Blogging Without Obligation

Hello!

I’m back after a long gap in blogging, and so this post is rather long overdue. Lukily for me, however, I firmly believe in the concept of B.W.O, or “Blogging Without Obligation.”

This mantra, a movement amongst bloggers, liberates me and other like-minded individuals from the shackles of guilt, and relieves the sense of impending doom that accompanies a long gap in bloggery.

Only fellow bloggers will know the incessant counting that comes with a month or so of *NOT* writing on your blog: “23 days since I haven’t blogged… 34 days since I haven’t blogged!” The anguish, the anxiety, the guilt!

But thanks to B.W.O, no longer do bloggers have to feel the unrelenting shame of having not updated their blog in a while.

Afterall, since I blog about issues I’m passionate about and given that I don’t make a penny from this blog, I think it’s only fair that I write for me, when I feel the need to.

However, rather than continuing with this desperate and apology-filled attempt at justifiying the overly long gap away from my online “home from home,” I’m going to sign the “Blogging Without Obligation” pledge, and I urge all my fellow bloggers to do the same.

Afterall, compulsion takes the fun out of everything. Not to mention the fact that blogging is fulfilling when you enjoy it, and you use it as a means to express yourself when you’re feeling inspired or impassioned.

So, if you agree, grab a logo, and sign the pledge. The sense of liberation alone make it worthwhile. 🙂

  • Because you shouldn’t have to look at your blog like it is a treadmill.
  • Because its okay to just say what you have to say. If that makes for a long post, fine. Short post, fine. Frequent post, fine. Infrequent post, fine.
  • Because its okay to not always be enthralled with the sound of your own typing.
  • Because sometimes less is more.
  • Because only blogging when you feel truly inspired keeps up the integrity of your blog.
  • Because they are probably not going to inscribe your stat, link and comment numbers on your tombstone.
  • Because for most of us blogging is just a hobby. A way to express yourself and connect with others. You should not have to apologize for lapses in posts. Just take a step back and enjoy life, not everything you do has to be “bloggable”.
  • Because if you blog without obligation you will naturally keep your blog around longer, because it won’t be a chore. Plus, just think you will be doing your part to eradicate post pollution. One post at a time.
  • Quoted from: http://www.tartx.com/blog/?page_id=233

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The Apprentice: Poor Grammar Meets Cultural Ignorance

I don’t know about you, but I find cultural ignorance very funny. That’s because I think the best way to stamp out racism is to laugh at it, in order to make ignorant people feel highly embarrassed about their total stupidity. Ok, so it’s doubtful that in most places in England, you’ll find the KKK overt brand of racism, (unless it’s in the local BNP clubhouse, not that I’ve ever been of course), but the foul stench of accidental racism still lingers in various corners of the UK.

True, everyone can always serve to learn a little more about other cultures, but amongst certain groups of people, you’ll still occasionally find a rather lazy attitude towards people of other backgrounds; that it’s not worth finding out about other cultures because “they’re just not like us.”

On a slightly less serious note then, The Apprentice this week was definitely one of the best episodes of the season. 🙂

I’m starting to think that the show is specifically tailored to my own viewing pleasure as two of my favourite issues (grammar and racism) have now been covered in the past few episodes. 😉

After an argument over the correct placement of an apostrophe last week, I was equally thrilled when this week, when the pathetic cultural ignorance of the candidates was revealed:

Brushing aside the fact that in a multicultural society, really, everyone should at least know what kosher is, (let alone halal), pretending to belong to a particular religious group to curry favour with your potential employer is probably not the best idea. At least, it’s not one of the techniques they taught us at careers advice at uni.

Whilst I was pleased with the result, I really felt that Michael should have been fired; first of all for being confused over grammar rules, secondly for pretending to be “half Jewish” (whatever that means) and finally, for thinking it might be acceptable to sabotage the other team’s efforts.

Incidentally, there’s no such thing as “half-Jewish.” You either are or you aren’t:

According to the Halacha as interpreted by traditional Jews over many centuries, the offspring of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father is recognized as a Jew, while the offspring of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father is considered a non-Jew. To become a Jew, the child of a non-Jewish mother and a Jewish father must undergo conversion.

Returning to the beautiful subject of grammar, Grammarblog has very helpfully cleared up the issue of whether it was Single’s, Singles, or Singles’:

My view is that National Singles Day is a day to celebrate singles, such as Pancake Day is a day to celebrate the pancake. So no apostrophe is required.

Damn it. I have to admit at this point that I was under the impression that it was both plural and possessive, hence “Singles’ Day.” Let’s swiftly move on… 😳

Here’s one extra rather brilliant Apprentice clip, where the entrepreneurial candidates attempt to find a “Holy Man” (where’s Eddie Murphy when you need him?) to “bless” the chicken:

As a final thought, for the remaining few people who might still be confused about the distinction between kosher and halal, I thought I would be very helpful and provide some definitions, should they still be in demand. A brief run through the rules of kashrut:

Although the details of kashrut are extensive, the laws all derive from a few fairly simple, straightforward rules:

  • Certain animals may not be eaten at all. This restriction includes the flesh, organs, eggs and milk of the forbidden animals.
  • Of the animals that may be eaten, the birds and mammals must be killed in accordance with Jewish law.
  • All blood must be drained from the meat or broiled out of it before it is eaten.
  • Certain parts of permitted animals may not be eaten.
  • Fruits and vegetables are permitted, but must be inspected for bugs
  • Meat (the flesh of birds and mammals) cannot be eaten with dairy. Fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables and grains can be eaten with either meat or dairy. (According to some views, fish may not be eaten with meat).
  • Utensils that have come into contact with meat may not be used with dairy, and vice versa. Utensils that have come into contact with non-kosher food may not be used with kosher food. This applies only where the contact occurred while the food was hot.
  • Grape products made by non-Jews may not be eaten.
  • There are a few other rules that are not universal.

And for halal:

Now to make meat halal or permissible, an animal or poultry has to be slaughtered in a ritual way known as Zibah. To make it readily comprehended halal is somewhat like Jewish kosher and, Zibah is with some exception similar to Shechita. The Qur`an gives following underlined injunctions in chapter al-Maida 5:3 that:

  • Zibah require animals to be alive and healthy at the time of slaughter, since carrion is forbidden and, jugular vein, carotid artery and windpipe have to be severed by a razor sharp knife by a single swipe, to incur as less a pain as possible. Here the only difference is that a rabbi will read what is required by his faith and, a Muslim will recite tasmiya or shahada, which fulfils the requirement of dedication. The question of how to overcome the issue of recitation of shahada on individual bird whence we now have poultry being slaughtered at a rate of six to nine thousand per hour, has already been addressed. A Muslim is commanded to commence all his deeds in the name of Allah.
  • All the flowing blood (al- An`am 6:145) must be drained out of the carcass, as blood is forbidden
  • Swine flesh is also forbidden, and it is repeated in few other places in the Qur`an
  • Forbidden is an animal that has been killed by strangling or by a violent blow, or by a headlong fall

So there you have it. Kosher and halal are indeed similar but different. So now hopefully there’s no more excuses. 😉

Oh dear. Boris? Seriously!?

Ok, so when I heard that Boris Johnson (“Bojo” as he’s fondly known by his Tory chums) was elected London mayor, let’s just say I was less than pleased. Of course, not officially being a London resident, it’s not like I had a vote anyway, so there really wasn’t much I could do about it.

What this local election does succinctly demonstrate, however, is what can happen when voters are faced with a lack of choice. Frustrated with Brown’s lack of leadership and the abolition of the 10p tax rate, traditional Labourites revolted en masse, leading to the worst council election results that Labour have had for 40 years.

The other deeply worrying consequence of lack of choice was that the (overtly racist) British National Party (BNP) won its first seat in the London assembly. Richard Barnbrook’s views on multiculturalism are less than encouraging:

“You may have your religion behind your closed doors, but you don’t bring it onto the streets,” he said

Back to Boris. I just couldn’t mention Boris, without mentioning that Arnie doesn’t think too highly of him. And as wacky as he is, just as this rather apt Facebook group reminds us, he’s STILL a Tory! No matter how many times he appears on Have I Got News for You, he’ll still be one of David Cameron’s old school chums.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that he’s made some dreadful slip ups in the past (far too many to mention here), could this be a chance at redemption? Afterall, you never really know what kind of a leader someone’s going to be until they’re in the hot seat (Brown, for example). With that in mind, only time will tell what kind of mayor Boris will make. In any case, with voters anxious for change, a few more years with Ken were pretty unfeasible.

So, this is Boris’ chance to prove himself; we’ll have to wait and see just how effective he is. London mayor? I guess I can learn to live with that. However, I was disturbed to learn that Boris Johnson’s ultimate ambition is to one day make his mark in No. 10, Downing Street.

Can you imagine? Boris Johnson as PM?? I mean, I know that stranger things have happened (George Bush as the most powerful man in the free world, the Terminator ruling over California, for example), but still. From the results of this election, there seems to be a good chance that it could be Cameron who takes the seat of power next. But wouldn’t it be interesting if it was Obama in the States and Boris in the UK?

Now there’s a double-act who could definitely out-strange Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in the The Odd Couple…

Alltop has got Muslim news covered!

Yes, it’s true, Muslim.Alltop.com is the latest category to be added to Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop. Featuring approximately 150-160 Islamic news sites and general bloggery written by Muslims, the site aptly demonstrates that Muslims are a diverse bunch, with a wide spectrum of of views and opinions. In the same vein as the Gallup world polls, it’s the ideal place to go if you find out for yourself what Muslims really think.

Incidentally, Alltop also has a new feature where blogs can be removed according to personal preference, adding an extra layer of customisation. It now has approximately 70 topics, with new categories being added every day.

And yes, the evolution blog is indeed one of many featured. As well as featuring prominent news sites such as Al Jazeera, AIM Islam and IslamCrunch, Muslim.alltop is a great source for new blogs that you didn’t know about. Muslim Lolcats, for example. Or Confessions of a Funky Ghetto Hijaabi, where popular films such as “Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies” get a “Muslim make-over.” (See, some of us even have a sense of humour! 😉 ) Another great resource for Muslim sites is the Islamic Blog Directory (also featured on Muslim.Alltop!)

So, unlike news sources such as the Daily Mail, Muslim.Alltop cuts through the spin and provides a far more reliable window into current Muslim thinking.

Ayn Rand, Socialism and Some Reflections

I started this blog for a multitude of reasons, but mostly as a means to express some of my thoughts and opinions on current affairs. It has been an enjoyable (albeit time-consuming!) process, and sharing opinions in public means that you’re forced to analyse why you believe certain things.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. I just finished reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a deeply engaging and thought-provoking book, which is a powerful and openly challenging criticism of socialism. I think that regardless of one’s beliefs about individualism, Atlas Shrugged is a must-read for anyone. As a left-leaning liberal, I profoundly disagree with many aspects of Randian philosophy, but I think it was important in allowing me to analyse why I believe in socialist ideals.

Atlas at the Rockefeller Plaza, New York.

I think that to understand Rand’s views more fully, I need to read some of her non-fiction pieces. Whilst Atlas Shrugged is no doubt powerful, the central problem is that it is fictitious. For example, I felt that none of the so-called “socialist” characters in Rand’s novels truly believed in the ideals of socialism, and so rather than a criticism of the morality of selflessness, Atlas Shrugged is more a criticism of the Machiavellian socialists who exploit liberalism to wield power and manipulate those who do sincerely believe in the socialist ideology.

Additionally, I also felt Rand’s novel to be tediously moralising; it’s one thing to proclaim ambition as virtuous, quite another to claim that working for the good of the people is “evil.” I felt the use of language such as “evil” and “sacrifice” were also highly manipulative. In the introduction, I read that Rand had originally intended to introduce another character, a priest who was sincerely selfless, but he was omitted, since Rand apparently did not believe that such a character was believable. I wonder what her true intention was in omitting that character. Perhaps if she has included that character, Atlas Shrugged would have been a little more balanced.

I think Rand ignores that when one chooses to help others, it’s not sacrifice, because those who do help others truly believe that it’s the “right” thing to do. In that way, it’s benevolence, rather than sacrifice, because for some helping others is pursuing their own self-interest, since that’s what makes them happy and fulfilled in life. Although Rand was an atheist, Atlas Shrugged is not just a criticism of the purpose behind spirituality, but rather of anyone who believes that their purpose is anything but pursuing their own self-interest.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed Atlas Shrugged because it is a deeply engaging piece of literature; the fast-paced mystery story would indeed provide interesting material for a movie, which I’m very much looking forward to. As an aside, though, I really don’t think Angelina Jolie is quite suited to the role of Dagny Taggart, but that’s beside the point. 🙂 And, I truly believe that everyone should read Atlas Shrugged, since it’s a philosophy like no other. It takes a basic human premise that we all take for granted (that helping others is the right thing to do) and completely turns it on its head. In addition, it’s one of those books that receives a lot more attention in the States than in Europe, and so from a European perspective, it’s essential to understanding the capitalist ideal.

For example, living in the UK, with the benefits of the NHS, I’ve always found it hard to understand why anyone would be against universal healthcare and education for all. Despite strongly believing in the welfare state, Ayn Rand provides an alternative view that I found difficult to comprehend previously. However, I have to stipulate, that despite the internal problems with the NHS, I truly believe the system works. Morgan Spurlock’s “30 Days” shows what happens when one tries to survive on minimum wage. My question is that without universal healthcare, if you’re ill, you can’t work. Without working, you can’t pay for healthcare and so ensues a vicious circle of poverty.

In addition, living in the UK, I’ve seen that the system works. Taxes pay for healthcare and education, people born into poverty work hard and are able to reap the benefits of their achievements. They then “give back” through taxes allowing the next generation to flourish in a meritocracy. There’s no doubt that there are always disadvantages, as no system is perfect, but in general, the benefits outweigh the costs.

As a final note, Atlas Shrugged contains undeniable truths about human nature, envy and the price of success.

“Do you know the hallmark of the second-rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement.

“Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own – they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal – for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes, thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them – while you’d give a year of your life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them.

“They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors – hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom – the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men you don’t respect?

“Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”

— Dr. Robert Stadler, to Dagny Taggart in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

It’s refreshing to find yourself agreeing with the author in spite of yourself, and despite knowing what the broader underlying implications of her philosophy are. One thing’s for sure though: time waits for no man. Whatever it is you want out of life, just pursue it to your fullest capacity and let nothing hold you back. Because life is too short to let other people tell you that you can’t do something.

Photo credit: Atlas at the rock, jackx on Flickr

The Gallup World Polls: What 1.3 Billion Muslims Really Think

The blogosphere is rife with discussion of the release of Geert Wilder’s (boring) new film ‘Fitna.’ The less said about this film, the better, but luckily, on the evolution blog, I like to offer an alternative point of view, and cover issues that don’t always receive the press attention that they should do. 🙂 So excuse me, whilst I skip right past the tedious topic of yet another deliberately offensive propaganda piece and move onto a topic that is rather more factual and statistical in nature. 😉

I briefly mentioned the Gallup World Polls in a previous post, but I think it would be interesting to look at a selection of the results in more detail. The Gallup Poll of the Muslim World is the most in-depth study of the Muslim world, so if you really want to know what the majority of Muslims think, this is perhaps the most definitive and comprehensive research work to examine. The study (PDF) encompasses six years of research, and respondents were polled about a variety of issues. Extremism, Islam and the West and women’s rights were just some of the issues that respondents were invited to comment on.

A key objective of this poll was to capture the voices of the silent majority, rather than the perhaps, shall we say, outspoken opinions that we are used to seeing in the daily press coverage. 😉

However, I would like to stress that I am not excusing the Muslim world of any guilt. No matter how many polls there are, the truth is that there is a proportion of Muslims who protest over cartoons but say remain silent over cases such as that of Mukhtaran Bibi. They may be a minority, yes, but nevertheless, there are still needs to be a broader focus on the issue of human rights. What I am saying, however, is the image of Muslims portrayed by mediocre publications such as The (ghastly) Daily Mail and the (atrocious) Express are fallacious and only create further divisions in society.

The Gallup site contains summary reports of the findings of the poll, and I’m going to summarise some key points from each of the reports.

Islam & Democracy (PDF)

In sharp contrast to the “Us vs. Them,” “Islam vs. the West,” Samuel Huntingdon “Clash of Civilisations” myth that some Muslims and people in the West seek to perpetuate, the Gallup poll showed that Americans and Muslims share many of the same values. For example, the polls showed that most Muslims embraced the values of freedom of speech:

Substantial majorities in all nations surveyed — the highest being 99% in Lebanon, 94% in Egypt, 92% in Iran, and 91% in Morocco — said that if they were drafting a constitution for a new country, they would guarantee freedom of speech, defined as “allowing all citizens to express their opinions on political, social, and economic issues of the day.”

Gallup poll: Islam and Democracy

In Reponse to “Muslims don’t care about improving relationships with us”

Despite 58% of Americans believing that Muslims don’t care about improving relationships with the West, a minority (ranging from 10%-37%) said that this was true. In addition, only 11% of Americans said that reaching a better understanding between Muslims and the West was a low priority.The data shows that there is great disparity between the perceptions of the groups, as both sides want to improve relations, whilst believing that the opposing side believes the opposite.

On Extremism

Currently, 33% (PDF) of Americans believe that Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. However, the Gallup poll data showed that just 7% of the respondents polled across 10 countries made up the ‘radical extremist’ faction.

However, interestingly, the political radicals were on average, better educated and more affluent than the moderates. This is rather worrying, but on the other hand, given that one might expect the opposite, it may indicate that the perception that the roots of extremism lie in lack of education or a poor economic situation, is most likely a gross over-simplification.

This post covers just a few of the Gallup World polls statistics, but for more information, you can visit the Gallup website, or indeed, take a look at John L. Esposito’s Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.

As an aside, if you’re interested in a critical analysis of the (dreadfully boring) Fitna, (which I decided to watch-the longest 20 or so minutes of my life), the Washington Post has a good feature article explaining why Fitna “is such a bore that it has only given freedom of expression a bad name.” 🙂

To conclude, I would like to stress that there is no doubt that there is a long way to go toward improving relations between Muslims and the West. Clearly, there are gross misconceptions on both sides, but these polls show that there is some hope for the future, that the bleak picture of despair and hopelessness painted by Western media outlets is perhaps a little far off.

Muslims and non-Muslims alike must strive to be more open-minded, build relationships and strive towards a more peaceful future, where people of all faiths and backgrounds can live together, side by side.

The New Enlightenment: The Role of Women in Muslim Reformation

First, of all, apologies for the long gap in blogging; work commitments as well as general laziness are my less than adequate excuses. Having said that, last week, I attended a lecture by Professor Madhavi Sunder, who is a leading scholar in the field of legal regulation of culture. Her lecture was deeply insightful and thought provoking, so in that respect, a week to reflect on the conclusions of the talk was most welcome.

In 2006, Sunder was awarded a Carnegie Corporation scholarship, to support her writing a new book entitled “The New Enlightenment: How Muslim Women are Bringing Religion Out of the Dark Ages.” Sunder is a thoughtful and engaging speaker and a passionate advocate of human rights. It was refreshing to hear her views on Islam because her work is mainly aimed towards a Western audience. It seeks to dispel the myths that Islam is incompatible with the Western lifestyle and refutes the Samuel Huntingdon model of the clash of civilisations. However, primarily, Sunder’s work focuses on changing the established mindset of Muslim women to secure equal rights and freedoms.

During the talk, Sunder clarified the lecture’s title, explaining that she is not suggesting that Islam itself that is in the “dark ages,” but rather how the religion is perceived, interpreted and indeed practiced in many parts of the world.

First of all, it is important to establish how the “old enlightenment” differs from the “new enlightenment.” The old enlightenment entailed taking cultural practice and religion out of the domains of the law, so that people pursue liberty and equality in the public sphere, i.e. our pursuit of freedom exists outside the realms of religion or culture. However, this does not always prevent the violation of human rights in the private sphere; Sunder conceptualises the New Enlightenment as the right of women to seek liberty, freedom and equal rights not only in the public spheres of society and law, but also in the private spheres of family, culture, and within religion.

Sunder also cited the recent Gallup World Poll, which asked Muslims across the world what they think of education, democracy, religion and culture. The findings of this poll are to be published shortly in a book entitled “Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think.” The book, written by Dalia Mogahed and John L. Esposito compiles six years of research and more than 50,000 interviews, representing some 1.3 billion Muslims in 35 nations, that are either predominantly Muslim or have sizeable Muslim populations.

The research is thorough and extensive, but some highlights include that when asked about what they admire about the West, Muslims frequently cited political freedom, liberty, fair judicial systems, and freedom of speech. Muslims were also asked to critique their own societies; extremism and inadequate adherence to Islamic teachings were cited as their top grievances. Furthermore, between 82% and 99% of Muslims (varying by country) wanted freedom of speech as part of their constitution.

In their report of extremism, a key finding of the Gallup poll was that both moderate and radical Muslims affirmed religiousity, through stating that religion was an important part of their lives, or through attendance of religious services. Thus, despite the difference in the politics of both groups, it seems that clear that to be against terrorism does not necessitate abandonment of religious beliefs. This supports my assertion that the roots of terrorism do not lie in Islam itself, but rather it stems from its (incorrect) interpretation.

It is interesting to note that whilst 33% of US citizens (at least, perhaps more) believe that Islam encourages violence, the radical group represented just 7% of the total Muslims polled. Whilst I would argue that even 7% is too much, this means that 93% of the world’s Muslims are moderates, dispelling the myth that the majority of Muslims are against the West.

But, I digress. The results of the poll make for interesting reading, and I would highly recommend that you check out the findings for yourself. However, the overall conclusion of the poll debunks the myth that the majority of Muslims support terrorism. Rather, the research suggests that there is no battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world; rather the majority of Muslims want liberty and embrace democratic values.

The problem does not lie in convincing Muslims of a democratic, egalitarian vision, as this is the sort of constitution that the vast majority seeks. However, the problem lies in operationalising these rights, such that Muslims countries have human rights alongside their religious rights and freedom to practice their faith. Madhavi Sunder says:

“Islam is stereotyped as regressive, anti-modern, anti-Western and incompatible with democracy. Too often, the media ignore those people doing the much harder work of exposing Islam’s modern side.”

In other words, religion is not the dark sphere that the West perceives it to be. Muslims have a desire for human rights and freedoms within religion and culture, and this is the essence of the modern enlightenment.

Readers of this blog have asked me about the right of people to leave Islam, and this is indeed one of the basic human rights that must be attained in every nation across the world. With regards to this restriction, Sunder also quoted John Locke’s letter on tolerance:

“No man by nature is bound unto any particular church or sect, but every one joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God.”

I would assert that this restriction is not imposed by Islam itself, but rather by interpreters of its laws. Indeed, there are many verses in the Quran supporting this:

2:256 “There is no compulsion in religion”

16:82 “But if they turn away from you, (O Prophet remember that) your only duty is a clear delivery of the Message (entrusted to you).”

88:21, 22; also see 24:54
“And so, (O Prophet!) exhort them your task is only to exhort; you cannot compel them to believe.”

And this reconstructivist approach was the essence of Sunder’s lecture. For centuries, Muslim women have had their rights violated by patriarchal societies who impose the belief that their abuse of human rights comes from a higher power. Sunder argues that Muslim women must take a critical, textual approach, where they are encouraged to examine the Quranic verses for themselves and challenge the widely held beliefs about the text.

The reality is, that there is no conflict between Western democracy and the practice of religion.

With regards to Sharia law, Sunder argues that whilst the laws of Islam might be divinely guided, they were recorded by men and thus have a historical and temporal basis. Now, whether you believe the laws are divinely guided or not is irrelevant; the vision of new enlightenment is a world where Muslim women do not have to abandon their faith in order to pursue freedom.

The point being, that there is inherent flexibility in these laws to interpret them for the modern era. However, the patriarchal society means that many Muslim women simply do not realise that they have a choice within the religion. Just one of the groups working to change the mindset of Muslim women includes Sisters In Islam (SIS). Their mission statement is well worth reading, but here is a short extract:

“We uphold the revolutionary spirit of Islam, a religion which uplifted the status of women when it was revealed 1400 years ago. We believe that Islam does not endorse the oppression of women and denial of their basic rights of equality and human dignity. We are deeply saddened that religion has been used to justify cultural practices and values that regard women as inferior and subordinate to men and we believe that this has been made possible because men have had exclusive control over the interpretation of the text of the Qur’an.”

Such organisations work with women on the ground to operationalise the liberties and rights of women. SIS works with women to create dialogue about the intepretation of the Quran and challenge their beliefs about what the religion states. They help women to realise that religion, in part, is a human creation, enabling women to separate that which is divinely guided from that which is part of human construction, to redefine and reconstruct the interpretation of Islam.

This reconstructivist approach enables democracy and freedom both within the private realm as well as the public realm, since women are empowered to make autonomous decisions.

After the lecture, I had the opportunity to ask Madhavi about her views of Irshad Manji’s Project Ijtihad. The key point is that human rights and injustices are not challenged because they come from a tradition or history within Islam but becaue every human being has the right to assert and challenge injustice. In that way, it is a universal message for all women who have had cultural patriarchy and injustice imposed on them. Some may call it Ijtihad, whilst others assert that we must attain basic human rights, not because Islam says so, but on the basis of our universal humanity. However, one could argue that the end goal is the same.

I really appreciated Madhavi Sunder’s approach and the lecture was deeply inspirational and refreshing. It challenged the notion that secularism is the only solution to securing rights in the Muslim world. Clearly, given the importance Muslims ascribe to their religion, securalism and abandoning faith, whether in the public or the private sphere is not a viable solution.

The lecture gave me much to think about, and was a welcome change from the bleak picture painted by traditional media outlets, who talk about the deep conflict between Islam and the West and leave me with a sense of hopelessness and despondency. Organisations such as Sisters in Islam are a beacon of light and hope in this dark era. Change will take time, it always does, but with the good work of women such as Zainah Anwar, perhaps we will see the New Enlightenment take shape, challenge traditional ideas about women’s rights in Islam and attain the freedoms and liberties that the Muslim world so greatly desires.

The Gallup Poll reports are available as free downloads from the website of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.
“Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think” is now available from Amazon

As always, please feel free to add your comments.

Is the Orange Prize for Fiction Sexist?

The Orange Prize for Fiction is exclusively awarded to women for contributions to literature. According to Orange, the reason for this is:

When setting up the prize, we wanted to celebrate women’s critical views as well as their writing. And it makes an interesting point of difference with other prizes.

The Times today reported that celebrated author, A.S. Byatt has denounced the prize, saying that “Such a prize was never needed.” Indeed, both A.S. Byatt and Booker prize (actually called the Man Booker Prize, but both men and women are equally eligible!) winner, Anita Brookner have declined offers to enter their books for the Orange prize.

Byatt has a point. Positive discrimination is just that, discrimination. Putting the word “positive” in front of it does not make it a good thing! 😉

The Orange prize does no favours for either men or women. As John Sutherland says: “ghettoising women writers did them more harm them good.”

Feminism was always about asserting equal rights, and being judged on an equal footing with men. Setting up a separate prize for women is not only outdated, it is also extremely patronising. In the modern era, and in a meritocracy, men and women should be judged equally, based on talent, not gender.

For example, the 2005 prize was awarded to Lionel Shriver‘s “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which is one of my favourite books. I would highly recommend it, and anyone who has read it knows that it stands on its own merits and does not need to be commended simply because its author is female.

If we want to celebrate women’s fiction, the way to do it would be to judge their writing according to a universal standard. I can only imagine the backlash if there was a separate prize exclusively for men. It seems ironic that in the 19th century, female authors such as the Brontë sisters had to write under male pseudonyms to compete with their male counterparts, and yet in 2008, such discrimination (“positive” or otherwise!) still exists.

8 Random Things About Me

I was recently challenged to take part in the “8 random things about me” meme by fellow blogger dungeekin, so here goes nothing. There’s so much that I want to do in life, so I’d like to think that this will be a lot more interesting in a few years time, but here goes nothing. 🙂

1. Jane Eyre is my favourite book of all time.
When you love reading, it’s difficult to choose just one favourite book, but I think mine would have to be Jane Eyre. I read it when I was about 12 and I’d like to believe that it deeply influenced my ideas of feminism (does that sound pretentious? It was supposed to!). 😉 Jane’s character challenged traditional role of women in the 19th century, but beyond that, Charlotte Bronte’s writing is just beautiful and timeless. Last year, I went to see the Shared Experience Theatre Company production of it in the West End, which was excellent. However, I think the 1944 Orson Welles film with Joan Fontaine is probably the best movie version, definitely worth checking out.

2. I once played a Chinese laundry worker in the school play.
Acting was never my forte, but when I was 11, I had a small part in our school production of Bugsy Malone, which was both the first and last time I was on the stage. I had one line, (“Chinese rice and noodles”), so not exactly classical Mandarin Chinese, but nevertheless, it was great fun. The less said about my acting skills, the better.

3. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, and I knew all along that he would be proven innocent.
I first heard Thriller when I was two, and even back then, I knew he was a legend. Liking Michael Jackson never made me one of the cool kids at school, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing! 🙂 I never get bored of his music, and yes, I’m one of those crazy people who supported MJ throughout the bad times… think I’ll stop here before I get too sycophantic… 😉

4. I love Japanese food
Ah, sushi and bento. I usually get sushi cravings at least once a week, and salmon hand rolls are great way to get those essential omega-3s and 6s into your diet. I also love miso; not only is it ridiculously healthy, it tastes great and is a great alternative to coffee. Wagamamas is also fabulous; last year they were awarded the prize for the most popular restaurant in the 2007 Zagat survey.

5. I will always watch the following films every time that they’re on:

  • Mrs Doubtfire
  • Big
  • Father of the Bride
  • Groundhog Day
  • Mean Girls (was debating whether this one was too embarrassing to admit…)

I’ve already listed my favourite films on my About page, but everyone has guilty pleasure films that they never tire of. In my defence, I liked Mean Girls before Lynsey Lohan went all crazy, although admittedly, that’s rather a poor excuse by any standards.

6. I love Banksy.
I liked Banksy back when City traders weren’t buying his art. I like Bansky and street art in general because it’s subversive and unpretentious. There’s also something to be said for the freedom of expression that graffiti art represents; not only can anyone appreciate street art, but at the same time, it’s an art form open to anyone, as you don’t need a gallery or even widespread recognition to display your work. 🙂

7. Whatever happens, you’ll always see me wearing a scarf.
I love scarves. No matter if it’s boiling hot or freezing cold, I’ll always be wearing one. My favourite scarf is my Palestinian one (Keffiyeh is the technical term), and not just because it makes look a little more emo, but also because it symbolises Palestinian solidarity.

Well, this isn’t called 8 *random* things for nothing.

8. Sarcasm is my friend.
I really don’t believe those people who say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. Rather, sarcasm is beautiful; the highest form of humour on my opinion. I love sarcasm because it means that you always win in an argument; there’s no way you can debate with a sarcastic person. 😉 And yes, I’m known for my sarcasm, but it’s one of those things that you can’t over-do, otherwise it loses its impact.

Well that’s me done. To continue this meme, I’m nominating my fellow Truemorist, Twitter buddy and friend, Neenz, so be sure to check out her excellent blog about life in beautiful Hawaii.

Update: I’m also nominating a couple of other bloggers for this meme: verso aka Banana Lee Fishbones (real name Kelly; the short story: I helped her out when she was looking for novelty Guantanamo Bay clothing) and also Jenn, who writes one of my favourite blogs: LifeInYour20s, which is definitely worth checking for all twenty-somethings! 🙂