Margari Aziza

February 14, 2014

Letter to Imams

Muslim Anti-Racism Coalition launched this week and many joined the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #BeingBlackAnd Muslim. My Storify of the event explains the idea’s conception, the lead up and phenomenal response. AlJazeera’s The Stream covered and summed up conversation. In her article Being Black and Muslim, Hind Makki, one of the founders of MuslimARC  wrote:

I’ve often said that the three largest challenges facing American Muslim communities are misogyny, racism and sectarianism, which is why I’m proud to be one of the founding members of Muslim ARC.

Like Hind Makki, I’m so honored to work with Muslims of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, denominations, and orientations  of faith came to address racism. This Black History Month, we hope to deepen our conversation with three more hashtags. In addition, on Feb. 20 Twitter Talk with African American Muslim leaders, Dawud Walid, Amin Nathari, Amina Wadud, and Donna Auston.

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And reflecting our move from social networking activism to a grassroots movement, we are asking you to help us by appealing to our imams and khateebs to dedicate at least one khutbah (Friday Sermon) dedicated to intra-Muslim  racism. MuslimARC is focusing our anti-racism khutbahs on Friday Feb. 21st, the anniversary of the iconic Black American Muslim leader Malcolm X. Please share  our letter to imams with imams, khateeb and  local communities. You can email the letter to your local community leader from the website or download a pdf here.  Here is our letter below. Please share widely.

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

February 14, 2014

Assalaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh

We are contacting you on behalf of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC)[1] with a khutbah request for Black History Month. From the time of our Noble Prophet ﷺ‎, anti-Black and anti-African racism has plagued Muslim societies and communities. As you are aware, these beliefs go against the messages that are at the heart of our Holy Qur’an and Prophetic traditions.

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

—Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, The Last Sermon.

One way that we can raise awareness regarding anti-Black racism today is by continuing to educate ourselves and others. If you have not already, would you please consider speaking about Black Muslim history and anti-Black racism in the ummah during your khutbah on Friday, February 21st? As an imam, you are a central figure in many Muslim communities and are thus specially positioned in your community to address these important topics and begin a conversation in your city about an issue that is often not thoroughly addressed. We ask that you take this opportunity to highlight our ethical responsibilities as Muslims to challenge ethnic chauvinism and tribalism.

In the interest of strengthening our brotherhood, we are providing you with a list of topics that we think merit particular attention given what we have observed in our ongoing conversations on social media and with Muslim organizers and activists across the country.

Among the topics that can be explored are as follows:

  • How the Prophet ﷺ specifically dealt with incidents among Sahabah (examples: the hesitancy of some companions to follow Usamah bin Zayd into battle, the Prophet’s ﷺ suggesting the marriage of Usamah to Fatimah bint Qays, and the refusal of Abdur Rahman bin ‘Awf to marry his daughter to Al-Miqdaad bin “Al-Aswad” but Bilal later marrying the sister of bin ‘Awf)
  • Reminding the believers that the use of racial slurs and name-calling are prohibited in Islam (today, in many Islamic schools and other segments of Muslim society, terms like “abeed”, “akata”, “adoon”, “jareer”, and/or “kallu” are frequently used to refer to Black individuals [2])
  • Muslim viewpoints on standing for justice, against oppression, and the duty to strive to rectify any wrongs we see being committed (for example, to speak out when we hear a racial slur being uttered)
  • Our strong tradition of standing with the most marginalized members of society, and reflecting upon how anti-Black racism continues to marginalize Black Americans [3]
  • Bringing attention to issues currently impacting Black Muslims both in the US and abroad, and including these Muslims in your dua (examples: police brutality and the frequency of extrajudicial killings of Black Americans in the United States,[4] including that of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah,[5] and the grave injustices faced by Black Muslims in the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Somalia)
  • The importance of practicing what we preach with regards to community unity and participation (examples: non-Black Muslims welcoming Black Muslims as potential spouses for themselves and their children; ensuring that all Black Muslims feel welcome and included in our masjids; and guaranteeing equal opportunities and treatment in our leadership positions)
  • Analysis of and reminders regarding the Prophet’s ﷺ Last Sermon
  • Our responsibilities towards challenging the nafs and examining where we may improve our adab and akhlaq when it comes to racist tendencies
  • Influential Black Muslims in Islamic history (examples: Luqman the Wise, Bilal (RA), or other lesser known Sahabi and Tabi’een)
  • The work of influential contemporary African or Black American Muslims such as Imam Warith Deen Mohammed
  • Lessons from the struggles of African Muslims brought as slaves to the Americas, such as Omar Ibn Said, Ibrahim Abdur Rahman , or the 19th century community of Muslims on the Sapelo Islands

Lastly, we would like to note that February 21 is the day El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated in New York City, NY in 1965. As he noted in his Letter from Mecca after completing Hajj, “America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem.”[6] His life left a profound mark on American society and continues to inspire Muslims around the world. Still today, nearly 50 years after his death, Muslims of all backgrounds note the role his words have had in calling them to Islam and/or strengthening their imaan.
Thus, giving a “Black History Month Khutbah” is a beautiful way for Muslims nationwide to explore and discuss – together – the legacy of Africans and African American Muslims and their contributions to the ummah. We humbly request that you join us in this initiative so that we are better able to hold fast to the message of unity and brotherhood in Islam.

O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.—The Holy Qur’an, Surat Al-Hujurat, 49:13

Please do not hesitate to contact MuslimARC if you have any questions or to let us know that your congregation will be participating. We are also more than happy to provide you with resources for your khutbah. We encourage you to record your khutbah, if able, and to send a copy or link to the recording to info@muslimarc.org so that others may benefit from your words.

JazakAllah kheir,

MuslimARC,
The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative

Email: info@muslimarc.org
Website: http://www.muslimarc.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/muslimarc
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/muslimarc
Tumblr: http://muslimarc.tumblr.com


[1] MuslimARC is an organization working to find ways to creatively address and effectively challenge racism in Muslim communities. Online at http://www.muslimarc.org.
[2] Dawud Walid, “ Intra-Muslim Racism: Confronting Ethnic Slurs and Racism Among American Muslims” January 19, 2014 from http://www.altmuslimah.com/b/mca/4893/.
[3] 11 Facts About Racial Discrimination, http://www.dosomething.org/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-racial-discrimination.
[4] Rania Khalek, “Every 28 Hours an African American is Extrajudicially Executed in the U.S.” April 15, 2013 http://raniakhalek.com/2013/04/15/every-28-hours-an-african-american-is-extrajudicially-executed-in-the-u-s/.
[5] Dawud Walid, “Year Anniversary of Imam Luqman Shooting Today” October 28, 2010 from http://dawudwalid.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/year-anniversary-of-imam-luqman-shooting/.
[6] Malcolm X, “Letter from Mecca” April 1964 from http://www.malcolm-x.org/docs/let_mecca.htm.

February 3, 2014

Lessons in Misguided Attempts at Solidarity

Photo on 1-23-14 at 5.28 PM

For many Women of Color (WoC), Twitter allows them a platform to engage with thoughts and ideas. It is also a platform for activism, allowing people who would have been marginalized to bring certain issues to the fore, to respond to media coverage, and to engage with people who they might not reach otherwise. Twitter has allowed WoC and other marginalized women opportunities to call out their more privileged sisters. There has even been intense push back against elite White women and feminists because of their exclusion of different voices and perspectives.

I believe that people start out with the best intentions. Most people want to believe that they are inherently good. Most people want to believe that they are not exerted power in a way that has oppressed another. And most people who say the most racist stuff will preface it with, “I’m not racist, but…” Part of this has to do with our own biases about ourselves as people. The vast majority of people will do everything they can to protect their interests and maintain whatever advantages they earned or were given to them in life. When confronted with our privileges, most of us are defensive because we all want to believe that we are good, we are worthy, we are deserving, etc. Often people will wield their unequal advantage against those who may call to question their efforts or stances. And with that in mind, it is important for those in a position of authority,  influence, or power to be even more reflective about how they deal with others.

For awhile, I wondered why so many WoC were railing about White Feminists. Mistakenly, I thought that in the realm of ideas we were all equal. It just mattered who could present their ideas better, who had more articulate positions, and warrants to connect their facts to their argument. But, oh was I wrong. I witnessed power wielded in ways to silence dissenting marginalized women. I saw this happen over the past three days with the online discourse surrounding World Hijab Day (WHD 2014), founded by Nazma Khan. There are many beautiful and thoughtful accounts from non-Muslim participants.

My post is not about  WHD 2014. There are pros and cons to the event, and the jury was still out for me. I largely agreed that Muslim women’s experiences can’t be reduced to wearing a scarf on their head. At the same time, I do applaud their efforts at mobilizing support from non-Muslim women. I feel that others have been done better unpacking some of the problematic aspects of the campaign such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Ms. Muslamic, and NoorulannShahid  But what is important is that we, as Muslim women,  should have a  discussion and exploring what it means to be a Muslim woman. We should also think about solidarity and how to build bridges without becoming reductionist.

Today, I jumped into a debate the broadcaster and theologian, Vicky Beeching, a non-Muslim participant of World Hijab Day 2014.  What I found most troubling with her discussion was that she was completely oblivious to how she wielded her power and privilege to silence dissent about her participation. And she did this all the while claiming empathy for Muslim women and even going so far as to speak for us. In several discussions, she said that dissenters made libelous statements. She even told me that based on my curating the tweets on Storify was , that she would seek legal counsel. There was an uproar on Twitter and some of Vicky’s Muslim friends pointed out that our discussion was not benefitting anyone.

Please see the highlights of the exchange, reaction, and background readings in my first ever Storify

Even if we all were wrong, how can you claim to speak for Muslim women but threaten to use your litigious might and sue us? You would sue someone who observed your gas lighting techniques of argumentation? My little bit of research said that according to US law, that would be a difficult case to prove in US courts. Observation about uncited sources is grounds for libel?  Is this how you show solidarity? No, this is how you intimidate those who don’t have the same platform, who lack the financial resources, who don’t have access to five news sources, and who don’t carry as much symbolic capital.   Is this not an example of good will gone bad? Had the dissent just been dismissed or had she even addressed the Muslim women who were offended by hijab tourism with some iota of respect, I would assume good will. But instead, it just reeks of another opportunity to propel a career and become a victim at the hands of aggressive and angry brown women. The call of friendship and threat of litigation was a bit much to bear. In past discussions, some have argued that interfaith/intercultural conflicts like this are learning opportunities. So, what is the lesson we want to walk away from? No, not all elite White feminists are like this. But when they are, it is deeply hurtful and leaves a lasting impact on many of us who have had to experience these types of erasures throughout our lives
over and over again.

May 16, 2013

Muslim Youth are in the Crosshairs of a Culture of Violence

Filed under: Muslim Communities in America, Muslim Minorities, Social Justice, Street Violence — Margari Aziza Hill @ 9:41 am

Margari Aziza Hill addresses our collective denial about the dangers Muslim youth face and create. soapbox

Media coverage of the mass shootings of Sandy Hook and Aurora Colorado theatre should make Muslims worldwide aware of the proliferation of guns and the culture of violence in America. These tragic events have sparked a national dialogue about gun control, the culture of violence, and mental health. But the American Muslim voice is surprisingly absent from the gun control debate. Muslims often think that they are immune to the problems in broader society. This has led to a magical thinking about our children’s safety and lack of support for policies that could curb gun violence.

Muslim youth in the inner city are just as vulnerable to street violence as non-Muslims. But, outside of honour killings and hate crimes, the issue of gun violence and its effects on inner city Muslim communities are rarely talked about. Most African American Muslims know a friend or family member who has been injured or killed in gunfire. Last semester, my young African American Muslim student asked me to excuse her absence so that she could help her family make arrangements for her brother’s janazah. The 19-year-old had been shot following a verbal altercation in West Philadelphia, an all too frequent occurrence. My cousin Ara Hayward, who is also Muslim, recounted the story of her husband who survived getting shot four times in front of her house. Their stories, as well as the many janazahs I have attended while working in the Philadelphia Muslim community, have raised my awareness that gun violence is a problem. As mums, we have to stop thinking that Arabic names, hijabs, and kufis will shield our children from danger.

According to the Philadelphia Police Department, there were 331 homicides and 1232 shooting victims in 2012. Although the police reports do not indicate the religious identities of the victims or perpetrators, it is clear that there are many Muslim names on both lists. In order to understand the effects of gun violence on the Muslim community, I began to survey Muslims and contact hospital chaplains and masajid. Several respondents to my survey stated that they know of as many as 10 to 15 Muslims killed since 2001. One mother has created QAAMS Hajj foundation, to help facilitate the Hajj for Muslim youth in honour of her son, Qa’id Ameer Abdul- Majeed Staten. He was gunned down in 2003. In the past five years in Philadelphia, I have seen a number of Muslim families devastated by gun violence. Some victims are caught in crossfire like Qa’id, including the young mother of four, Hafeezah Nuri-Deen or the 18 year old Shakuwrah Muhammad who had plans to attend college to become a forensic scientist. There are others who were shot in robberies, such as the newlywed from Morocco, Quadii Soulimani, who was shot just outside the masjid doors on his way to the morning prayer and the 40 year Egyptian America old store clerk, Mustafa Shaker.

Patterns of street violence are not limited to American inner cities or African Americans. Media reports have shown that South Asian and British Muslim gangs exist, scholars have pointed to the rate of Muslims in French prisons, and some Australian reports claim that Muslim immigrants are five times more likely to be involved in crime. Perhaps we need to look at the problem of disaffection of our youth, globally.

Sometimes the magical thinking results in parents overlooking their children getting involved in crime. Aliya Khabir, author of the Islamic Urban fiction novel, Just Be Still, points out that inner city Muslim communities are not addressing gun violence. She observed, “We walk around like it doesn’t exist. We pretend like we’re not the perpetrators either.” She noted, “Looking at my third grade class picture from Clara Muhammad School, only four out of all the guys in a class of 33 have never spent any time in jail.” Muslims have been involved in robberies, cop killings, and even one child kidnapping. Some parents restrict their daughters, but they are much more permissive with their boys. Mums forget how persuasive popular media and peer pressure can be. Many of our youth are not involved in crime or gangs, but because they want to be accepted they may find themselves in harm’s way by hanging out with gang members. This is why we have to be vigilant about our children’s peer groups, regardless of gender.

Our communities also have to move beyond magical thinking. Many inner city mosques are located in areas of high frequency gun violence and crime. Some Muslim leaders have taken a stand against violence, participating in interfaith peace walks. But some of our communities have developed an insular approach and assumed that these are the problems of the kuffar. Collectively, communities have not developed programmes to make streets safer for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Instead, we long for the good old days when wearing Islamic garb would protect Muslims from harm. However, Muslims earned that respect from their commitment to developing the community and living exemplary lives. Our failure to address the social decay and blight surrounding our masajid in the past two decades has been the greatest blemish on our record.

We have to begin to think of programmes that can affect positive change in our communities, including economic development, neighbourhood watches and youth programming. This is where we need to think about programmes such as Cure Violence, which has been featured in the documentary The Interrupters. Ameena Matthews has courageously stood on the frontlines, positively impacting her community. Her work demonstrates that curbing violence is not simply pushing legislation, but also transforming the culture and communities in which we live. And this is the work we have to do to ensure the safety of our children and those who come after them.

Margari Aziza Hill is an adjunct professor, freelance writer, blogger and editor who resides just outside of Philadelphia.

You can read the full article and other great pieces in the May edition of SISTERS magazine.

 

January 4, 2013

Pilgrimage for Life

Pilgrimage for life
Like many converts, I was drawn to Islam’s egalitarian message. Through Muslim student groups on college campuses and community life in various masajid,  I developed close friendships with Muslim women from all parts of the world. We were brought together by our mutual love for Allah and His Messenger.  The bonds that I developed with some of them gave me a sense of real belonging and acceptance that I had not felt with my high school friends and even member of my own family. But there were also  times when those cross cultural encounters brought to light some unsettling realities of racism and colorism. But by addressing our shortcomings we can meet the challenge and create communities that are more closely aligned with the example set by our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

Although language and cultural differences can create challenges to forming social bonds, perceptions of race and ethnic identity can have the greatest impact on how well some women are received by a community.  When asked how her ethnic identity influenced her integration into the Muslim community, Keziah. S. Ridgeway, an African American  high School Social Studies teacher, responded that her outgoing personality helped bridge the cultural divide. She noted, “however, as time wore on I did realize that many of the people that I hung out with had biases towards people who looked like myself.”  Safiyyah, a white American convert, said that her ethnicity as an Ashkenazi Jew influenced her integration because some Muslims were suspicious of her and others denied her cultural identity. She added that by extension of her African American husband, she has experienced discrimination. “We rarely get invited to the homes of immigrant Muslims. This is despite the fact that the Muslims in our mosque know us very well, and that my husband and I are active in our mosque.” Some argue that this is old world thinking and they place their hopes on the next generation.

In many Islamic schools, students socialize along racial lines,   repeating the social patterns of their own racially segregated Muslim communities. The language that many of the Arab American students use alienates a number of African American students. Kezia highlighted the common usage of the word abeed (Arabic for slave) to refer to African Americans. She said,  “their parents use it on a regular basis to describe African Americans. To them it’s just a cultural term and many don’t understand why it evokes anger from their Black counterparts.” In a Michigan school, when two weekend school teachers disciplined a child for using the term, the parents came to the child’s defense. Islamic schools are often a crucible for race relations in our ummah.

The sad reality in our Islamic schools and segregated communities contrasts with the egalitarian message that we find in the Qur’an, which says:

“O Humankind! We have created you from male and female and have made you into peoples (shu‘ub) and tribes (qaba’il) that you may know one another; truly, the noblest (akram) among you before God are the most pious (atqa) among yourselves; indeed, is God the All-knowing, the All-seeing.” (49:13).

The Prophet (PBUH) said during his farewell pilgrimage:

Oh humankind, your Lord is one and your ancestors are one. You are from Adam and Adam was from dust. Behold, neither the Arab has superiority to the non-Arab, nor the red to the black nor the black to the red except by virtue of piety (taqwa). Truly the most distinguished amongst you is the most pious

Yet, Muslims old and young are often stereotyped and categorized by their ethnic background and color of their skin.

Some have argued that the colorism and racism we find in the Muslim ummah is due to colonization. Yet, we can find even in classical Islamic literature racial hierarchies. Ibn Khaldun wrote disparaging of sub-Saharan Africans as lacking intellect. A famed Andalusian poetess, Hafsah Ar-Rukaniyyah  (1190-1191) asked Abu Jaffar how could he love a Black woman, ”Who is altogether like the night, which hides beauty/
And with darkness obscures the radiance of a face?” In the chapter on marriage in the Revival of the Religious Sciences,  Imam Ghazali wrote, “a black woman is better than a barren beautiful women,” implying that black women cannot be beautiful. Blacks were assumed to not have status in Arab society. This was reflected in some classical positions where a man could marry a black woman as a guardian. Their documentation  points to how Muslims fall short of our ideals. Blind acceptance of social norms and customs perpetuate ignorance and bias. Ethnic chauvinism leads to arrogance and robs us of our ability to see the inherent value and beauty of each human being.

Like racism, colorism is a blight in our community.  I found the traces of colorism in my students’ creative writing projects as they wrote about protagonists with skin as white as milk. Dark skin has been looked down upon in many Muslim societies through the ages. And now, there is a huge market playing into fears and insecurities.  Some halal and international markets in the US are stocked with bleaching cream. There are young girls who fear playing outside lest they become black and ugly.   Girls and women with curly and kinky hair struggle with issues of self worth and shame because they can’t tame their curls into submission. The standard of beauty is centered around pale skin and straight hair, with as European features as possible. An international student from the Gulf suggested that I pinch my daughter’s nose to make it grow straight and pointy. She recently expressed a desire to have work done on her own nose.  The frequent comments about my daughter’s fair complexion and the Muslim obsession with European features makes me shudder to think about what type of self image will my curly haired, button nosed daughter have in the Muslim community. While living in abroad, one friend said that in the West there are many types of beauty, but in Egyptian society there was one standard. It worries me that we use veiled rhetoric about liberating ourselves from western standards of beauty with hijab, all the while embracing notions of beauty that are just as oppressive, if not more. The beauty regime of whitening and straightening continues even as the society becomes more outwardly religious.

Challenging beauty norms or patterns of racism in our community can seem daunting for the individual.  Muslim womanSafiyyah said to “Remember all the Qur’an and ahadith that speaks out against racism” and “defend victims of racism when it occurs.” Citing the example of the “We’re All Abeed of Allah” campaign, which uses T-shirts and wristbands to deliver their message, Kezia argued that Muslims must unite and form coalitions to change racial perceptions. Her role as an educator, activist,  and Muslim fashion blogger places her in a special position to address these changes through education and meaningful dialogue.  Both women point the power of women’s voices. We need to speak up and against expressions racism and colorism. The disease of prejudice that plagues our community can be cured if enough of us create a stigma against violating the prophetic example.

You can read the full article and other thoughtful pieces at Sisters Magazine  January 2013 edition “All the Colours of the Ummah”

July 21, 2011

Feeding America and Fidya for Ramadan

Filed under: charity, Muslim Communities in America, Sadaqah, Social Justice, Uncategorized — Margari Aziza Hill @ 3:54 am

“Alms are for the poor and the needy; and those employed to administer (the funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah; and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.” (Al-Qur’an, 9: 60)

Whether they assume that state agencies will take care of America’s poor or the poor in America are not deserving of charity, giving to charitable organizations in America is often not the top of the list in many national Muslim organizations. Many Muslims think that in America, Land of the Plenty, that people are not starving. But according to Feeding America, there are over 50 million Americans who suffer from hunger, that is 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children. Many people often blame those who have found themselves reduced to begging in the street or finding a cot in shelters for their condition. This is the land of opportunity, right? However, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the recent wave of tornadoes, in addition to the tanking economy, have shown that people have been reduced to poverty through forces outside their control. Islamic Relief has some America-based programs, but I have only seen a few mosque sponsored soup kitchens and food pantries.   This is a most unfortunate situation that serves to undermine us as a community and, I believe, our faith. This is especially important when we think about the chapter 107  of the Quran Ma’un (Alms or Small kindness):

Seest thou one who denies the Judgment (to come)?

Then such is the (man) who repulses the orphan (with harshness),

And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.

So woe to the worshippers

Who are neglectful of their prayers,

Those who (want but) to be seen (of men),

But refuse (to supply) (even) neighbourly needs.

Suhaib Webb has a powerful tafsir (explanation)  of this chapter in “Explanation of Surah al-Ma’un,” showing how this small chapter is packed with so much meaning. It shows how our actions towards the poor is really a reflection of our state of faith. How can we truly believe in the Day of Recompense, when we face human wretchedness and do nothing to alleviate suffering? We do it all the time, as we are desensitized to it or fear that giving will decrease our wealth. And we hold on to our wallets and pocketbooks, forgetting that the money have is not really our own, but a loan from God. He gives sustainance, and if we have true faith we wouldn’t worry about giving Him back what He is due by offering charity.

Other well meaning Muslims ignore poverty in America because of, what I believe, are  misplaced priorities. Many Muslims say that people overseas are suffering more, so they are more deserving. Yet, the order of giving charity is first to our families, neighbors, and then to needy. What good is our religion, if we are not able to affect those closest to us? And, importantly, what kind of message are we sending our American neighbors about our commitment to being contributing members of our community and good citizens?  How are we handing someone da’wah pamphlets, yet refusing to give them a helping hand? Many Americans see our community as parasitic, enjoying the economic benefits of this society while working to undermine it. And sad to say, the anti-establishment rhetoric of some Muslims in America has served to support those perceptions.  The us-versus-them rhetoric has also led many to turn their backs on suffering Americans. Or the insular ethnic communities with an emphasis to ties back home has also caused many of us to ignore the immediate needs of our neighbors, whether Muslim or non-Muslim. And so, we are seen  by our neighbors building our masajid, but not making any positive impact on society. At best, we become tolerated, but not welcome neighbors, at worst we are seen as an existential threat to America. We have to take ownership of how neglectful we have been in providing a positive example.

Surah Ma’un reminds us  that are neglectful of our prayers because we ignore feeding the poor, the orphans, and being kind to our neighbors in need. This is especially important during Ramadan. While our fast is for God alone, we have an increase in public acts of worship, with mosques filling up to capacity. There are more opportunities for showing off because of the supererogatory taraweh prayers each night. While I am in 100% support of those who spend time in the mosque and believe this is a great opportunity rejuvenate our faith, we have to make sure we are not just doing things for show. And how does this Surah Ma’un show the correlation? By doing kind acts we can avoid falling into the category of hypocrites or those who deny the Day of Recompense.

Further, our charity as Muslims should increase and it should be to alleviate suffering, not just to feed ourselves. While paying for an iftar is a commendable thing, as we get reward for feeding a fasting person, we should not limit our charity to that. We should take care of the orphans, feed the needy, and do kind acts for those around us. In essence, we should have some social impact. The Muslim footprint should especially be felt during Ramadan in this society. There is so much evidence that shows that Ramadan is not just about fasting.

Evidence for this can be seen in what serves as expiation for those who are unable to fast. For those who  are unable to fast, those who have a chronic disease or are elderly, it is important to pay the compensation, fidya, for missed days. The Hidaya Foundation writes on their page:

  • The price of Fidya for each day of missed fasts is either to feed a poor person two meals in a day, or to give whole wheat, which is enough to feed a poor person twice in a day (1/2 Saa per Hanafi school of thought, or 1 Saa per Shaafi and other schools of thought). (1 Sa = 3 Kilograms approx.)
  • The Fidya price for one who has to pay it should be calculated based on the local prices of whole wheat in the place the person resides.
  • The price for Fidya in the USA is $3.50 by the Hanafi school of thought, and $7.00 according to the Shaafi and other schools of thought.

Scholars have disagreed on whether or not fidya applies for someone who either broke a fast for a certain period or missed a day because of menses, pregnancy, nursing, or 40 days after childbirth, but does not fall into the category of the elderly or individual has a chronic disease and therefore can no longer fast. Faraz Rabbani explains in Who can pay my fidya +make up fasts, “In the Hanafi school, there is no fidya for delayed making up of missed fasts. Rather, one simply makes up the missed fasts themselves–and it is recommended to hasten to do so. [ Shurunbulali, Maraqi al-Falah; Ibn Abidin, Radd al-Muhtar.” Other schools take a different opinion, saying  that for those who can one day make up a fast, should still pay the fidya for each day they missed.  Shaykh Hamza Karamali answers in Payment (fidya) for not making up days from last Ramadan:

According to the Shafi`i school, if one does not fast some days during Ramadan, it is obligatory to make up these missed fasts before the next Ramadan arrives, regardless of whether these fasts were missed with a valid excuse (e.g. menstruation, travel, sickness, etc.) or without a valid excuse.  If one does not make them up before the next Ramadan, one is sinful and must pay a “mudd” (a volumetric measure defined below) of food to someone poor (faqeer) or short of money (miskeen) in addition to making up the missed fasts (I`anatu’l-Talibin, 2.242;Tuhfat al-Muhtaj, 3.445-446).


A “mudd” is the amount one can hold in both hands when cupped together. It is estimated in the Reliance as 0.51 liters (Reliance, i1.33). The type of food one gives varies from place to place. One must pay whatever food is considered the main staple in the area where one lives. This could be wheat, barley, rice or something else (al-Minhaj al-Qawim + al-Hawashi al-Madaniyya, 2.194).

Feeding (it`am) a poor person, as Imam Bajuri (Allah have mercy on him) explains in the section on expiating (kaffara) for fast days that one has invalidated, means giving him ownership (tamleek) of the food. It is not sufficient to cook the food and then invite him to one’s house for lunch or dinner (Hashiyat al-Bajuri, 1.319). Rather, the poor person must be given possession of the food (e.g. a bag of wheat) and then he can do what he wants with it (e.g. eat it, sell it, give it away to someone else, give it back to you and ask you to cook it for him, etc.). As such, it would not be sufficient to invite the people to a feast. One would have to give them the actual staple food.

A number of women I talked to, to be on the safe side are giving the fidya for the days that they cannot fast with the intention of one day making up the days.  However one mistake many of us often make is by sponsoring an iftar or inviting a friend over for dinner with the idea that we are fulfilling the fidya. Regardless of the price, it is clear that the qualification for who gets the fidya should be someone who is qualified to be a recipient of zakat. The poor and the needy are people who cannot pay zakat themselves because they don’t have enough money. And I think these technicalities are important to remember as we are nearing the Blessed month of Ramadan. Are we feeding the poor, helping organizations that distribute money to the poor, helping new converts (for that is what it means of “those reconciled [to truth]),” helping those crippled by debt, giving to God’s cause, or taking care of the travelers? For those of us who need expiation for missed fasts or whether we want to simply increase our charity, our kindness should not just be based on geo-politics or ethnic ties.  This Ramadan, we should move our focus away from lavish feasts at iftars and work towards alleviating  suffering and hunger locally and globally.

**Update **

Islamic Relief USA inaugurated a summer food service program to feed working class children in Maryland healthy meals.  You can read more about it here. Good job Islamic Relief! We need more of this.

January 27, 2011

Spending Priorities

Filed under: Social Justice, teaching — Margari Aziza Hill @ 5:42 am

In light of today’s article, Social Security Fund Will be Drained by 2037, I’ve been thinking about our spending priorities.

This pie chart is insightful, considering the backlash against the Health Care Bill. There is little outcry about military spending. When will that run out? Whatever side one may fall on in the political spectrum, it is clear that our government is doing little to invest in the future. The 5% total going towards education and scientific and technological innovation makes that most evident. The question of education raises a number of important issues. The reality is that we don’t have a constitutional right to an education. Education is really the domain of the states, with education funds coming from local property taxes. This, within itself, leads to social inequality and injustices against women like Kelly Williams-Bolar. She broke the rules in order to ensure their children quality education and registered her kids at her father’s address. Now she is a convicted felon and her career is destroyed. Education is becoming less and less of a priority on both a state and federal level. Five states spend more on prisons than higher education. As the New York Times Article, Prison Spending Outpaces All but Medicaid, points out:

One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study.

Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades, according to the report Monday by the Pew Center on the States, the first breakdown of spending in confinement and supervision in the past seven years.

I don’t think that either Party has the puzzle solved. We definitely need to get our spending priorities right and invest in improving our country. Otherwise, it is clear where we’re going.

November 7, 2008

Obama and the Discourse on Race in the Muslim Community

Filed under: Muslim Communities in America, Obama, Race in America, Social Justice, Uncategorized — Margari Aziza Hill @ 9:58 pm

This post is a collection of ideas that developed elsewhere on blogs and in email exchanges.

Those who have mixed feelings about Barack Obama’s election are often focused on foreign policy issues, specifically Palestine. This victory has more to do with an internal change in American society, foreign policy issues. But it has everything to do with the place Black Americans have in American society. And for Black American Muslims, this also profoundly changes the defined roles we have in American society. The most famous and recognizable Black man is an intellectual and Head of State (considering the last presidency, I think it is important to point out both). The reality is, that the public image of Black Americans, and let us not forget Africans on the continent and in Diaspora, defines our role in the American Muslim community. How so? Our public image shapes the ways in which our fellow co-religionists see us. Barack Obama’s presidency inverts a number of stereotypes that many in the Muslim community in the US and abroad have about Black Americans. In much of Muslim world outside of sub-Saharan Africa, people associate Blackness with slavery and inferiority. I recognize that this might not change the fact that when I go to the masjid in America, some immigrant Muslims will assume I am uneducated, broke, and not as valuable of an asset to the Ummah as a white convert.

While his presidency might not change all their negative associations, most people never imagined that so many white Americans would vote for a Black man as head of state. It signals that we are part of the American fabric, not just waiting for the some outside force to raise us up from our undignified and destitute state. Muslim organizations that cater to immigrant communities may begin to see that it is politically expedient to align themselves with the Black community. Elected officials have to address the Black interest groups and political and community service organizations. We have two Black American Muslim congressmen, which I think is telling in light of the fact that associating with Muslims is still a political liability. Only recently have some Muslim organizations saw the importance of working to build coalitions with the Black political establishment, like the Black Caucus, and organizations that have addressed the needs and interests of Black Americans as well as other ethnic groups.

This reminds me of an event I sent to organized by ING, where I realized how Black American Muslims were rendered invisible in the discourse on Islam which was dominated by mainstream national Muslim organizations and the media. On that day I went to an ING event where the theme was the faces of American Muslim women. Although there are so many Black Muslim professional, student, and volunteer women, not one had been invited to speak. There were Arab women, white women, South Asian women, even East Asian women, but not one Black woman. Given that we are 40% of the Muslim population, I found that extremely odd and in fact insulting. They were saying, “We are just like you, Americans!” A number of organizations have marginalized Black voices in their attempts to portray Islam as an American religion. They have highlighted and celebrated white converts over Black converts, seeing the conversion of white Americans as a symbol that Islam was accepted by a mainstream American. I believe that Obama’s presidency will help show that our more backwards thinking brothers and sisters do the Muslim community a great disservice by trying to ignore the historical contributions of Blacks in America, and Black American Muslims in the Muslim American community.

Right now, the real tensions in the American Muslim community will be between those who wish to create their ethnic enclaves in order to insulate their children from becoming American and developing new hybrid cultural identities. The real tension is between those whose interests are geared more towards issues abroad and those who are concerned with transforming America into a more egalitarian society and thereby changing our policies abroad. People are already voicing expectation of disappointment even before he has been sworn in. Yes, he made a lot of problems, some will not be able to come to fruition in light of the political machine that he is operating in. This is not the same thing, or just a Black face on political power.

Obama’s victory is what can happen if we believe we can do it and work towards our goals. This is about how WE need to change things. American Muslims should be motivated to mobilize and be part of the political process in order for us to be a force to be reckoned with. For the most part we’ve taken ourselves out of the game. So how are we going to hold anyone accountable, let alone a president? The thing about democracy is that accountability is seen in the election process. Elected officials have to appease their main constituencies, as well as the interest groups that support their campaigns. The big constituencies and most powerful interests groups win out. That may not be right, but it’s pragmatic and that’s what politics is about. What lobby group do we have? Have we created any effective civil society institutions to help counteract the abuses of government? And for those few that exist, do we have a plan to support them? How many of us are trained to be on any advisory counsel or even qualified to be tapped as major advisor for policy making?

Two things seemed like a far off dream when I was a little girl: Mandela becoming president of South Africa and a Black man becoming president. Both happened in my lifetime. That leads me to imagine what types of changes can happen in the American Muslims community and the ultimate influence we can have in this society and eventually in the world scene (and not just Middle East).We need to move from ideals to move towards real action. This is our opportunity as Muslims to own this. American Muslims are largely affluent, have global ties in family and ethnic networks, a wide range of skill sets, and a country that affords us the opportunity to make the most of our material, spiritual, and intellectual assets. In light of what we do have in this country, what should Muslim Americans be doing 1 month from now? 6 months? 1 Year? 4 Years? What about in 20 years?

December 11, 2007

History and Memory: Black Muslims in America

Abdur Rahman Muhammad has written a five part series under the controversial title, “Why Blackamerican Muslims Don’t stand for justice?”  I find this series significant for its historical value,  especially since there are very few works outside of Aminah Beverly McCloud’s book African American Islam that have taken a critical look at the intellectual trends of African American Muslims and their relationship to the immigrant community.  

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four 

Part Five

 What I like about the series is that it is a solid attempt at explaining the causes for the lack of civic engagement of many African American Muslims since the 90s. Abdur Rahman has a good understanding of the complicated trends. I find his nuanced understanding expecially important in light of some disturbing simplistic generalizaitons, ahistorical explanations, and false assumptions recent bloggers have made. Recently, some Muslims have written me asking if their views are representative of the Black American Muslim community. I do not think so. But with that in mind, I think it is extremely important that scholars begin to study sociological, cultural, and historical processes in the American Muslim community. Many of us discuss trends based off of anecdotal evidence. We don’t know marriage statistics and with so many informal marriages we don’t know. I know as a student organizer, many of us failed to keep a record of our activities. We should have libraries preserving our impressions, thoughts, ideas, and plans. We should have qualified scholars that can analyze speeches and texts. Now more than ever we need a historical approaches to understanding Islamic movements, especially in America.I became Muslim in the early 90s, with little understanding of what had been established and the major shifts in leadership that were underway. If you don’t know where you’ve been, how do you know how you got where to where you’re at? I think there are many lessons that we can learn from history. It is just as important to understand the history of Islam in America as a whole, and that will require many studies and various approaches. I personally think   we can discover important insights to understand Muslim communities  in  multi-cultural societies and global Muslim networks by looking at the history of Islam in America. 

October 13, 2007

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.

October 11, 2007

You Don’t Know Me from Adam–Maids in Kuwait Pt. 1

Filed under: Black Women Travel, Kuwait, Labor Movements, Middle East, Mothers, Social Justice, Writing — Margari Aziza Hill @ 2:14 am

Americans are largely unconcerned with problems surrounding domestic workers (maids, nannies, and cooks), outside of scandals involving officials using undocumented workers (illegal immigrants) and sex scandals with the babysitter or nanny. Yet in Western news reports on Middle Eastern countries there are sensational stories about human trafficking, physical abuse, labor without compensation, and forced captivity. Many of us Westerners were horrified to hear of cases where maids were beaten, given little food, or held captive without pay. Some maids are subject to cruel treatment, long grueling hours, and hard labor. Despite the downsides of maid service, thousands of maids come to places like Kuwait for opportunities to work in middle class and affluent Kuwaiti homes. Many American and Western expats in Kuwait rely upon domestic help. From my conversations with American expats and my own personal experiences with maids, I have seen how the intertwined working and living arrangements between well-off families and poor women gives rise to numerous ethical and social problems in kuwait.

Before I begin talking about live-in maids, I wanted to discuss some of the underlying assumptions and cultural attitudes that many of us share about domestic workers. Americans often have a negative view opinion of people who use domestic help. In the States, only affluent families or well off families can afford live-in domestic help. The general public see the women who rely upon nannies as lazy, indulgent mothers. Conservatives who believe that women should be in the home look down upon career women who rely upon nannies and maids to do domestic work. Stay-at-home mothers who hire nannies to help out with children are also viewed negatively. People see them as lazy indulgent mothers who don’t want to spend time with their children. A common view is that they are not caring for their children. While there are less negative views about housekeeping services, the general public generally looks down upon families that rely upon live-in maids. The most common view of domestic workers is that they are vulnerable and exploited by bosses who are too lazy to do things that normal people do for themselves.

As a servile position, the abuse of maid service has been compared to slavery by media and labor activists. While this essay makes no attempt of a thorough analysis of slavery and servile institutions, however it is clear that live-in domestic workers’ toils and tribulations pale in comparison to the historical experiences of chattel slavery in the Atlantic slave system or plantation slavery in Africa (West African [crop] and clove planations in Zanzibar). Maids have a much greater degree of choice and agency. A maid also maintains links with their family and in time can return back home. Slave systems worked because slaves could not go back home. There is no social death from free person to non-free person and their position is temporary (although some contracts can render a maid in greater debt when they leave). Maids have rights over their own children and lineage. A slave had no rights over their own production and biological reproduction.
Maids migrate to developing nations out of their own free will in order to seek better opportunities. The measure of free will depends upon if we can argue that desperate economic conditions still leaves an individual to choose freely. What happens once the maids arrive in a family’s home can differ greatly, depending on laws that protect immigrant workers and domestic help, contract, and temperaments of the family and the worker.

I intend to explore various issues surrounding maids, from the motivations that drive live-in maid service as an institution and the types of maids that live in Kuwait. After looking at some underlying assumptions we might have in the West, I will then consider the ways employers have exploited maids. I will then look at stories about unethical maids. Through anecdotal evidence, I hope to explore complicated issues that move us beyond a simple black and white picture of the difficult relationships between maids and the families that hire them.

Part 2 Motivations and types of Maids
Part 3 Maids as victims
Part 4 Scandals and the Maids who abuse the system
Part 5 Personal experiences, Reflection on the institution, and Conclusion

Older Posts »

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