tumblr_inline_mu3xhhF0P51s8a6jsThis is so very important.

Last weekend my sister-in-law came over for dinner and decided to go for a run in the late evening. As she was leaving she asked if it was “okay” to be going for a run so late at night in our area.

You have to understand that my sister-in-law is the strongest woman I know. Spiritually, physically and mentally. She coaches boxing, has amazing clarity and concentration and is the type of athlete to keep pushing long after she’s hit the wall. When I help her train I am sore for days afterward — not because of any new physical exertion on my part, but because of her intense power. She is not the type of person you want to back into a corner.

But she has to ask if it’s safe for her to run because that’s what we’ve been taught.

And in reply, I half-joked, “Sure. Just stick to the lighted path and keep your keys or a fork in your hand” — half implying that if anything were to happen, at least she could quickly attempt to defend herself with a sharp object. She gave me a wane smile and said, “I have my hands. They’re weapons on their own.”

Long after she left, I couldn’t help but think how much I hated our quick exchange. I hate how my gut reaction is to caution someone when running outside at night. I hate how the little hairs at the nape of my neck stand up and I walk more quickly when I’m alone in an underground parking garage. I hate how I feel like I have to tell Eryn to keep her legs together on Eid day when I realize her dress is too short for climbing and there are a lot of strangers watching her. I REALLY hate it when hijab is promoted as a defence against sexual assault.

I hate the entire “rape culture” and societal institutions teaching women and men that sexual assault and rape can be prevented by dressing modestly — that women should not impair their judgement by taking substances, shouldn’t speak with strangers, or behave in a manner that would attract the “wrong type” of attention. That men are taught sex is a conquest and that they can’t be sexually assaulted. When fault lies with the attacker, not the survivor. When women are more likely to be attacked by a person they know — as opposed to a stranger. When people should be taught NOT to rape instead of teaching women not to BE raped.

Femifesto is a collection of truly inspiring and amazing women committed to ending rape culture, survivor shaming and blaming, and creating safer community spaces. And they are working on an extremely important project to help provide mainstream Canadian media with language and frameworks to responsibly report on rape and sexual violence:

Recognizing the power of mainstream media to shape stories on sexual violence, we wanted to create an opportunity for our communities to talk back. In November femifesto will launch Reporting on Rape and Sexual Violence: A Canadian Media Toolkit.

What they’re looking for are voices that are often misrepresented or spoken for by the media. If you are a consumer of Canadian media and wish to add your opinion to help change the way sexual violence is portrayed, then I urge you to take 20 minutes and fill out this survey to help them inform this toolkit. Do it today because the survey will close on October 23rd!

The media often relies on stereotyping Muslim men as sexual savages and Muslim women as oppressed and voiceless. Cases of abuse are sensationalized — with broad generalizations about Islam or references to sexual violence statistics taken from Muslim-majority countries when discussing sexual violence in the Canadian Muslim context. As if to argue that Muslims are inherently violent and misogynistic, and helping perpetuate the xenophobic fear that honour killings or high rates of sexual assault in Muslim-majority countries will be imported into Canada. Muslim women survivors of sexual abuse are sexualized and are blamed for their assaults because they are Muslim.

There is a media culture which demonizes Muslims and Muslim cultures — and this unfortunately helps further a culture of silence within Muslim communities when it comes to discussing sexual abuse. So please, add your voice to help enrich this important project.

The months that followed were witness to a series of spiritual experiences that would remain singular in my life, all revolving around the Quran and my evening study hour with Mina. I would leave her room feeling lively, easily moved, my heart softened and sweet, my senses heightened. Often, I was too awake to sleep, and so I took to my desk—white muslin still bound to my head—to continue memorizing verses. After long nights like these, the mornings were not difficult, as Mother warned when she would find me at my desk past ten o’clock.

If anything, these mornings were even sweeter: the trees stippled with turning leaves and bathed in a glorious light that seemed like much more than just the sun’s illumination; the white clouds sculpted against blue skies, stacked like majestic monuments to the Almighty’s unfathomable glory. And it wasn’t only beauty that moved me in these heightened states. Even the grease-encrusted axle of the yellow school bus slowing to its morning stop at the end of my driveway could captivate me, its twisting joint—and the large, squeaking wheel that turned around it—seeming to point the inscrutable way to some rich, strange, and holy power.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to identify with a work of fiction. To have my thoughts and cultural experiences splayed out so nicely by a complete stranger. To have my ideas about religious interpretation and understanding shared beyond the blogosphere – and actualised in the imaginative words and deeds of colourful, intense characters.

Often while reading American Dervish, when I wasn’t snickering at the humour, rolling my eyes with the characters or gaping and cringing at the more sensitive and emotionally intense scenes, I was usually nodding my head and saying, “yes, exactly.” More than once I’d look around for a book club because I so wanted to share and deconstruct the issues Ayad Akhtar has raised in this wonderful novel.

American Dervish is a non-traditional “coming of age” story – where each character takes his or her own journey to discover themselves and what it means to be American and Muslim. Taking place in Milwaukee during the 1980s, Pakistani-American Hayat Shah narrates a heartbreaking story of love, the Divine, and negotiating faith and culture.

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The Hubby and I exchange fake gifts under a Christmas tree in a Kuwaiti mall, 2006

The Hubby and I faking a gift exchange in a Kuwaiti mall.

Brilliant, multi-coloured lights flash from storefront windows; giant wreaths, shining silver faux icicles and cartoonish depictions of Santa hang low from mall ceilings; giant 15-foot Christmas trees piled high with elaborate, wrapped boxes line entrance corridors; ready-made, delectable Christmas cookies and chocolates intoxicate passers-by with their sweet, comforting smell, and the latest secular Christmas pop tunes pour out from Starbucks and other trendy hot-spots. People crowd the malls looking for the perfect gift or are drawn by the holiday deals. Babies are enthralled by the lights and kids run around with Santa hats. The Christmas spirit is running high, and is only briefly interrupted by the call to prayer. It’s Christmas in Kuwait.

I have to admit, my first trip to Kuwait to meet the in-laws was a cultural shock on many levels. Forget about meeting an extended family so large that after years of marriage, close relatives I have never heard of are still coming out of the woodwork. Never mind the joys of eating halaal McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Subway and finding a mosque on every street corner. Let’s ignore my blundering attempts to connect to my family by speaking a Yemeni dialect (poorly) and wowing them with my bhangra dance moves (much better). What shocked me the most was finding a Muslim country that celebrated Christmas — at least, the secular, consumer culture aspect of the holiday season.

Especially since I believed Muslims don’t, cannot, and will not celebrate Christmas.

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It’s the *facepalm* edition of the roundup! I’ve thrown in a dash of *headdesk,* and a smattering of Muslim Christmas love. Enjoy!

Again, if you come across anything of interest regarding Islam, Muslim women or Muslims in general and would like me to review it, answer questions, or just comment on it here, flip it to me via: w00dturtl3 {at} gmail {dot} com.

  • Corrections Canada just hired the first practicing female Muslim prison guard!  In order to accommodate the recruit’s special religious and cultural requirements, she will be permitted to wear long sleeves, have time off to complete her daily prayers, and will wear a specially designed hijab that will come off easily if an inmate attempts to use it to gain physical control over her.  While Corrections is being applauded for their religious accommodations, the Muslim Canadian Congress is criticizing these allowances, calling them, “apologist,” “politically correct,” and “nonsense.” MCC vice-president Salma Siddiqui insists that,

    religious faith should not be a factor on-the-job for any employee who chooses the profession of a correctional officer. “I don’t think there should be any emphasis on Muslim or not,” she told QMI Agency. “They are being Canadian and politically correct. We do not have to live with that guilt.”

    Siddiqui said there is no religious requirement to cover one’s head – that it is the “uniform” of the Muslim brotherhood and international Islamist movement – and worries it may fuel rising concerns about the “penetration” of Islamist ideology into society.

    Why did Siddiqui focus on the Brotherhood? Given there are some Egyptian female police officers who wear a uniform that may include a matching hijab, I suppose in some kind of weird parallel universe, this means hijab is the “uniform” of the Muslim Brotherhood. But only for correctional officers. No, only for female correctional officers — because no publicized accusations have been ever made of bearded, male Muslim correctional officers who use a portion of their break to pray while on duty.

    I wish it were that brilliant of an argument, but really, the MCC is simply saying that hijab is the “uniform” of islamist, conservative, traditional Islam — and that one woman will have the power to funnel islamist ideology through our corrections system and turn Canada into the next Islamic Caliphate.  You go girl. This has nothing to do with your dedication to faith or the accommodations of an understanding employer.  It has everything to do with your hijab being a symbol of terrorism.

  • In France, the daughter of French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen is under fire for comparing Muslims to the Nazi occupation of France. Like many mosques throughout the world, Fridays in Lyon get pretty packed. It’s difficult to accommodate so many people coming with their families to listen to the sermon, pray, meet and greet and maybe even have a falafel or two — so often during the average 7 minute prayer, people have to pray outside the mosque. Le Pen feels that when Muslims invade the streets with their rugs, they’re just as bad as the Nazis who marched through the Arc de Triomphe.
  • “For those who want to talk a lot about World War II, if it’s about occupation, then we could also talk about it (Muslim prayers in the streets), because that is occupation of territory,” she said at the gathering in Lyon.

    “There are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents.”

  • Wondering what to give your non-Muslim neighbours this Christmas? How about giving them the gift of Islamic knowledge! Haroon Moghul provides a comprehensive list of must-have books about Islam and Muslims guaranteed to bring a smile on Christmas morning.
  • When misinformation on Islam, Muslims, and America’s relationships to the Muslim-majority world is in oversupply, we need relevant and useful information. Conversations about Islam shape local, regional, and global affairs: to not know about Islam is to be left out of issues that deeply affect all of us.

  • And finally, after hearing the claim that 10% of Muslims are terrorists, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria decides to take conservative pundit, Glen Beck, to school on his math skills.

My friend msleetobe started a series on teaching strategies in the Korean classroom, and wrote to me about her student’s reactions to her lessons regarding the hijab. So I asked her to tailor her brilliant work for the WoodTurtle community. We are often bombarded with very North American reactions to the hijab and religious veiling, and I find her experience teaching in Seoul to be quite eye-opening. Please take the time to read her account and welcome msleetobe!


Hello wood turtle readers!  I’m honoured to guest blog here today and to write to an audience quite different from my own blog’s readers.  I usually write about living as an expat in Korea, or about being in an ‘international marriage’ as a white woman married to a Korean man.  However, I also share what is going on in my classroom as I teach at a Korean university in Seoul.

Five years ago, just a few months after finishing up my MA in South Asian religions, I came to Korea and almost immediately began teaching an advanced reading/writing class which was also supposed to deal with critical thinking. My students were very good at answering content questions based on the readings, and could write basic, if problematic essays, but they didn’t have the faintest idea of what to do with anything remotely critical or analytical, mostly because Korean education is focused on route learning in order to prepare students for the massive college entrance exam.  I wasn’t really sure how to approach teaching critical thinking and analysis as a newcomer to Korea, and I had absolutely no idea how to teach it in a skill based class instead of a content based class.  Thus, I decided to bring content into the class and introduce my students, who were already studying cultural logic and intercultural communication in their textbook, to an issue I had had a lot of experience with.  I’ve been using it on and off with students from various ages and backgrounds, and in different kinds of classes, and in general, it works pretty well.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading the thoughts of Korean students on an issue in Islam which wood turtle often covers, and I hope this lesson plan might help you to think about how to approach other controversial issues which you encounter.

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We’ve all been there at least once.  In the corner of a dusty and briyani-debris ridden floor. In the windowless basement. On the second floor, inaccessible balcony with frosted viewing windows. In the front room of a house, with boarded up windows and a tv projection. In a barren false room with a tv projection. Behind a curtain. Under the stairs next to the janitorial closet.  Behind a wall.  In the room across from the morgue. In the back, past the garbage collector, up the fire escape, down a long hallway, up the narrow stairs, and finally into a room that doubles as a classroom and has 20 screaming Sunday school kids with an overworked male Arabic teacher who expects you to wait outside until he completes the lesson.

And some of us have just been turned away at the door.

Navigating terrible, inhospitable, and downright hostile space for women in the mosque is nothing new. There’s even a movie on the subject. Not every mosque is like this, but a good majority are.

Constructing woman-friendly spaces depends on whether or not women sit on mosque administration boards, is sometimes hindered by spacing issues when constrained buildings are converted into mosques, and is largely ignored as an important issue because of a convenient belief that it is better for women to pray at home.

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Well now that you know what’s been on my mind lately… here’s a little something on Sex in Islam and Sex with Muslims.

You don’t often hear about Muslims and sex. Maybe that’s because we always seem to be having babies — and you all know how much sex a couple with a baby (or two, or three…) is having.

But in the Media, the topic of sex in Islam is second only to niqaab and terrorism. Primarily because hetero sex, sexual expression, sexual freedom, sexual exploitation, and sexual stereotypes at times deals with female liberation VS male dominance, and the Western Media really, really wants to liberate Muslim women. How on earth can a woman who’s covered from head to toe in that black thing be having sex? Good sex? Enjoying sex? Selling sex? Kinky sex? How on earth indeed. How on a bed, in a car, on a train, in a shower, with herself, with more than one partner, with a same sex partner? Muslims? No way.

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The truly amazing, Amma Bonsu, host of the online talkshow Ammazing Series, recently invited me to be a part of a panel discussion on Islam.

Myself, along with the esteemed scholar, Dr. Timothy Gianotti and a lovely and opinionated med student answered questions pertaining to terrorism, hijab, equality, 72 virgins, and culture in Islam.

You can watch it here.

‘Miss Fran’ from the children show the Romper Room has converted to Islam.

“I discovered a God who, the Qur’an tells me, is closer to me than my jugular vein, who runs to me when I walk toward Him, and who profoundly cares about my existence and my soul,’’ she said.

Pappert-Shannon said her family has been accepting of her decision, including her 80-year-old mother, a devout Roman Catholic.

But not all understand her decision. Pappert-Shannon said she’s saddened by the response of some non-Muslims who are distrustful of Islam and have made mention of terrorism to her.

Like the majority of Muslims, Pappert-Shannon said she rejects any Muslim person or group that commits terrorism and “commits such horrific and un-Islamic acts.”

“Islam is a religion that extols peace, justice, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. There is zero tolerance for terrorism and honour killings in Islam,’’ she said.

When I shared this news on Facebook, my brilliantly astute, beautiful and earthy aunt posed this question to me via e-mail:

K, when I try to tell my friends or aquaintances that “Islam is a religion that extols peace, justice, mercy, compassion and forgiveness. There is zero tolerance for terrorism and honour killings in Islam,’’ as the Romper Room lady said, they invariably refer to the acts of terrorism by Muslims. All I can ever come up with is “well, you know extremists in every walk of life” or words to that effect.
How can I explain both sides of the tablet? Is it the use of the word ‘muslim’? as a people/religion? Is Islam only muslim and are all muslims believers in Islam?

Here is my response:

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Back in May, a friend posted this BBC article on Facebook.

Fashion is a form of self-expression. It’s all about experimenting with looks and, in many cases, attracting attention.

The Islamic headscarf, or hijab, is exactly the opposite. It’s about modesty and attracting as little attention as possible.

However, a growing number of Muslim women are successfully blending the two.

They are known as Hijabistas.

I commented immediately saying:

Sorry… That’s ridiculous journalism. Hijabistas? Really? And where have they been? We’ve been “combining the two” (hijab and “western dress”) for decades. Decades. Commercialism, and opportunistic journalism, that is all.

Other comments noted that there’s a growing trend in the Media to latch on to “fashionable Muslims” and tote them as practicing a different form of Islam, of being modern, and of being diametrically opposed to the Islam that “forces women into oppression with the burqa.” That the Media is playing one against the other.

Ever since 9/11 the Media has been looking for the “safe” Islam, the “no hijab Islam.” As an immediate response, I remember Anderson Cooper spoke with everyday Muslims on the streets, Oprah had an Islam 101 episode where she followed the day of a “normal Muslim woman,” (Muslim organizations did the same. “We” needed to separate ourselves from ‘Them.”) and how discussions on Sufism and its impact on US foreign policy were occurring alongside of fictional Media terms like, “Islamist.” (sufism being styled as a “safe” Islam to follow.)

Slowly, as Muslims became more prominent in the fashion world (more prominent? or more noticed? Being a Western Muslim seems to be a great criteria to have when writing a story on fashion, education, charitable works, politics — it’s even better if the subjects are identifiable with a big beard or headscarf), I began noticing articles on the Burkini, on Hijabi Olympic athletes and now fashionable hijabis.

The May BBC article annoys me because it assumes that there is no personal expression in Islam, and specifically, how Muslim women choose to dress. It ignores the historical and current differences in how women around the world style their hijab (or just don’t wear it!) — and especially, ignores the huge fashion scene in Muslim countries (although I can forgive that, because it is a rare article that will take a global perspective. But if you’re looking at the emergence of Western Muslim fashion, you can’t ignore the influence that the Muslim world has on it).

Recently, The Independent has come out with a similar article, Beautiful AND Islamic (because, you know, you can only be drab and boring in Islam), and the amazing ladies at Muslimah Media Watch have taken on this issue more brilliantly than I can.

Image credit to http://www.nocaptionneeded.com

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