favorite memories…

Who’s Gonna Take the Weight
Intro:
“Knowledge is power, and knowledge can be the difference between life
or death…you should know the truth and the truth shall set you
free.”

Verse 1
I was raised like a Muslim
Prayin’ to the East
Nature of my life relates rhymes I release
like a cannon
Cuz I been plannin’ to be rammin’ what I wrote
straight on a plate down your throat
So digest as I suggest we take a good look
At who’s who while I’m readin’ from my good book
And let’s dig into every nook and every cranny
Set your mind free as I slam these thoughts
And just like a jammy goes pow [FX: Gunshots]
You’re gonna see what I’m sayin’ now
You can’t be sleepin’
cuz things are gettin’ crazy
You better stop being lazy
There’s many people frontin’
And many brothers droppin’
All because of dumb things, let me tell you somethin’
I’ve been through so much that I’m such
a maniac, but I still act out of faith
that we can get the shit together so I break
on fools with no rhymes skills messin’ up the flow
And people with no sense who be movin’ much too slow
And so, you will know the meaning of the Gang Starr
Guru with the mic and Premier raise the anchor
swiftly, as we embark on a journey
I had to get an attorney
I needed someone to defend my position
Decisions I made, cuz now it’s time to get paid
And ladies, these rhymes are like the keys to a dope car
Maybe a Lexus or a Jaguar
Still, all of that is just material
So won’t you dig the scenario
And just imagine if each one is teachin’ one
We’ll come together so that we become
A strong force, then we can stay on course
Find your direction through introspection
And for my people out there I got a question
Can we be the sole controllers of our fate?
Now who’s gonna take the weight?

Verse 2
The weight of the world is heavy on my mind
So as my feelings unwind I find
That some try to be down just cuz it’s trendy
Others fall victim to envy
But I’ll take the road less travelled
So I can see all my hopes and my dreams unravel
Relievin’ your stress, expressin’ my interest
In the situation that you’re facin’
That’s why I’m down with the Nation
Spirituality supports reality
We gotta fight with the right mentality
So we can gain what is rightfully ours
This is the meaning of the chain and the star
Land is power, so gimme forty acres
Let’s see how far I can take ya
Original invincible
That’s how I’m lookin’ at it
I use my rhymes like a Glock automatic
Any means necessary, I’m goin’ all out
Before the rains bring the nuclear fallout
So let me ask you, is it too late?
Ayo, who’s gonna take the weight?

A young brother noted in Umar Lee’s comments that hip hop taught him some negative things about street life. But for me, hip hop created an opening. It was not uncommon to turn on Rap City and see references to Nation of Islam, 5 percenters, Orthodox Islam, and Afrocentricity. I loved Tribe Called Quest, had a big crush on Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Rakim was the greatest Rapper alive. I was loyal to Poor Righteous Teachers who came from my hometown, Trenton. I thought that KMD’s peach fuzz was way too cute. Public Enemy enemy politicized me. Brand Nubian reminded me that I could throw out a Takbir and be gangsta too.

Mujahideen Ryder wrote about it in his blog entry, Islam: Hip-Hop’s Official Religion. Adisa Banjoko has written two erudite books on the ways Hip Hop artists engage with chess, holistic health, consciousness, and martial arts and address issues that face our communities called, Lyrical Swords.

So, now getting back to Guru’s lyrics.
Last night, as the conversation went on, I began to feel the weight. The burden of a conscious Black Muslim woman has to carry is real heavy. She acknowledged my situation and sadness relating to structural inequalities and systematic forms of oppression. Since these problems are global I felt the weight of the world bear down on me. But just escaping means that I’ll be part of the problem, but I’m trying to be part of the solution. But sometimes, I can’t handle the whole weight and my pessimism takes over. My sister pushed through all my negativity and gave me hope and solace. Her optimism is full of a positivity that grows from a sincere faith in Allah. She reminded me that he’s the light that shines through us and in us and makes us all beautiful. She carried the weight with me. I realized I can only be close to people in my life who are willing to take the weight.

Too Much Information

So, I was cruising through the worlds of the digital ummah and became drawn into this whole takfir (declaring someone an apostate) debate. It didn’t take too long before I came across this forum posting about Sheikh Nuh Keller’s intervention in a debate between Deobandis and Barelwis(Here’s a site with his info ). You can also check out the forum where I found this here.

On the Shadhili website, someone asked the questions:

“Is someone who has an idea that is kufr or “unbelief” thereby an “unbeliever”?”

You can find Sheikh Keller’s answer here.

I don’t have a problem with the answer per say. I just think that us poor Muslims are overloaded with information. I am not going to question the intellectual abilities of the commentators on the forum, but this subject matter should really be left to scholars of Kalam. I am all for the freedom of information. I struggle with the elitism in Western academia. I also have strong critiques of the way knowledge became specialized in some Muslim societies and often monopolized by certain lineages. In this way, knowledge became used for power. But at the same time, I would have to agree with Ibn Rushd, some matters should be left up to the learned. I wonder how many engineers and rocket scientists would appreciate my input on their projects. Would a geneticist appreciate my input about gene sequencing, based upon what I could remember from my sophmore bio-chemistry? While I can appreciate science and love reading about discoveries, theories, and scientific methods, I just don’t have enough training to begin testing new compounds on my neighbors, let alone their cats.

So, back to my point. The internet has opened up so much discourse. And as I read the text on a late Saturday night (a total testament to my lack of a social life), I found my head feeling like it was about to explode. There was a serious debate that seemed to be underlying the question about takfir. But that debate also seemed narrow in scope, because there was a large emphasis on the debate between the Deobandis and their adversaries, the Barelwis (For those of you who don’t know who the Deobandis and Barelwis are, it doesn’t really matter. Following all the groups gets confusing anyways). The focus on their debate was unfortunate because of the wider implications about the debates on deviancy, innovation, and difference that Many Muslim communities face. For example, how do Sunnis deal with reformist minded Muslims (i.e.Progressive Muslims), individuals who have their own unique interpretations, or sects of Islam that are often accused of being non-Muslims (Nation of Islam, Ahmadiyyas, etc.)?

Perhaps that is the reason why I was interested in the takfir question. What do traditional sunni Muslims do when confronted with versions of Islam that are different from theirs? I realize that my head didn’t hurt because the material was difficult. But, my head hurt with the thought that for some Muslims, an obscure ‘aqidah issues could get a whole community ousted from the ummah. And it kind of bothered me that one of the most erudite American Muslim convert scholars, who wrote a response that was nuanced but thoroughly grounded in traditional scholasticism, was rejected so quickly by a lay person. My head also hurt for the poor converts or young Muslims who are re-engaging their faith. I just hope they don’t run into all this madness. It is really disheartening sometimes.

What makes it sad is that I’m a scholar and I love studying religious change and debates. So I should be interested in how this plays out in the modern world. Right? But, I can barely tell some people what I specialize in without someone giving me a lecture about the misguidance of Sufis. Sometimes it seems as if someone half read a quote from Ibn Taymiyya that was posted in some internet forum without understanding the context. Some have argued that ignorance is bliss. But Western Muslims are often more intellectual and aware of their faith than their counterparts in predominantly Muslim areas. We like to read these polemical works between scholars and make generalizations about them. We have so much access to information that it is ridiculous. Ignorance is bliss? Maybe, and let’s leave the quibbling over these issues with the ‘Ulema. Few of us are trained in Usul al-Fiqh, Kalam, Tafsir, or even Hadith sciences. But yet, it is common to find debates going on in some musallah about this hadith is weak and this and that brother is an innovator (bidaa). I’m sort of tired of the bad translations of some text that was printed in Pakistan finding its way into the hands of some crazed Muslim who goes around declaring this group and that group wrongdoers, misguided, or not really Muslim. Knowledge and information is good. But with all the stuff floating around, we have a bunch of insane people feeling really authoritative as they try to impose their views on the rest of the universe. Sigh…

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.

Darfur and the lack of American Muslim Interest

At first, Black America thought it was only in America. But in reality, the world doesn’t really give a shit about black-on-black violence. Ten years ago, the international community didn’t do squat and allowed machete wielding mobs kill 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. At that time American Muslims were concerned with 10,000 white Bosnians who were slaughtered by white Serbs and Croats.The Muslims were also concerned over the sactions against Iraq and escalating violence in Chechnya. So, now in the midst of a hellish war in Iraq and Afghanistan and threats against Iran, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, between 300,000 and 450,000 Africans have been killed in the past 4 years. 2 million people are internally displaced countless women raped and tortured. That is 2 million displaced in a country of 40 million (5% of the population) and the region of Darfur had a population of 6 million (1/3 of the population).

“The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the term as: Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The conflict in Darfur has been going on for almost four years. Throughout this I have been pretty appalled by the lack of response by the American Muslim community to the continuing crisis in Darfur. Now, Muslims remain silent because they are too preoccupied with conspiracy theories. Let me qualify that, some of us Muslims do care. And we are savvy enough to see through the bullshit conspiracy theories and opportunistic organizations (with anti-Muslim and anti-Arab leanings) that are basking in this shameful tragedy (crying crocodile tears as they press their political agenda). There are some very energetic and concerned students from the Islamic Society of Stanford University that organized an information meeting this past Friday evening. Many Muslims have been silent on this issue because of accusations that Israel has funded and armed the rebel groups in Darfur. Others are silent because the most outspoken organizations advocating sanctions against Darfur are linked to Zionist groups. Carl G. Estabrook’s article Is Humanitarian Interventionism Humane? points out that not a single Darfurian spoke at the events last year. And Muslims voices were silenced during the events.

For those interested in the history of the region, New York Review of Books has a review of two recent books on the conflict here . Read the reviews and check out the books. Ignorance is not an excuse at this point.

Here are excerpts from letters and emails that I have written to community members (any mistakes are my own, feel free to comment if you have corrections):

Nov 2006

Yoooooooooo, I’m glad someone spoke up. But the Muslim community’s reponse has been really wack. I remember going to an event held at SCU and met some of the Lost Boys. Muslims were in denial about Sudan’s policies against Southern Sudan. It was still that us versus them mentality. It was still sweeping our dirty secrets under the rug. Some Muslims claimed it was a conspiracy, that Zionists were trying to make Muslims look bad. That is so ridiculous when you look at what has gone on. It is so ridiculous to dismiss people’s real life stories. These people wanted to turn a blind eye to the camps. They wanted to turn a blind eye to the thousands of stories of children who fled for their lives. They wanted to believe that these stories were all hype. The reaction made my stomach hurt. It seemed like I could barely get a response by my Muslim friends when I sent out information that the Sudanese was now targetting Muslims. Oh, now we sort of care because the victims are Muslim. And years later, after all the publicity, we get a few obscure leaders who take a strong stance????
A few Islamic organizations have been stepping up, such as Islamic relief.

Islamic relief provides a timeline for the conflict in Darfur up to 2004:
http://www.islamic-relief.com/submenu/appeal/timeline.htm

Another Email:
Feb 2006

There are many human rights violations in Africa, and throughout the world, that people don’t care about. That is because they don’t know about it. We don’t know because our media is myopic. Also, people in America don’t really care because they are racist and it doesn’t matter if brown people, let alone black people kill each other. They believe that ethnic groups and “tribal people” are always fighting. That was the theory that Clinton accepted in the 90s. That theory influenced him and therefore he did nothing as a million people died. As for us Muslims, we tend to focus only on issues as they relate to the Muslim community. My hope is that we break out of our own myopia.

We should hate injustice whenever it crops us. We should all care, whether it is in Uganda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Chechnya, etc. Do we have a moral obligation to do, say, or at least feel something? It is wrong for a government to target civilian populations. Do I think that sanctions will end the violence? No, more will die. I do believe that we need peace keeping troops, whether from the UN, African Union, or even if the Muslims could get themselves together and we should send some observers there. My primary problem is that few people are coming up with a solution to end the killing, raping, and maiming. I remember how Muslims were deeply concerned about Bosnia in the 90s.Bosnia was an incredibly complex region and there are still UN troops there. Some people claim that the US got involved only when they saw al-Qaeda operatives in Yugoslavia defending the besieged Bosnians. Whether or not they were actually tied to al-Qaeda, there were at least some Americans who did go to Bosnia and Chechya to help them. But I digress…

I especially care about this isse, because it exposes the hypocrisy of the Muslims who are committing atrocities. It makes Muslims look like racist Arab imperialists who hate Black Africans. This is especially problematic because of the long history of raiding and enslavement of black Africans by Muslims. This conflict, as well as other acts by earlier opportunists, turns people away from Islam who would have otherwise been inclined to do so. I know we have many other conflicts in the world, but even if we aren’t able to right a wrong can we not at least hate it with our heart. Instead, we focus on why Americans would be interested in the conflict. It is sad when we only focus on the atrocities committed against us while we look away when Muslims kill each other over sectarian and ethnic differences.

I know that I am deeply flawed. But I do believe that I will be held accountable by allowing atrocities to occur without so much as being moved to lift a finger, write a letter, or even feel bad about my own inadequacy to correct that wrong.

Another letter:
Feb 2006

I do not think we as a community have adequately addressed the way that race and ethnicity plays out in this conflict. And when we talk about race in the Middle East, we must not use the racial framework in America. Brazil would be a better model, or Latin American countries such as the Dominican Republic. And because this issue is complicated, it is even more important hat we examine the tribalism, regionalism, and classism in our societies.

It is important to not be dismissive of the ways we in the West, and the Muslim world, perceive African identities. Commentators have noted how African lives have been devalued in the press. A similar process is going on in the ways Westerners devalue the lives of Arabs and other “Brown” peoples. For instance, we can compare the press coverage of the UK bombings in summer 2005 when the lives that were loss were European. The most frequent comment you hear in the US is that “Those people have been killing each other for thousands of years.” This, of course, is untrue. It is a racial essentialism about Arabs. It gives Americans comfort to draw upon this racist trope in order to avoid accepting our complicity in the unprecedented violence in the Middle East.

So, back to my point. I do believe that perceptions of African Muslims did, and still has, impact on how Muslims identify with the conflict. Fact is, many Muslims in the Middle East believe that African Muslims are second rate Muslims. Some of this is largely tied to language. Although Muslims in the West are increasingly aware of the high level of Islamic scholarship in Africa. However, African Muslims are often perceived as Muslims who mix their Islam with animist practices and superstition. (Similarly, many immigrant Muslims in America have questioned my Islam even when I wore hijab because they assumed I was in Nation of Islam and therefore not a real Muslim).

There are a number of Arab Muslims who believe that only Arabic speaking Muslims are real Muslims. I myself had this shocking revelation while I was in Morocco. The perception of African Muslims no doubt, plays a role for some who hold that bias. This leads the discussion to the role of Arabism. (This notion is not limited to race since in North Africa, Berber speaking groups were often perceived as less Muslim than their Arabic speaking brethren). I have two examples of Arabism in this conflict, the role of the Arab Union and Gadafi’s role in the development of the Janjaweed’s racist ideologies.

First, the Arab Union really downplayed the conflict. They completely sided with Khartoum and ignored the realities of Darfur. Why? Why did they not take their fellow AU member to task? Well, Arabism played bigger role than doing the right thing. While Ghadafi talks about North African and sub-Saharan unity, he has funded Arab supremacist groups and privileged pastoral nomads over settled black populations. Reports have indicated that he funded and trained some of the Janjaweed because of his dream for Arab unity in the region of Chad and Darfur.

Here is an article the does discuss the formation of the Janjaweed:
http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article11358

This is not an attack on Arabs, but rather, a critique in the way the rhetoric of Arab nationalism has been deployed in ways that marginalize Black Africans in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies. Here is another interesting article that critiques the simplistic binary of Black African/Arab:

http://lounsbury.aqoul.com/archives/2004/08/darfur_on_racis.html

I also would like to clarify. This is not to imply that we, as a community, are hypocritical because we focus on the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Palestine. But, we do have a problem if our hearts are not moved by the suffering of our brothers and sisters because they do not look like us or are not in the Muslim heartlands. The conflict in Darfur has gone on for four years and only recently did I see Muslims more outspoken about it. For some, it is not on the top of their agenda. I am glad that Saudi organizations have been raising money to alleviate the suffering (it is promising to hear that). I am grateful that Islamic Relief is there (and we have an organization without an alterior motive to donate to). But aid organizations are now getting attacked and they are starting to pull out because it is not safe for them. My hope is the the UN, African Union, and Arab Union will do something so humanitarian aid can continue and that the displaced can be repatriated.

Finally, I would like to say that I’m disgusted with the news coverage on the issue. First, it was Aljazeera who did an amazing job breaking the news in 2003. But since then, you will rarely see a picture of a janjaweed to get a sense that this is truly a black-on-black issue and Muslim-on-Muslim issue. Instead, the media portrays this in a racial dichotomy (African versus Arabs). But contrary to what supporters of the Khartoum government argue in their apologetic statements, just because the groups are in the same “race” does not preclude genocide. Serbs and Bosnian Muslims are both Slavic Europeans and Hutus and Tutsis are both Africans, Ashkenazi Jews are Europeans, as are the Germans. So that flimsy excuse holds no weight.

Ummah or Muslim Social Club?

In the seventh century, the concept of Ummah was revolutionary. Seventh century Arabia society was a prodiminately pastoral nomadic society with some merchant communities. Arabian society centered around patriarchical clans. During that time, individuals owed their loyalty to their tribe/clan and to no one else. If anyone killed or attacked a member of your particular tribe, your tribe took their vengeance out against any member of your advesarial tribe. And there was not a concept of a community that transcended tribal lines. The clan provided protection and support and individuals could not survive in the harsh environment of Arabia. And during that time, in Arabia, there was not a concept of the individual.

Muhammad brought a revolutionary concept whereby the community of believers became brothers/sisters. Their bonds were not by bloodlines, but on faith. Many of Muhammad’s early followers were displaced people, slaves, and disaffected youths from powerful families. From a diverse group of people who followed his teachings, the first Muslim community formed under intense pressure from their powerful tribesmen who ascribe to shamanistic and pagan beliefs. Each tribe had its own deity and they were organized in a hierarchical pantheon in Mecca. The Muslims denied the many deities, claiming that there was only one God. The Muslims’ ties transcended tribe and family loyalties. Initially, they were under the protection of Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Talib. During this time, the loyalty of the clan still protected the nascent Muslim community. Then Abu Talib died. This was when th notion of Ummah developed further and became more independent of tribal loyalties. Muhammad left Mecca to Medina to flee the persecution of his power powerful tribesmen, the Quraysh. There, families of Medina became the helpers, Ansar. Muhammad’s emigration to Medina begins the first year of the Islamic calendar. This marks the most pivotal moment in the development of the religion and way of life that we call Islam. It was the development of the first Muslim community. The emigrants from Mecca allied with their hosts in Medina. The concept of Ummah was important for the survival of this fragile community. They were part of a universal brotherhood, believing in the tenets of faith laid out in the Quran and following its legislation. The rest is history and 1400 years later, the notion of Ummah is still important to both the reality and imagination of Muslims throughout the world.

What does Ummah mean now? It is still a concpet that draws many converts to the faith. Muhammad taught his community to respect individuals regardless of their lineage, race, or background. They were still part of the Ummah. Even the hypocrites, who outwardly professed Islam, but secretly undermined the Muslim community were tolerated. The first step, and most important card to the Muslim card carrying group was the declaration of faith. The admission that there was only one God and Muhammad was his Prophet.

But in any community, there are insiders and outsiders. Islam spread rapidly, and now there are a billion Muslims. Does the notion of Ummah apply now? How does one make sense of it in Iraq where sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites make the the Crips and the Bloods look like they are playing tag football. What about Darfur? Hamas vs. Fatah?

We read about those ideals in books. Then the reality hits when you roll up to a mosque in America and you find out that they are divided along ethnic lines. We are one community, but there is an Afghan mosque, a Yemeni mosque, a Pakistani mosque, a Mosque for African Americans, a predominately Arab mosque?

I remember going to a mosque in the North of Oakland, one of the most integrated mosques and sitting there as a whole bunch of immigrant Muslim women surrounded two young white converts. They were so pleased that these two Wonder Bread white girls decided to join the Ummah. But my black ass, just sat there ignored. I was irrelevant. Maybe they were tired of seeing black folks in the East Bay. And the whiteness was refreshing. Or maybe their whiteness made them more special. It affirmed to them that Islam was an American religion. And that people who enjoy white privelege would convert to Islam, and this affirmed their faith in a stronger way that a marginalized individual like a black woman. There was no matter that this marginalized individual is also an educated elite (but not elitist). And that participation in the community is impactful because of the position that I am in as an educator of young elites. Some will be deciding national policy years down the line or directing some multi-national corporation. Maybe that’s why I decided to go to Stanford, I may be the only Black Muslim woman in a position of authority above them that they may interact with in their lives. But I digress.

So on that day I had drove all the way from Oakland from San Jose, where I had been living at that time, to go to Friday prayers. I was hoping to get a sense of the Ummah. That sense of the community that transcended race, ethnicity, tribe, city, and locality. Instead, I was dissillusioned by a bunch of petty females. This was not the first time, nor the last. Just the most memorable currently.

I used to be easily identified as Muslim. Did everything to try to fit the bill of being good Muslim. As with any club, there are certain things that you must do to have membership. Being Muslim is no different. Don’t eat pork, don’t drink, wear slippers in bathroom, say salaam alaikum, pray, wear hijab, put Quran on highest shelf, wear Allah necklace, have Islamic art put up in your house, prayer rug, etc., etc…

I’m used to being on the fringes of the Muslim community. Somebody asked me if I practiced or not. I said, I struggle. I’m a renegade Muslim of sorts. And I fit within a category of lax Muslim, oh the ones hated so much by Sayed Qutb.
But, I still have many Muslim friends from all walks of life. From the most nominal to the most strict. My faith even links me with people who are not Muslim but have grew up in Muslim societies. We have a lot to talk about, many common bonds and shared interests.

But at the same time, what does it mean to be part of the same faith based community? This Ummah, this community. This community, but is that a real community? Splintered, factional, sectarian, nationalistic, cliquish, and at times just down right petty. But, I still believe in the notion of Ummah. It was important for the survival of the early Muslim community. It still motivates a number of us to transcend our particular interests and ethnic identities and form ties with people who are very different from ourselves. Sometimes we try so hard to be liked by members of our community that we lose ourselves. And for some, they replace the notion of Ummah with something more on the likes of Muslim Social club.

During my early years, my friends were predominately immigrant from very strict families. We attended a strict gender segregated mosque. I was in a Muslim Social Club of Muslim-Student-Association-Sisters-who-wear-big-triangle-scarves (no necks, no earrings). Then I withdrew membership when I took off hijab. I’ve found other Muslim Social Clubs. Here’s a few I’ve seen:
I’m-So-Deep-and-Esoterical Muslim Social Club
Random-displaced-Muslim Social Club
I’m-Angry-at-My-Immigrant-Parents-who-Are-Not-Religious-But-Won’t-Let-Me Date Muslim Social Club
I-Think-Everything-is-Haram Muslim Social Club
Every-other-Muslim-is-wack-but-Us Muslim Social Club
I’m-into-Hiphop/House/Alternative/Punk-Muslim Social Club
College-Students-Who-Will-Save-the-World-One-lecture/Talk-at-a-Time Muslim Social Club or the Black/Latino/Arab/Desi/Asian/Indonesian/White/ etc. Muslim social club.

All these social clubs, but I still can’t find one that I can fit into. Being an individual means being lonely sometimes. From some of the attacks I have gotten, being an individual can take a lot of courage. Sometimes I wonder about my engagement Islam if my engagement with the Muslim community is so tenuous. But sometimes deconstructing a Muslim Social Club is important. We have to get to the roots of what lies beneath our social interactions. There is a difference between a Muslim Social Club and Ummah. A Muslim Social Club, we reinforce our own egos by surrounding ourselves by people like ourselves. We look for affirmation on who we are. We look for people who like us and people who approve of our conduct. Last year, I was desperate to meet Muslims like me. I was excited to meet artists and activists and creative people. I felt isolated at Stanford. I wanted to be around people who inspired me. But, I felt drained by the tensions and drama. For the most part, my relationships in the Muslim Social clubs turned out to be disappointing. That does not mean that I have not met some good folks. I’d have to say that most of the people are trying really hard. And those who are corrupt, are just mentally ill. But what I really mean is that the basis of the relationships lacks an honesty.

For instance, I know a lot of people don’t like me. Some just aren’t quick to say it. It would be cool if we Muslims were real. If I am really going to trust you to defend me like the Ansar did the muhajiroon, how can I trust you if you can’t be real with me? Can we tell a brotha or sista, “Yo, I really don’t dig your ways, but I respect you because we are Muslim.” Or “I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about you that rubs me the wrong way. I’d avoid you like the plague, but I support you because we are in the same ummah.” You don’t have to like me. But we can be supportive because we were working towards the same goal. We could put our egos aside and get the job done. As of now, it seems like we’re stroking each others’ egos. Winning points in a popularity contest.

Maybe this blog will have a part 2. I dunno. It took me days to get back to this. But I appreciate your thoughts…