Monday, October 27, 2008

India: This Qazi is a Woman

From the Times of IndiaIndi - October 12, 2008

This Qazi is a woman

12 Oct 2008, 0239 hrs IST, Mohammed Wajihuddin, TNN

Yojana Bhavan, at leafy Parliament Street in Lutyen's Delhi, is known more for planning the nation's destiny than housing a person whose heart
beats for poetry. But enter Room Number 111 at the Planning Commission's headquarters, and a poetic aura engulfs you. On a wall, complementing photographs of a woman captured in many moods are Urdu couplets by poet Kamla Bhasin. A couplet ponders: 'Desh mein aurat agar beaabru nashaad hai/Dil par rakh kar haath kahiye desh kya azaad hai? (If the country's women feel belittled and disheartened/ Put your hand on your heart and tell me if the country is free).'

It is in this room that Planning Commission member and activist Syeda Hameed spends most of her waking hours; that is, when she is not touring the backwaters of Muzaffarnagar in UP and Mewat in Haryana, chronicling the horror of 'honour' killings or scouring the villages of Orissa to fight the communal fires stoked by Hindutva's hate brigade. And it was in this room that she got a call from a Lucknow-based fellow activist, Naish, a couple of months ago. "She sounded desperate," Syeda recalls. "She told me that if I didn't agree to solemnise her nikaah with Imraan, also an activist, she would opt for a civil marriage."

What followed next was a historic and path-breaking step in the annals of Islam in India. On August 12 this year, after solemnising Naish's nikaah with Imraan, Syeda officially became India's first woman Qazi. The nikaah was also unusual because it had four women as witnesses instead of the traditional two male witnesses. A male witness was added at the last moment lest orthodox clerics declared the nikaah null and void.

Controversy trailed the event from word go. As the cameras rolled and flashbulbs popped, a frenzy gripped the lanes of Lucknow. Uninvited guests, including an intrusive media, showed up, sensationalising what was supposed to be a private affair. Someone approached an orthodox maulvi. "A nikaah solemnised by a woman Qazi is impractical and therefore not advisable," declared Maulana Khalid Rashid from Lucknow's Firangi Mahal, a religious organisation. Despite the severe criticism from orthodox clerics, Syeda remains steadfast: "It sent across a message that the time for change has come. Women can no longer be subjugated."

When the clergy couldn't find a convincing alibi because neither the Quran nor the Hadith (Prophet Mohammed's traditions) enjoins that only a male can officiate as a Qazi, a maulvi protested that some of the women at the ceremony had not covered their heads. "That is also an insinuation because the photographs and the videos of the marriage ceremony
prove that all the women had their heads well covered," says Syeda. Another maulvi declared that the nikaah was not legitimate because the Qazi was a Shia while the couple were Sunni Muslims. Syeda's reply is that in her family Shia-Sunni marriages were common. "My illustrious ancestor Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali was a Sunni. My mother was Shia while my father belonged to the Sunni sect. My sister is married to a Sunni. For the first time, I was made to realise that I am a Shia," explains Syeda who ensured that her three children, while growing up, imbibed Islam's eclectic spirit, not the divisive dogma propagated by some clerics.

Syeda says nothing inspires her more than the works of Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, the 19th-century Urdu poet. Musaddas-e-Hali (also called Ebb And Tide In Islam as it chronicles Islam's history in poetry) and Munaajat-e-Bewa (Lament Of The Widow) are some of his better known works. Hali's Munaajat, says Syeda, lambasts patriarchy and upholds the rights of women. "He was undeniably India's first feminist poet," she declares. And as we prepare to leave, hums another couplet on the wall: 'Chup hain lekin yeh na samjho hum sada ke haare hain/Raakh ke neeche abhi jal rahe angare hain (If I am silent, don't mistake it for my defeat/The embers beneath the ashes are burning).

Friday, October 24, 2008

Muslim-American Voices Heard in Presidential Race

From CNN - October 21, 2008

 Fatema Biviji, in white by sign, poses with members of the grassroots organization she founded in Texas.

Fatema Biviji, in white by sign, poses with members of the grassroots organization she founded in Texas.

State senate candidate Mohammad Ali Hasan with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a barbeque in Crawford, Texas.

State senate candidate Mohammad Ali Hasan with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a barbeque in Crawford, Texas.

A man cheers during day one of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado.

A man cheers during day one of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado.

By Ashley Fantz

(CNN) -- Muslim-Americans say they are more interested than ever before in the political process, in part because their religion has been reduced to a talking point in the presidential campaign.

Like many other Americans, the estimated 2.3 million Muslims living in the U.S. have been hurt by a limping economy, a problematic healthcare system and an unclear immigration policy. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also hit close to home.

Fatema Biviji, 32, had never given much thought to politics until she received an e-mail earlier this year that said -- falsely -- that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim. The Internet hoax, its origin unknown, was apparently intended to tie Obama to terrorism and swing support to his opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain.

"I was so mad," Biviji said. "The premise of that e-mail is that a person's religion should decide a person's character.

"We're America, the melting pot, the land of diversity, and that Americans would be buying into that psychology [of the e-mails] was upsetting," said the New Jersey-born Muslim, whose parents are from India. "The e-mail offended my American ideals."

Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a Christian and emphatically pledged his patriotism.

Biviji began to research Obama and could relate to his international background, his years in Indonesia as a young man, and his father's Kenyan roots. And his views on the issues aligned with hers.

So she began chatting with members of her community in Irving, Texas, encouraging people to register to vote and become more active. She began blogging about the presidential election and formed a grass-roots organization with about 100 members who have helped register dozens of people to vote, she said. Her blog is featured on Obama's campaign Web site.

But Biviji said it hasn't always been easy for Muslim-Americans to support candidates who don't usually seem to support them.

"Neither candidate has visited a mosque," said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group. "It might not be a gesture that's the politically right thing to do, but it's the morally right thing," Rehab said. CAIR has registered thousands of Muslim voters across the country.

He said he was approached by one of the major parties to run for office this year. But he decided against it.

"If you have one guy [Obama] who has a Muslim father that he really never knew and who isn't a Muslim being hounded, then imagine a guy like me who works so publicly in support of rights for Muslims," said Rehab. "I'm not sure I want to go through that."

But Asma Hasan, a 34-year-old from Colorado who writes the blog "Glamocracy" for Glamour magazine, said she thinks Muslims are more likely to jump into the political fray. "I think people tend to be more open to different points of view now than they were before," she said. "It's not a perfect environment, but it's getting better."

Her brother Mohammad Ali Hasan, 28, is Muslim and Republican.

He is running for a Colorado state Senate seat.

"If I don't win, it's not because I'm a Muslim," he said, laughing. "It will likely be because I'm a Republican."

Asma Hasan said it can be a challenge sometimes to reconcile being a Republican and being a Muslim.

"A lot of this election is about the Iraq war, the GOP's support for the war and ultimately how we handle that war now," she said. Several younger voters have e-mailed her about her blog items filed from the campaign trail with thoughtful, substantive political comments and questions. They are excited about the election and they plan to vote, she said.

"But that's the beauty of politics because it doesn't matter what your religion is or your cultural background or who your family is," she said. "You make decisions on who to vote for based on a lot of different factors -- not just one. And I think people are interested this year. There are definitely a lot of younger people, and a lot of younger Muslims, who are going to vote."

Asma Hasan echoed Rehab's frustration about the occasional fumbles of the candidates toward the Muslim community. She pointed to a June incident at an Obama rally.

Two women were told not to sit behind Obama because they were wearing head scarves. Campaign volunteers thought it would would look bad if the women were seen behind the candidate in a photo or on television.

The Obama campaign quickly apologized, and a campaign spokeswoman said that the incident was not reflective of Obama's message, according to the New York Times.

More recently, a woman at a McCain rally in Minnesota stood up and faced the candidate. She said she doesn't support Obama because "He is an Arab." McCain shook his head and replied, "No ma'am, no ma'am."

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a Republican, endorsed Obama for president on Sunday, praising Obama as a candidate who is "inclusive." Powell said he had heard members of his own party suggest that Obama is a Muslim.

"What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" Powell said. "No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim kid believing that he or she can be president?"

Powell made the endorsement on NBC's "Meet the Press" and went on to say that he was disturbed by recent attacks the McCain camp had lobbed at Obama.

"It troubled me. We have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. So those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about [1960s radical William] Ayers, not about who is a Muslim or who's not a Muslim," Powell told reporters after the endorsement.

"Those kinds of images going out on Al-Jazeera are killing us around the world," Powell continued. "And we have got to say to the world, it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are. If you're an American, you're an American."

"That was over the top. It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth," he said. "And to sort of throw in this little Muslim connection, you know, 'He's a Muslim and, my goodness, he's a terrorist' -- it was taking root. And we can't judge our people and we can't hold our elections on that kind of basis."

After Powell's announcement, McCain told Fox News he considered Powell and himself "longtime friends" and that he respected him.

Powell also referred to a photo essay from a magazine featuring a photo of a mother resting her head on the tombstone of her son at Arlington National Cemetery. The tombstone lists the soldier's awards, including a Purple Heart, that were earned in Iraq. The solider was Kareem Khan, a 20-year-old Muslim from New Jersey.

The soldier's father, Feroze Khan, said he wants to personally thank Powell for his statement.

"All my son wanted to do was serve his country," he told CNN. "Since he was a boy, he wanted to be in the Army. That was his dream. That's the only thing he ever wanted."

"It was not about how he was Muslim, it was about who he was and what he stood for," Feroze Khan said. "He told me, 'I am going to fight for my faith, not against it.'"

Feroze Khan doesn't want to talk about politics. What the candidates say about his religion is of little importance to him. His son defined what he believes in.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Islam and Homosexuality Panel Discussion in Washington DC - 10/26/08 - 7:00 pm

For folks in the Washington DC area:

You are invited to join a diverse all-Muslim panel for a unique dialogue on the topic of Islam and homosexuality.

Sunday, October 26th - 7 PM

Marvin Center Continental Ballroom (3rd Floor)
800 21st Street NW (at the corner of 21st and H)
Washington DC 20052

For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Youthful Voice Stirs Challenge to Secular Turks

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

A Muslim couple leaving their wedding in Uskudar, Turkey. Religious traditions are mixed with a modern secularism in Turkey, unlike in many Muslim countries.

Full article from the New York Times.

Slideshow - A Fight to Wear Head Scarves


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan

Vatican Message to Muslims for Ramadan
"Christians and Muslims Must Work to Safeguard the Dignity of the Family"

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 19, 2008 - Here is a text published today by the
Vatican of a message sent to Muslims by the president of the
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The message was sent
on the occasion of the end of Ramadan.

* * *

Christians and Muslims:

Together for the dignity of the family

Dear Muslim friends,

1. As the end of the month of Ramadan approaches, and following a now
well-established tradition, I am pleased to send you the best wishes
of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. During this
month Christians close to you have shared your reflections and your
family celebrations; dialogue and friendship have been strengthened.
Praise be to God!

2. As in the past, this friendly rendez-vous also gives us an
opportunity to reflect together on a mutually topical subject which
will enrich our exchange and help us to get to know each other better,
in our shared values as well as in our differences. This year we would
like to propose the subject of the family.

3. One of the documents of the Second Council Vatican, Gaudium et
Spes, which deals with the Church in the modern world, states: 'The
well-being of the individual person and of human and Christian society
is intimately linked with the healthy condition of that community
produced by marriage and family. Hence Christians and all men who hold
this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by
which men today find help in fostering this community of love and
perfecting its life, and by which parents are assisted in their lofty
calling. Those who rejoice in such aids look for additional benefits
from them and labour to bring them about.' (n. 47)

4. These words give us an opportune reminder that the development of
both the human person and of society depends largely on the
healthiness of the family! How many people carry, sometimes for the
whole of their life, the weight of the wounds of a difficult or
dramatic family background? How many men and women now in the abyss of
drugs or violence are vainly seeking to make up for a traumatic
childhood? Christians and Muslims can and must work together to
safeguard the dignity of the family, today and in the future.

5. Given the high esteem in which both Muslims and Christians hold the
family, we have already had many occasions, from the local to the
international level, to work together in this field. The family, that
place where love and life, respect for the other and hospitality are
encountered and transmitted, is truly the 'fundamental cell of

6. Muslims and Christians must never hesitate, not only to come to the
aid of families in difficulty, but also to collaborate with all those
who support the stability of the family as an institution and the
exercise of parental responsibility, in particular in the field of
education. I need only remind you that the family is the first school
in which one learns respect for others, mindful of the identity and
the difference of each one. Interreligious dialogue and the exercise
of citizenship cannot but benefit from this.

7. Dear friends, now that your fast comes to an end, I hope that you,
with your families and those close to you, purified and renewed by
those practices dear to your religion, may know serenity and
prosperity in your life! May Almighty God fill you with His Mercy and

Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran President

Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata Secretary

Worlds AIDS Day in Muslim Countries