Saturday, March 10, 2007

Race Issues in Islam

Another good read in the New York Times elucidating some of the race issues that affect Islam in America. More specifically, by telling the story of the relationship of an African-American Imam and an Asian immigrant Imam and the dynamics that have taken place since September 11 that have shaped their understandings and dealings of each other.

African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims from Asian and Arab countries have not particularly gelled in America. Apart from racial and cultural differences, these two groups have found it difficult to unify in the face of socio-economic disparities.

Also, while many African-American Muslims are converts or trace their Islam back to their West African forbears, and thus have a less continuous transmission of Islamic practices and proficiency in Arabic language as their immigrant counterparts.

Personally, I have witnessed the tension between these groups of Muslims. The Black Muslims often feel that the Asians and Arabs harbor an elitist attitude towards them while being wary of the newcomers "radical" and "extremist" tendencies. The Asians feel that the African Americans should respect their scholarship and tradition, while working harder to learn Arabic and the Qur'an.

Come to think of it, racial undercurrents in the Muslim Ummah are by no means limited to the situation in America. In the greater Muslim world and within the walls of the local masjid, racial issues weaken the unity and brotherhood that is the Islamic ideal (not to mention Sectarianism).

Persians think they are better than Arabs and want to be white. Arabs resent Persian and Iranian progress. Turks do their own thing and wish they were accepted as European (ain't gonna happen). I suppose some of that is due to the fact that Turks once ruled over Arabs, who subsequently sided with the British to overthrow them. Imagine if Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran came together in some sort of Islamic NATO (uh oh, hold on, I think that's some intelligence agents knocking on my door...).

Furthermore, the Desi Muslims have adopted alot of the Hindu caste thing, so don't bother being Black if you want to marry one (Let's not even get started on the Ismailis). On top of that, the Arabs don't like how the South Asians pray and celebrate, so come Ramadan time, things get as friendly as oil and water. Philipinos and Malaysians seem to be more open minded, but I'm not sure how they relate to the Indonesians and vice versa. Berbers and Arabs have fallen out in the past, and don't see eye-to-eye even now. The Bosnians I've met have been cool, but if their Eastern-European heritage is anything to go by, they probably have race issues as well.

Oh, did I mention the intra-racial Muslim problem. In Somalia, if you're not from the right tribe or clan, you will have problems with your Muslim brother. And in Arabia, you have that Umayyad-Abbasid, white Arab-dark Arab disconnect. In addition, just about all of them look down on the Palestinians. Jordanians don't want them, neither do the Syrians, the Saudis, or the Egyptians. Heck, I'd rather be a African-American Muslim with that level of rejection.

Who knows what the solution is to the racism problem in Islam. How can we present Islam as a a unifying, peaceful, and egalitarian force in the world if Muslims continue to divide along racial lines? Perhaps, the more we are profiled, humiliated, killed, mocked, discriminated against, and roundly beaten in all forms of human endeavor by non-muslims, the greater sence of commonality and unity we will develop. Its sad that it has come to this.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Behind the Sunni-Shi'ite Divide

A probing article providing some insight into the Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry in Iraq and beyond. I found it sad, dispiriting, and embarrassing that Muslims continue to slaughter fellow Muslims. Some will say religion or Islam is at fault... but is it really?

Islam explicitly forbids killing Muslims without reason, and also outlaws sectarianism. Yet, the killing continues as well as the division. Muslims are at fault for not following their Religion.

The secularists and atheists suggest that Islam and religion in general should be banned. Naturally, implementing universal atheism would be quite a tall order, indeed. What we should do, is ban sectarianism. From this point onward, no Muslim should be allowed to identify himself as Sunni, Shia, Sufi, Ismaili, or Salafi. The use of these terms, along with Takfiri, Safavi, Wahabbi, Deobandi, and others should be criminalized except for historical and academic purposes.

God's Law is God's Law. If we don't want to follow it in its entirety, why should we follow it at all?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mutaa Marriages

An interesting story about the increasing use (and abuse) of temporary marriages in Iraq. In Islam, polygamy is allowed up to a limit of 4 wives per spouse, under the condition that the man is able to support the entire family and treat each wife fairly. Whether a person thinks polygamy is right or wrong, it was (and still is) a practical solution to a common social problem - the death of men in war.

In mutaa marriages, the man pays the temporary wife for the privilege only for the duration of the marriage. The mainly Shiite practice is said to lessen the hardship of women that have lost their husbands or potential mates to war. Children produced in such marriages are the responsibility of the father whose abandonment is discouraged upon pain of death.

Without much analysis, I feel that the practice is wrong. It smacks of prostitution. Paying a woman for sex is prostitution, no matter which way you slice it. As an anti-sectarian Muslim male, I nonetheless believe that those in this situation should adhere to the spirit of the Sharia by marrying fully (the Sunni position).

That's not to say that it isn't a difficult call, full of contradictions and hyporcrisy. Some in the West think prostitution is wrong, some think it should be legalized. Others lambaste Muslim men for divorcing their women. Catholics are against divorce all together. Others say divorce is one of the most important achievements of womens equality (Muslims have enjoyed this matrimonial recourse for 1400 years).

The Prophet Muhammad is smeared for allegedly marrying polygamously during the later part of his life (his first wife was 11 years his senior and his boss). Yet, in the Western culture, losing one's virginity in gradeschool is not uncommon, while having multiple girlfriends is seen as a sign of manlihood (studs, mac-daddy's).

Unlike the previous Western conflicts such as WWI and WWII, where most of the troops who perished were unmarried young men, many who have died in the "War on Terror" and in Iraq have been married 20 to 30-something men with young families. Should these women spend the rest of their lives as lonely widows? Should they pay for sex or remarry? And if they remarry, to whom? A new study shows that more than half of American women now live alone. Perhaps some sort of mutaa-like marriage could be of comfort to them, or maybe they prefer their independence or turn to lesbian relationships.

Its a strange world we live in where stable families are being outnumbered by single-parent homes, childless singles, gay marriages, and mutaa relationships. I don't know, call me old-fashioned but I don't see too many positives in this trend.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Little Mosque On The Prairie

I caught the first episode of Zarqa Nawaz's CBC sitcom, "Little Mosque on The Praire." My initital impressions are that it is funny, but uneven, mildly cheesy, but earnest and realistic in portrayal of Muslim issues. It will improve over time, I think, a good show.