Friday, June 17, 2005

Glamourous Causes

Salaam alaikum,

I was encouraged to write this entry in a response to another post written for another blog on the e-mail campaign for Mukhtar Mai.

"The problem in Pakistan is that NGOs have become so fashionable -and they've taken the place of those old style large scale "charity balls" where "high society" people gather for some feel good events. So, because of this there is a lot of resentment building against them from villagers, and working class folks in the cities. There are some good groups --- but their voices get drowned --- real community based groups don't have a lot of funds etc." (emphasis mine)

It seems that some causes are more glamorous than others.

For example, Sarah Eltantawi, board member of the PMUNA, demanded to know how CAIR, Women in Islam Inc., ISNA, INCA, Zaytuna, MPAC and MWLUSA felt about the issue of women leading prayer. None of them to my knowlegde have answered her demands and I think I know why. The reason might be that these groups are promoting causes that they feel are worth their time and money and that women-led prayer is not a high priority for them as it is for the PMUNA. Moreover, maybe women-led prayer and a hijab-free society ain't a major concern for most Muslims.

CAIR is busy doing dawah power by giving away free Qur'ans in hopes of pushing back the tide of anti-Americanism/anti-Islam since the Qur'an/Gitmo riots. On top of defending the civil liberties of Muslims, they have also launched a summer campaign of community activism focused on health care, youth activities and community outreach. In my community, many Muslims are really tackling the issue of health care for the uninsured so these are causes worthy of our attention.

Women in Islam, Inc. supported a trip to Eastern Europe to help and council the thousands of women who were raped by Serbian soldiers during the Yugoslavian war. Sexual abuse and exploitation is a worthy cause.

ISNA has a spousal abuse network to help Muslim families escape their situation. They have decicated years of work to interfaith dialogue. They've also developed a network for Muslims to come together on all social planes--spiritual, economical, and cultural. INCA has functioned in the same manner.

Zaytuna is dedicated to the promotion of traditional Islamic scholarship in America. Isn't spiritual and religious growth a major cause and concern for Muslims? Maybe if we were more educated in Islam, our communities would not suffer from the anti-Islamic problems of sexism and racism.

MPAC has put forth its efforts to get Muslims more involved in politics and MWLUSA has attented UN conferences to promote women rights in Muslim countries.

So aren't these goals worthy of attention by the media? Don't you think that MWU and PMUNA should give credit where credit is due? I am not saying that you should join these groups but you have to admit that they are working for Muslims. I've never heard Hamza Yusuf go on television and say that our masajid are filled with women-hating extremists. I've never heard Ingrid Mattson, promoting her book across the country, saying that America is the only country that can give the Muslim world freedom. Tell that to the Iraqis and Afghanis and to Amnesty International which has condemned the Bush Administration for its horrible abuses at Guantanamo Bay.

It's not that Muslim Americans aren't concerned for our communities. It's not that we don't care. We just have a bad habit of championing unpopular, boring causes like poverty, literacy, health care, and the safety of the our people within this country. It's hard to sell to the Americans the idea that Muslims are forward-thinking people unless they champion one thing--sexual freedom. It doesn't matter if you are running a center for battered Muslim women or a soup kitchen. That's not sexy. But writing and talking about sex, especially Muslims talking about sex, gets the media's juices flowin'.

That's the major reason why MWU and PMUNA have been chosen by America to be the mouthpiece of the American umma. Because in this sex saturated culture, where we are using it to sell something as boring as white rice, the PMUNA is speaking the language of this post-feminist, moral relativist society. Sister Aisha who is pushing for masjid reform within the boundaries of Shari'a gets no help at all. And Brother Ali who spends four hours patrolling his community in an effort to fight drug dealers is ignored. The Muslims who are doing the real work and who are tackling the real problems, are left with little attention and no funding. Insha'Allah, those noble Muslims will get their reward in Jennah.


Blogger Scott said...

I agree completely. Reminds of of Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah's "Famous Women in Islam" set, where he mentioned about how "feminism" was pushed on Egypt, with the primary concern being the hijab. The hijab became a symbol, but the issue was not substantive. An empty symbol where wearing it or not wearing it becomes the issue, but one's intentions or acts as a whole are ignored. Hijab = backward, non-hijab = modern.

Such is the position we find ourselves in today. There are certainly more important issues to deal with than things such as women imams (and what that means and doesn't mean), hijab, or men wearing beards (and of what length). Such issues are important, but in today's world, we cannot afford to draw lines on such issues when people are dying, or women are being beaten, or new muslims are leaving the faith.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received was, "There are many causes in the world to support. Pick one." Only by focusing our resources will we accomplish anything. And what better to focus our resources on but substantive issues?

Though, I do know both Imam Zaid, Shaykh Hamza, and Dr. Mattson have dealt with the issue of women imams, and Dr. Umar loves to mention the women imams of China (which, of course, are not the same as the type we see here). Imam Zaid has written An Examination of the Issue of Female Prayer
. Dr. Mattson has written Can a Woman be an Imam? Debating Form and Function in Muslim Women’s Leadership. At the recent Nawawi Event in Chicago (Connection to God in Today's World), Shaykh Hamza briefly dealt with the issue, stating how earlier scholars were not concerned with whether or not a women can be imam and lead Juma'ah, but whether or not those prayers would be accepted. He mentioned that in Maliki fiqh (which he, of course, follows), they wouldn't. Would they be accepted in the eyes of God? God knows best. Case closed.

The "problem" with these responses is they're scholarly articles, or remarks made during a conference and not glitzy press conferences with bright lights, cameras, and nice stationary (donuts and coffee in the back). It seems that not only are non-substantive issues put off as urgently important, but the methods used in advocating them must also be equally colorful and non-substantive.

Glamourous causes indeed. I don't think Neil Postman would be surprised.

4:56 AM  
Blogger izzymo said...

Walaikum salaam,

Jazak Allah for the links. I hope to read this works very soon. Yes, you can see the glitz behind some of these issues that take precedence over life and death issues (Darfur, poverty, health care, etc.). There's only a few ways to wrap these things up in shiny dressings.

It's a very clever trick of Shaytaan to keep us running around in the dunya, making us think that something is being done with all our sanctimonious grand-standing. Hmmm, let's make dua for focus and Allah ta'ala's guidance.

9:29 PM  

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