Wednesday, January 30

For the love of the Game...and so much more.

An average person walking in the streets of Cairo can look around and see a parade of people who walk by every day. They come from all over Egypt, of many social and economical classes. The variety of Egyptians walking in the Egyptian street on any given day is astounding. Yet they all have one thing in common. It has been going on for some time now, but so far, not many people have been able to confront the epidemic that has slowly taken over our country... silently infiltrating everyone's life, and changing it for the worse... yet as Egyptians, we go on from day to day oblivious to the danger lurking ahead of us... hiding in plain sight. You will see that this danger affects both men and women, young and old. It affects our economy and our well being. It costs billions of dollars every year to manage problems caused by this silent epidemic. The solution to this problem is in our hands. It is an easy solution, yet it isn't available for everyone... In this problem as well as many others, women always get the short end of the stick!

What silent epidemic am I talking about you ask??? Obesity!! A casual observation of Egypt will show you that more and more people are gaining weight. This is not an Egyptian problem per se... It is a world wide epidemic. Countries all over the world are working hard to reverse this epidemic, yet as Egyptians, resources are limited, and people have bigger concerns to worry about rather than their weight. A lot of people believe this is a vanity issue, and as they get older or get married, they feel that there is no reason to care about this now. They would rather concentrate on their budget, or saving for their children, or the kids schools and exams...etc. In older days, Egyptians believed that gaining weight was a sign of economic abundance and wealth. They believed that a fatter person is better looking than a thin hungry person. It was a symbol of social status. Yet sadly, things are not as simple as they seem. Being overweight is associated with a higher risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke,hypertension, infertility, cancer...etc. In a country where health care and the cost of many medications is subsidized by the government, this is one of the many causes of financial woes that afflict Egypt and its economy...... with millions of people being diagnosed with these diseases at younger and younger ages, the impact on the entire economy is gigantic, and if we are all not careful, it will get worse as time goes by. Besides the cost of health care, and medications, people with these diseases will die younger, or will be crippled for life by one or more of the diseases, and will be a burden to society instead of a contributing factor to economic growth. Although many Egyptians read more and realize the importance of not becoming overweight, the idea that gaining weight is a much coveted status symbol still continues in Egyptian society. If a person loses weight, friends, family , and neighbors, automatically assume he/she is sick or has a health problem. People will start asking questions about his health, and why so much weight is lost, even though it may only be a couple of kilos. When a man proposes to a slender woman, his family will constantly criticize her weight and encourage her to gain more weight, because women are "supposed" to be chubby!!This kind of peer pressure has a huge influence on the prevalence of obesity in the Egyptian community as a whole, and on women in particular. Mothers are also encouraged to "fatten up" their baby so that the baby is "mekalbaz", which is equated to being cute!!WHO data shows that in Egypt more than 25 percent of 4-year-olds are fat. The number of fat cells in the human body can increase during the first year of life. After a person is older, fat cells get bigger or smaller when weight is gained, but the number of cells remains the same. When all mothers overfeed their babies, these babies will have more fat cells than they would have otherwise had. And with that many fat cells in their body, they are more likely to gain weight as adults, and will be more predisposed to obesity than children who were not overfed.

Egyptian school age children on the other hand have a slight advantage over the rest of the population. In sporting clubs all over Cairo and Alexandria, and many other smaller cities, especially in more affluent neighborhoods, mothers spend the summers taking their children to practice, and most kids are encouraged to participate in sports. Now this is a good start that needs to be encouraged, but once kids reach their teens, boys will continue to play sports, and girls are not. With the onset of puberty the frank discrimination against women begins. If a girl is a swimmer she is told that she is getting too old, , and it is no longer acceptable in the community for a girl to wear a swimming suit to practice a sport the way boys are allowed to do. The same with most other sports. Girls are "protected" and discouraged from "displaying" their body by moving, which is encouraged for boys!! Girls are groomed to be future housewives, so most girls will start to have more responsibilities in the house, while the boys are encouraged to participate in sports and their triumphs are celebrated. Most girls will eventually quit sports all together. Very few girls in their late teens actually practice sports, and most go hang out with friends rather than continue a habit that would have been healthy and good for their overall well being. This brings us to the current trend in Egypt. Although obesity is a problem for all Egyptians, at the age of 15, when girls are developing into young women, and social restrictions and frank discrimination starts, the WHO show deviation from the standard model of male and female obesity. Meaning that women suddenly begin putting on much more weight than men...although as children the weight issues were comparable in both males and females.

The Body mass index is a measurement of body weight in relation to height, and is used to assess the percentage of body fat in a person. The optimal BMI of a population is around 21. 25 or more is overweight and predisposed to diseases, and 30 or more is obese... meaning severely overweight! As shown in the previous graphs, at the age of 15, half of Egyptian women are overweight, and around 10% are obese. The weight problem escalates as women get older to reach 90% of women over 45 being overweight, and out of the total female population, more than 67% are obese by the age of 45.. In short, we are turning into a country where only a quarter of the women are not predisposed to massive health risk, and early death and life long diseases!!

In Egypt, the average woman's life expectancy is 73.6 years, based on the data published in the 2007 CIA world fact book. This means that these women will live for at least 30 years while being overweight, and suffering from its consequences on their health, well being, as well as that of their family, and that of the Egyptian community as a whole.

So what has Egypt offered as a whole to these women to help control the problem, and as a society how do we band together to keep our families happy and healthy? Not enough according to the current trends. Men can participate in sports without restrictions, and among adults, young single men are the ones who participate in sports the most. Women's sports are not as important, and rarely if ever publicized or encouraged. Wouldn't it be a fair assessment to say that we need to educate Egyptians about the importance of physical exercise on their well being? Shouldn't we teach them about their body mass index and how to eat healthy to control their weight and cholesterol? Funding for preventive medicine and public health is dedicated towards children and vaccinations.. which is very important, but adult preventive medicine is never a priority. If we want to improve our economy as a whole , and our society, we need to educate adults about their own health. This would cut millions of pounds spent annually on health care.In order for this to be accomplished, we need to educate women first. Women will teach their children, and husbands, who traditionally are more resistant to change , will follow suit. The key to a healthy Egyptian community is having mothers who are educated about the methods of maintaining their family's health and well being, as well as being role models for their children, who will follow in their mothers footsteps. Women need to be encouraged to change their attitude towards physical activity. They need to learn that it is okay to move. It is not a sin to exercise, and whether they dress in hegab or not should not stop you from practicing a sport you love. They also need to learn that becoming a wife and a mother should not stop you from maintaining your health and that of your family.. in fact, it is your duty to stay healthy for your well being and for the well being of your own children..... And of course we go back to our eternal problem... our patriarchal society and the restrictions it imposes on any woman living in that society, and the ignorance of some men when it comes to physical activity of women in general, and women in sports in particular. In short, the key to all of this is Education!

A typical example of the restrictions placed on women when it comes to playing sports in Egypt is soccer...Most, if not all, Egyptian men play soccer. Soccer is the Egyptian all time favorite game. Men play soccer wherever there is an empty space, a ball, and other men. Most Egyptian households are divided into supporters of certain teams...Growing up in Egypt, it was common to be asked by kids in school if you are "ahlawy", or" zamalkawy"... you had to be one of them... there was no 3rd choice.( teams may be different for today's children) When one team wins, its supporters would storm the streets of Cairo celebrating, honking their horns screaming their team's name, holding signs out of car windows... As a child it gives you the feeling the whole world is celebrating this important event. In a nation such as this, you would expect soccer to be played by both girls and boys, and as they get older, men and women would play, and having a men's team as well as a women's team is the norm.... however this is not the case. Until recently, the only team in the public eye was the men's team. Women did not play soccer. If they try to, it would be a joke, and no one would take them seriously... they would be the laughing stock of their community.... That is until recently when some very brave Egyptian women decided to take on the system . It all started with a brave woman called Sahar Elhawary Who took it upon herself to build the first Women's soccer team in Egypt.She started recruiting players in the 90's and took it upon herself to train them and prepare them for the game. It wasn't until the new millennium that the women's soccer team was recognized by Egypt and was known as the Egyptian women's team. They even qualified for the first African women's soccer cup, and snatched the victory, however it was not widely publicized, or celebrated like any of the events involving men's soccer. Since then there have been changes in society, especially among young girls. Girls' soccer teams have popped up everywhere, and women are finally being recognized as soccer players too. However the road is not all smooth sailing, and many attitudes need to change before women's soccer can reach its full potential. Women soccer players were recently interviewed by Aljazeera in a very interesting mini documentary.

As you can see by this documentary, The women were there solely for the sport, and the one that felt that she needed to wear a headscarf, came up with a compromise and wore leggings underneath her shorts, while still maintaining her right to practice an enjoyable activity, and be a part of a national team. Younger Egyptian men had a very negative idea about women and their right to practice sports. While the women's soccer team is practicing in the background in a soccer field, a male player nearby tells the camera: “If my fiancee wanted to play football, I would forbid her. I only respect men playing. It could also distract her from her home. In Egypt we believe the woman's place is in her home.” So he actually feels the need to "forbid" his future wife excercising or participating in a sport, since he believes her sole function in life is caring for him, his kids and his house... her own well being, whether physical or mental, is not part of the equation. Another says of a female player: “She cannot wear a headscarf and play. This is against religion. Football and sports are forbidden for women.” So this young man's idea is that God has forbidden women from participating in sports... The coach , who appears to be in his 30's actually praises the girls saying they have better endurance. On the other hand, the older gentlemen who were interviewed had a more positive outlook... They have probably been young men in the 60's and 70's, before Wahabi influence infiltrated Egypt and changed its identity and culture. Their take on women's soccer is that it is good for girls to play sports to occupy their time, and that since the game is in public and she is wearing decent shorts, then it is a positive thing, and their overall impression is quite encouraging. (You will notice how these middle class men identified decent clothes by logical means, rather than thinking that any clothes that dont cover a woman from head to foot are indecent, so they were okay with wearing shorts while participating in a sport... never once saying that since they are women we should stop them from wearing the international dress code of soccer players.) By comparing what the older men and the younger men have said, we can see what Egypt was at one point of time, and what it is becoming faster than we can imagine. Whatever happened to the open minded Egyptians that were once the norm? Why are our younger generations so oblivious to the danger their new ideas pose to themselves, their society, and their country as a whole? Doesn't it make sense that we would have had so many more female athletes and champions if Egyptian women were free to practice any sport they loved?

Whether the cause of this attitude is ignorance or Wahabi infiltration deep into our society, it needs to be stopped. Egyptian men need to go back to the way they were in the 60's and 70's. They need to respect women enough to give them autonomy over what they choose to do with their time, and no one should feel the need to "force" his wife or daughter not to exercise, because housework is not the reason God created women! Women need to learn more about maintaining their physical activity as they get older, and the dangers that they impose onto themselves by giving in to ideas that require them to leave life and sit at home as servants. I am not saying women should not care for their homes, but rather, women need to have activities besides their homes and the tedious amount of work that is needed for the upkeep of their households. By not having outside activities they are harming themselves, their families, community, and country. One of the best ways to get women to begin participating in sports is encouraging our women's soccer teams. The reason I specifically state soccer is because it is already popular, and people already accept it as a sport, so the work here is half done. If women's soccer becomes as socially acceptable as men's soccer, a large number of girls will learn to play, and participate in a national pastime that is enjoyed by both men and women, young and old. With the active participation of women in soccer, active participation in other sports will eventually become the norm, and the obesity epidemic will eventually come to an end. Of course media coverage is a huge factor in deciding how popular a sport will become, but in order for this to happen, people first have to show enough interest. For all the Egyptians out there, I say support your local girl's soccer team. The girls of today are the women of tomorrow, and their health and well being is the health and well being of our community.

Monday, January 21

When Patriarchy Joins Forces with the Owners of Absolute Truth

The Speech in English

"On women leading prayers.. Oh, fellow men.. I swear I don't know from where to start or how! Because of the horror I was subjected to. And there people of knowledge who committed the terrible mistake of permitting women to lead prayers.. Don’t know how! To his aim (the person who thinks this is not forbidden in Islam) he did the following: He said that the hadith which prohibits women from becoming leaders, the hadith told by Abu Bakrah Al Thaqafi, ''A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper". He said that this hadith is not a proof. Why? He said Abu Bakrah is crooked.. Yes, I swear he said so.. Abu Bakrah is a Sahabi (one of the disciples of Prophet Muhammad). Huh, I say this Abu Bakrah Al-Thaqafi is a Sahabi.. He said Abu Bakrah is crooked, and a liar.. and this means that the hadith he told is false. This was the first observation. The second observation was that Al Bukhari (one of the basic sources of collected hadith) contains spurious hadith. Let him reach where he wants. [cut out part] They want to shaken everything that was mentioned against this issue, even those who which are 100% proven in solid igmaa (the agreement among sheikh) which is of the same status as the Quran.. That is that women are not permitted to give Friday sermons or lead prayers. The handing over of verdict is to be taken as the handing over of the Quran to us. In the highest level of agreement and tawatur (transmission) from generation to generation.. So that no matter how long you searched books, you won't find a single recorded incidence from the prophet's time until our present time, saying that a woman has ever led prayers. You won't find a single occurrence. And this is called the most powerful practical igmaa. He comes to that issue which enjoys an agreement that is as clear as the morning sun, and he wants to shake it and raise doubts among muslims. So you can imagine what is the case with other sharia rules, which are thousands.. He can play with them as he wishes. Why?.. Because their origins and interpretation (sharia rules) are unknown to the majority of people.. And the only ones who can interpret them correctly are a few individuals.. those who are sheikhs or scholars. They hope to shake all this. But they won't be able to, in spite of our apparent weakness. so many times, little gatherings defeated numerous gatherings."

Well, there is so much to say about the speaker's way and attitude.. especially if we asked a psychiatrist to watch this video and analyze the man. It is enough to see how he breaks his sentences and pauses to stare at the faces of those listening to him, in order to force them to accept all what he says as absolute facts. He seeks to manipulate his listeners and take full control over their minds. It is also apparent that most of his audience are simple-minded people, who have not received much, if any, education. I really wanted to see their faces for once (which the cameraman didn't want), although I can imagine how they looked.

What concerns me here is the presumable "argument" presented by this sheikh in order to convince people that there can be no such thing as a woman leading prayers. That is live example of how the masses are being brainwashed at mosques, especially after Friday prayers.

Many violent attacks in Egypt have taken place after Friday prayers! It might seem strange, and more likely to be the opposite.. But that is a well-known fact. The majority of violent clashes between Muslims and Christians, which happened recently in Egypt, took place right after the Sheikh is through with his speech. This "coincidence" was recorded in clashes which took place in Alexandria, Ayyat, Menniya, and other places. It was the common belief that this was just a coincidence, that the attackers had actually planned the attack before hand.. And that Friday prayers only served to gather those violent people together at the mosque. But the chaos and lack of organization, the strange combination of people taking part in the attack, and the crude methods used during those attacks (usually using anything that comes to hand as a weapon), have all suggested that those outbursts were planned by others.. To be precise, the only person who inspired this attack was the Sheikh giving the Friday sermon at those mosques, out of which angry masses of men go directly to attack their Christian neighbors.

So, we have to admit that some male imams are not doing a good job. And now, we can see an example of the speeches given and the hidden agendas behind them. In this particular case, it is clear that the speaker doesn't only seek to make the issue of female imams become completely out of question.. But he also raises the anger of his audience against those who would say elsewise. It is also clear that he wants them to believe that anyone who expresses the opinion that it is OK for a woman to become imam, is someone who aims to shake their beliefs and mess with Islam. Moreover, he stresses the message that the only people who are fit to talk about religion are its men.

Let us make more discoveries and dig deeper as we examine his speech closely..

1-Notice the beginning of his speech, and how he concentrates on making the topic of his argument sound blasphemous in itself: "Oh, fellow men.. I swear I don't know from where to start or how! Because of the extreme horror I was subjected to. And there are people of knowledge who committed the terrible mistake of permitting women to lead prayers.. Don’t know how!"

Now, those people do not need to hear anything further. They already had the ready-made judgement from their all-knowing sheikh, who himself is lost for words at the mere thought of bringing up such a horrible thought for discussion.

2- He moves on to talk about an imaginary man who argues for women being imams. He didn't give any specific identification or attribute any specific details related to this person.. Such as his profession (Is he a man of religion or not?), his educational background (Did he study Islamic Sharia or not?), or his cultural orientation. All this is equally irrelevant to him and to his audience, as they all have agreed on the outcome of the argument before it even started.

He claims that his fictional character "said that the hadith which prohibits women from becoming leaders, the hadith told by Abu Bakrah Al Thaqafi, 'A nation which placed its affairs in the hands of a woman shall never prosper'. He said that this hadith is not a proof. Why? He said Abu Bakrah is crooked.. Yes, I swear he said so.. Abu Bakrah is a Sahabi (one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad). Huh, I say this: Abu Bakrah Al-Thaqafi is a Sahabi.. He said Abu Bakrah is crooked, and a liar.. and this means that the hadith he told is false."

Can you hear the gasps and see the open mouths as I imagined I did? Of course this hypothetical person is a dead man by now. We aren't waiting to know about anything he said or why he said it. "He" is insulting one of the Prophet's companions! Can you imagine people?! Who wants to argue about anything this damned man says? Let's concentrate on hunting him down and cutting him to pieces.

3- But sheikh Howeini has to provoke his audience to the maximum, and be sure that they will hate to hear a single word being mentioned about women imams. So he goes on: "This was the first observation. The second observation was that Al Bukhari contains spurious hadith!"

OK.. So, apparently this guy doesn't know that there is nothing blasphemous about saying that Al Bukhari still contains spurious hadith, or that there is a whole branch of Islamic scholars, who studied the Science of Hadith, who agree that more work should be done on Al Bukhari in order to make sure which of the hadith with weak Isnad (weak reliability) should continue to be included, and which of them should be eleminated. However, that is not a problem. The problem is with those people who just say "Amen" to every word he utters. Those people actually depend on him as their source of religious knowledge. And this puts us in front of a crisis.

4-Here comes the most interesting part. Al Howeini suddenly shifts from the imaginary man he was talking about, who made all those kinds of shameful claims against Abu Bakrah and Bukhari, and moves on to an open attack. He now refers to a mysterious group of people as "They". It seems that he wants to convince his audience that those "they", who have no definition of any kind to help us identify them, "want to shaken everything that was mentioned against this issue, even those which are 100% proven in solid igmaa"

Ahuh.. So, this is a conspiracy, if I am not mistaken. And it sounds like a really serious kind of conspiracy. Yet, "they" who are behind it are completely ambiguous to us. Of course, only Al Howeini knows who "they" are. But, if he has decided to warn the people against them, shouldn't he be kind enough to define those conspirators, who want to shake shake shake everything that is completely agreed upon in Islam?

5- But wait.. There is more that we didn't know, that only a sheikh like him has got knowledge of. First time for me to know that any hadith, even the sahih, which absolutely no one would dare suspect to be true, has got "the same status as the Quran"!! This is really way off limits. The mix and mingle between hadith and Quran is clearly prohibited in Islam. We can doubt what is said in Hadith, we can judge a hadith as either Sahih (true) or Daif (weak) or Mawdu (spurious). But we can never do the same with Quran. So how is it that they both are of the same status?! Does that mean that I can judge the reliability of Quran? Or does it mean that I can not judge the reliability of Hadith? (Bear in mind that igmaa stands for sheikhs agreeing on the same opinion. And this opinion may very well be the result of their personal views which they build through a human logical sequence on their own interpretation of a text. And does not refer to the hadith itself even.)

He did not stop there, actually.. He stresses it even more and more. "The handing over of this verdict (women are not to be imams) is to be taken as the handing over of the Quran to us," he says!He also claims that his one and only hadith, which has nothing to do with women being imams, or even political leaders, even enjoys "the highest level of agreement and tawator (trasmission) from generation to generation."

Now, wait a minute! Is this man really saying what I understood? Is he building all those false arguments, using all this wrong information, and saying all this hocus pocus about religion, just to close the door in front of women to become imams?!
Is this that scary? Are those sheikhs willing to destroy the very basics of Islamic principles and science of hadith, just to prevent women from becoming imams and giving the Friday sermon?! My God!

6-By now, you should have become familiar with the method used by our friend here. (So sorry to call him a friend.) He just keeps repeating and stressing and exaggerating. It seems pretty normal, thus, that the next thing he resorts to is posing a challenge. He dares anyone to be able to find a recorded incidence of a woman becoming imam: "So that no matter how long you searched books, you won't find a single recorded incidence, from the prophet's time until our present time, saying that a woman has ever led prayers. You won't find a single occurrence. And this is called the most powerful practical igmaa."

Seriously, this the first time ever to see a competition that promises failure to all contestants. So, what does this new religious theory imply really? Does it mean that anything that people didn't use to do in the past becomes religiously prohibited or haram?.. Is driving a car haram? Is buying an iPod haram? Is using a blender in the kitchen haram? Is having a blog haram?(Sure in my case it must be! Ask him.) Is using laser beam haram? Is building a rocket haram? Is landing on Mars haram?
Or, let's be more specific. Let's talk female jobs.. Is it haram for a woman to work at a call center? Is being a female surgeon haram? Is working on TV haram? What about working on a xeroxing machine? Is it haram to be a female engineer? Is being a female pianist haram? A female scientist? A female politician? A female pilot? A female actress? A female director? A female analyst? A female journalist? A female photographer? A female factory worker? A spokeswoman? A female secretary? A female employee? A female programmer/software developer? Are all those jobs haram?
Then, what is left?

7- In the same mysterious way by which we were introduced to "they", the guy goes back to the "he" he was talking about in the beginning; and says, "He comes to that issue (no women imams) which enjoys an agreement that is as clear as the morning sun, and he wants to shake it and raise doubts among muslims. So you can imagine what will be the case with other sharia rules, which are thousands.. He can play with them as he wishes."

This "he" is very evil it seems. Still, we don't know who the hell "he" is. But it is clear that he belongs to the conspiracy gang of "they".. Yet, neither "They" nor "He" has got any motives for what they are doing! We don't even know what their purpose is! Does it only stop at shaking beliefs and raising doubts among muslims? So, is it out of mere hatred? Is it part of a bigger conspiracy?.. Why are they doing this?.. Please, please, Sheikh Howeini, tell us why they are doing this to us.

8- "Why?.. Because their (sharia rules) origins and interpretation are unknown to the majority of people.. And the only ones who can interpret them correctly are a few individuals.. those who are sheikhs or scholars."

Mmmmmmm.. So this is what they are after!.. Oh Oh.. Nope, it's not.. This is what encouraged them to go on with their evil plan.. But still does not explain what purpose this plan actually serves. Well, it seems that the purpose is not important. Let's concentrate on the methods and the means for carrying out the plan.
Don't know if I am the only one who thinks of Dr. Evil right now! Suddenly, all that comes to mind is the Austin Powers movie.. There is Austin, and there is Dr. Evil and his gang who wish to destroy the world for no reason whatsoever. Not a big deal, though.. Watching a silly movie, you consider motives and purposes to be unneeded extras. But sadly, this is not a movie. This is real. DAMN REAL.

Now, what did he say the reason was? That Muslims don't know how to interpret Muslim Sharia?? Then, this whole conspiracy thing is so stupid. Because we can teach Muslims how to interpret their sharia. Like the "Learn-it-yourself" book series.. Or we don't even need that. We spend 12 years of our lives learning religion at schools. Let's teach kids how to interpret sharia.

Of course, Al Howeini won't allow any ray of light to reach his audience. He must slam the door in front of them, make them lose any hope that one day they may no longer be in need of his services. Therefore, he makes it clear that the only one who can interpret religion is the sheikh or the scholar of Islamic sharia.

9- Then comes the grand finale.. "They hope to shake all this. But they won't be able to.. in spite of our apparent weakness. So many times, little gatherings defeated numerous gatherings."
Ehe2 ehe2 ehe2. We are weak.. ehe2 ehe2 ehe2. "They" are stronger than us, and "they" are more than us!! ehe2 ehe2 ehe2. But we will win. We will defeat them. We shall prevail. We don't need to know any further. Thanks dear sheikh.

This is the kind of speech used at out mosques. We have to face it. There is a major brainwash going on. I am not implying that it is always on purpose, moved by wicked intentions.. Although there are cases where this is actually the case. I am just saying that this kind of talk, discouraging people against using their minds, along with feeding them with preconceptions and hostility towards anyone who happens to have a different opinion, or suggest something new, is pulling our whole society backwards. There can never be any hope in progress this way. We won't even be able to keep standing where we are today. And one day, our offspring may wake up to find themselves living in the Mamluk era.

There is nothing in Quran or Sunnah that prohibits women from becoming imams or giving Friday sermons, and that is more than enough. Sharia states that it is the default for everything to be halal (allowed by God), unless there is a holy verse stating elsewise. I can see nothing against the idea except patriarchal arrogance and religious extremism which is against women in general. Why can't we even discuss it?

I'd ask you now to watch this video and then tell me: Would you rather have Al Howeini or this woman (or anyone like her) as your imam in prayer? Please let's try to be honest and fair.

Wednesday, January 16

Living in a Patriarchal Society

Throughout human history and in all ancient societies women were a significant driving force in sustaining the development of their community, safeguarding resources, educating youth and ensuring continuity of social, cultural and historical heritage values. Although this role is not explicitly stated in ancient texts, the impact and influence of women is evident by implied symbolism in mythology, as well as the presence of ancient goddesses in ancient religions. For various reasons discussed before, societies gradually changed, and began following the patriarchal rather than the matrilineal model. A closer look at all societies worldwide would lead us to believe that most if not all are now, or were at one point of time completely patriarchal in nature. At one point of time, when physical strength was more important than intelligence, a patriarchal society was the solution to the way society was set up. It was survival of the fittest, and males fought among themselves to achieve dominance. It was not very fair for women, but the harsh living conditions, and aggression of males belonging to other tribes dedicated what was required to survive, and women agreed to live in these primitive patriarchal societies, as a way of ensuring their own survival. Before modern feminism and as far back as the late middle ages, women were not satisfied with their rights in their societies, however their efforts were not organized, so had minimal impact on the status of women in society.

In patriarchal societies, most men felt that they needed to compete together, and women were not even part of the equation. At the same time, women had the additional burden of child bearing, and rearing children which made it difficult for them to advance their status, or their society as a whole. As time passed, and new inventions came up every day, and human's use for muscles decreased. A sudden shift were intelligence became more important than physical strength happened, and women found a place where they were able to compete with men, and sometimes even excel. For the first time in modern history women found their niche... their way of integrating with society, contributing to the progress of humanity, and regaining their previous respected status. The term "feminism" was coined in the late 19th century. The first wave of modern feminism started in the 19th-early 20th century, mainly giving women the right to vote. This was a worldwide movement but unfortunately had very little impact on the middle east ( some countries like Saudi still don't allow women to vote, and when Kuwait allowed women to vote a few years ago, men called television stations complaining that they feel it is unacceptable to "release women out into the streets" to go vote.) Many women began getting an education, but the patriarchal society dictated that a woman's priority should be marriage, usually at a young age, and with marriage came children... one after the other. The multiple children in a short period of time adversely affected women's health, and most were still unable to compete in society, because they had bigger responsibilities to handle, namely their 12 or 13 children! The patriarchal society model was still being followed despite the fact that women and men were of equal intelligence. The real revolution happened with the invention of the birth control pills in 1960, despite the many adverse effects initially found, they adjusted the doses, and found a dose sufficient for birth control without harming women. This is how the second wave of feminism took place in the 60's-80's. This wave involved equalities of laws and of culture. The third wave of feminism is from the 90's until today, and it is mainly a continuation of the work done by the first 2 waves.

By looking at this short history, one can see that with progress, came the chance for women to be treated as equals, so equal rights for women are an equivalent to how civilized a country is, and how far they have come from the primitive patriarchal societies that once existed. You will also notice that women were never given their rights easily, they had to fight and work hard for them. In the world we live in, religion plays a big part of most peoples' life. Everyone wants to follow their religion carefully, so they will eventually be rewarded and go to heaven. The patriarchal interpretation of religion has been a very large obstacle for women, especially because they wanted to stay within the boundaries set by religion, and they never once questioned the interpretation or how certain rules or restrictions were imposed. With progress and the dramatic increase of educated and free thinking women, many began thinking "outside the box". Some people began questioning points they felt were unfair, and they believed that God would never be unfair to the people he created. They started reading, and many came up with conclusions that they believe contradicted earlier interpretations. These women felt that their own interpretations represented God's word and not an ancient ideology of people's mixed interpretations a thousand years ago. They have found that women were grossly underrepresented in religious institutions, and that when a text is open to individual interpretation, it is usually interpreted from a man's point of view, which may be unfair to these women.

Although women are educated about religion just as much as men, and some even graduate from Al-Azhar university with degrees in religion, so their religious knowledge surpasses that of the average sheikh in a local mosque, women have been denied the right to preach religion in mosques, or to lead prayers. Even worse than that is that women are discouraged from, and rarely pray at the mosque. They are told that it is best for them to pray at home, while the men go to the mosque to pray. In the mosques that allow women to come in to pray, women usually are given a small corner in the back, so they pray behind the men. Women are taught that this is their place, and they should never question the validity of this blatant display of misogyny. Some go as far as considering any discussion of this subject as blasphemy. The idea of a woman imam was unheard of and ridiculed. Any woman who dared think of such a ridiculous act was deemed immoral and irreligious. The Hanafi interpretation of Islam allows a woman to lead a female only congregation, but if a male is present, regardless of his age, social status, education or knowledge, he should be the leader in prayer. There is no frank Koranic text that prohibits a woman imam, but again it is the patriarchal interpretation that refuses to see a woman lead in any way, including prayer.
The only hadith that unequivocally states that women may not lead mixed congregations is Ibn Majah (Kitab iqamat is-salat was-sunnati fiha) #1134, narrated through Jabir ibn Abdullah: "A woman may not lead a man in Prayer, nor may a Beduin lead a believer of the muhajirun or a corrupt person lead a committed muslim in Prayer." So again this hadeeth equated a religious pious woman to a corrupt person, or a non believer. The blatant misogyny expressed in this hadeeth is not fit to be a saying of the prophet, who clearly respected women, and one if his sayings actually tells people to learn their religion from 3a2esha. "You can learn half your religion from this rosy-cheeked girl." He therefore encouraged people to consult her in religious matters, and after his death she became one of the major sources of Hadith. It is clear that the prophet respected her opinion, and trusted her ability to preach religion and teach others about it, which is what an imam does during the Friday sermon and prayers. The conclusion is that the prophets actions contradict the saying of the hadith forbidding women to be imams. Religious scholars have also stated that "The eminent scholars of Hadith say that the chain of reporters of this hadith is extremely weak, and hence, it is not to be taken as evidence in the question in hand." In conclusion, no religious text forbids a woman from becoming an Imam in any prayer, or from preaching religious sermons. It is also clear that the one factor that stops women from practicing their religion in the way they choose is society, and the patriarchal ideology that society tries to disguise in a religious form.

In recent years, women have become more active on this front, and many examples can be found worldwide of how women stood up to the decaying old traditions, and attempted to regain their rights which they were originally given by religion. In 1994 a woman named Amina Wadud became the first woman in South Africa to deliver the Friday sermon, at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape town. In 2003, a new venue for Eid prayer was established in Durban by a group of individuals and was later taken on by an organisation called Taking Islam to the People . To date there are 5 women who offer the Friday sermons at this venue. In Canada in 2005 and 2006, many women preached on Fridays, and led mixed gender prayers. These events were organized by The United Muslim Association in Toronto, Canada. This organization is determined to continue this practice of having women delivering the sermons and leading prayer.The United States also has its own activists, who started in March of 2005 to lead prayers, despite the uproar of the assembly of Muslim jurists of America, who issued a fatwa banning the practice, totally disregarding religious facts,and acting only based on their patriarchal ideology. The women also received bomb threats, and the venue where the prayers were to be held was changed to avoid violent extremist reactions. These events all took place in non Muslim countries, who gave these women enough space and freedom to practice their religion in ways they felt was acceptable to God's words.

The sad part is the events in "Islamic" countries, who have the available resources of understanding religion, and speak the very language the Koran uses to teach Islam. In Bahrain in 2004, a 40 year old woman attempted to deliver the Friday sermon in one of the biggest mosques there. This took place on the last Friday of Ramadan. The would-be Imam was wearing full male dress with an artificial beard and moustache. The mosque was packed with 7000 worshippers. When she sat in front of the people just before she was to deliver the sermon, some worshippers realised that the new imam was a woman in disguise. They and the mosque's imam, Sheikh Adnan Al-Qattan , handed her over to the police who arrested her. The reaction of the worshippers as well as that of the police was uncalled for. This is in addition to the fact that the voice of a woman working alone can never be loud enough to impact a patriarchal society. Had this woman had enough support from her peers, she would not have had to resort to drastic measures to practice a right she believes that she has. Had the worshippers been more open minded and more respectful and understanding, they would have discussed the matter with her rather than called law enforcement. Had the police officers enough respect for women, they would not have arrested her for attempting to deliver a sermon in a mosque, which is not an illegal act.
In India, a Muslim woman named Daud Sharifa runs a 3,000-strong network to help Muslim women. She believes that a mosque for women is one way of relieving the many sufferings of Muslim Indian women who have to submit to "community rulings" of mosques which are run by males, and women have no say in how the rulings are made, women are also not allowed to enter most mosques in the area.. Many of the women feel that the rulings are biased against women who have been divorced, abandoned and mistreated by their husbands. The mosque is basically run by women, but prayers are open to everyone. Although this is not against God's teachings, it has caused an uproar from religious figures. After this news was published on an Arabic website, the reactions of the Muslim men were astounding. They have ranged from outrage to anger to redicule and insults, with very few supporters.

My conclusion is that in order for women to live free and have equal rights in our society, religion has to be understood in its true form, devoid of any patriarchal or misogynist ideology. Then, and only then will men support the rights of their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. This will only be accomplished if women stand up for themselves and their beliefs, and never give in to a society that undermines their efforts or initiatives. It will also work only if women are united so their voices can be heard. {13:11 Truly, God will never change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)} .

First Post

Before I begin my first post, I would like to thank Fantasia for giving me the opportunity to contribute to her wonderful blog. I have enjoyed reading this blog, and commenting as well as reading other's comments. The ideas exchanged have always been informative and educational. I am looking forward to the discussions and the input of everyone, so please feel free to disagree or agree with anything I say, and lets see what we can learn from each other!! Thanks again Fanta!!

Egyptian Feminist Chic

Wednesday, January 9

Honor Killings: The Shame Behind the Oxymoron

I saw a very alarming post on Cao's Blog that I'd like to share with you here. This is something which takes place on a regular basis in Egypt, that we have come to accept it as a matter of fact. The headline is "Honor Killings" (What a stupid name! How can crime and honor both meet in the same term?). Although the subject itself is not new to us in any way, yet this time we are allowed to see the crime from a different perspective.. the perspective of the West, of those who suddenly wake up one morning to learn about this crime through their local newspapers.

The Crime:

An Egyptian cabdriver, who lives in the United States and is married to an American ( Christian) woman, has shot his two teenage daughters when he found out that each of them has got a boyfriend.

Let's check out what was written about this crime on The Dallas Morning News:

Sarah and Amina Yaser Said looked luminescent in their pink dresses, a pink flower in each girl's hair. One might have thought the sisters were sleeping were it not for the matching pink-lined coffins that held them.

Their Christian funeral service Saturday – followed by a Muslim service later in the day – served as a reminder of the promise their short lives held and the needless tragedy of their deaths. Police believe they were killed by their father, a 50-year-old cabdriver.
And the police presence was a reminder that the girls' Egyptian-born father, Yaser Abdel Said, is still on the run.

Amina, 18, and Sarah, 17, who both attended Lewisville High School, were found shot to death in a taxi at an Irving motel Tuesday night.

The girls’ great Aunt spoke with journalists, relaying that Mr. Said had been abusing them for two years, and their mother left with the girls after he found out they had boyfriends and threatened to kill them. She said, “This was an honor killing,” a practice in which a man kills a female relative who he believes has somehow shamed the family.

The girls were buried in a muslim cemetery, because in Islam, the children inherit their religion from their father.

And here's Cao's comment on this crime:

Of course, two years is a very short time. In some countries, the child abuse starts from when they’re very young, like this little girl in Moracco. Even their holy men get into the act. How dare she step on the prayer rug!

Cao ends her post concluding: "Why should anyone object? It’s their religion."

And her reply to my request, asking for permission to publish this material over here was:

"Yes, go ahead, Fantasia. Some say he’s hiding in the neighborhood, but I am more inclined to believe he went back to Egypt where this is acceptable."

Now, please let's quit the crap for a moment and not say these are individual practices that nobody approves of. And don't tell me the story of the four witnesses, cause this rule has never been relied on in real life. Let's talk facts.

Honor killings are a fact that we all hear about without being least alarmed. It is not religion, but some people strongly relate it to religion. There is no stronger proof than the fact that only Muslim countries witness this kind of crimes.

Egyptiana had written about this issue earlier, and she rightly entitled her post "They Kill Women in Egypt". And you will find much of what I am going to say here to be written in my comment on her post.

Violence against women in Egypt has been on the rise recently due to many social, economical and cultural factors. Yet those factors can never act as a justification for such crimes. Honor killings seem to be practiced without minimal hesitation, and are in fact considered to be glorious acts in some cases.

The murderer, who kills a female relative, is raised to a heroic level by his community. This actually increases the number of totally innocent female victims, because the men in their families do not really care much about finding out the truth. They instantly take any suspicious signs or casual talks running in the neighborhood as a chance to become heroes. Those are usually very marginalized people, who would happily do anything, including murder, to find a meaning for their lives.

The result: 65% of victims of honor killings were found to be virgins according to autopsy reports. Now, you would expect a country which suffers from a moral crisis like that to do its best in fighting against those crimes and make sure not to encourage this kind of twisted criminal thinking. However, the damn miserable crisis in the case of Egypt is that our laws treat honor killings as if they were justified.. even if the judge presiding over a certain trial is 100% sure that the killer had other motives behind the murder.. or that "rumors" related to the victim's conduct in this case have only served as a golden chance, or excuse to perform the act and escape punishment.

Criminals found guilty in those cases won't be executed!!.. Because there is an article in the Egyptian law which gives "honor killings" a different status in deciding penalty for murder charges! Article 237 of the Egyptian Penal Code reads “Whoever surprises his wife in the act of adultery and kills her on the spot together with her adulterer-partner shall be punished with detention instead of the penalties prescribed in articles 234 [permanent or temporary hard labor] and 236 [hard labor or imprisonment for a period of three to seven years]. While Article 17 of the Egyptian Penal code allows judges to decrease the sentences given in the case of murder when they decide that the condition of the murderer requires so. Such reductions reach as little as six months that could also be spent during the trial. Therefore the murderer can escape being imprisoned and walks free.

Which means that basically any murderer whose victim happened to be a female, can plead that it was an honor killing to be able to escape execution. And this happens a lot. There was even a case where the murder was committed for theft (and it was very clear from investigations), yet because the murderer was a distant relative of the victim, his lawyer suggested that he claims it was an honor killing in order to receive a better sentence. This is the real disgrace in my point of view. The law is encouraging people to go about killing females in pursuit of glory. And the press is just disgusting in the way it covers those crimes. The journalists use their imagination to attract readers at the expense of social and legal justice. They make the victim turn into a whore who destroyed her family, being sure that she can never come back to defend herself.

A true example from court cases: *
In the court case No. 831 of 1998 in Qena, a girl's father and brother killed her. She was mentally retarded and suffered from psychological disorders. She used to go out of the house without permission. She also used to spoil the food when cooking and ruin some of the household equipment. Her father and her brother could not tolerate her any longer. After her mother's death, they both pushed her to far away place so that nobody could see them or hear her voice. They both strangled her with a red shawl she was wearing; they also hit her hard on her back and tummy with a stick and left her dead.
The court found out that there was no proof that the girl's chastity was in question. Both the father and the brother said that they killed her because of their deep concern and fear that she might get involved with a stranger due to her frequent trips outside the house. In spite of the fact that the court was sure that the two men had committed murder of first degree, yet the judge used article 17 of the Penal Code and gave the father a verdict of imprisonment for ten years only.

Now, Let's have a look at statistics which reveal horrible facts about honor killings in Egypt (1998-2001):
Murder of a female for being suspected 79%
Murder of a female because of adultery 9%
Murder of a female to hide incest 6%
Murder for other reasons 6%
Degree of relationship between the victims and the murderer:
Husband killing the wife 41%
Father killing the daughter 34%
Brother killing the sister 18%
A man killing his female relative 7%

I believe this says it all.. I want us for just once to be able to look our problems in the face and see the damage caused by absence of justice. What remains is to be brave enough to put an end to that. Whatever your motive might be.. whether it be human rights, sympathy, concern for Egypt's image, concern for the deformed image of Islam, or rejection of violence.. all motives in the end will lead to one way: Honor killings must be treated as any other murder crimes, without any discrimination or justification.
*Information copied from an expert paper prepared by Fatma Khafagy, The Association of Legal Aid for Women
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde