December 28, 2006

Born of Fire

From "The Economist," 19 December 2006

Our correspondent travels to Somalia and Afghanistan in search of jinn.

THERE is a cleft in a stone hill outside Qardho, in northern Somalia, which even the hardest gunmen and frankincense merchants avoid. In the cool dark, out of the bleached sunshine, there is a pit, a kind of Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole, which is said to swirl down into the world of jinn. Locals say jinn—genies, that is—fade in and out above the pit. Sometimes they shift into forms of ostriches and run out over the desert scrub.

The Bible holds that God created angels and then made man in his own image. The Koran states that Allah fashioned angels from light and then made jinn from smokeless fire. Man was formed later, out of clay. Jinn disappointed Allah, not least by climbing to the highest vaults of the sky and eavesdropping on the angels. Yet Allah did not annihilate them. No flood closed over their heads. Jinn were willed into existence, like man, to worship Allah and were preserved on earth for that purpose, living in a parallel world, set at such an angle that jinn can see men, but men cannot see jinn.

Less educated Muslims remain fearful of jinn. Hardly a week passes in the Muslim world without a strange story concerning them. Often the tales are foolish and melancholy. In August, for instance, Muslims in the Kikandwa district of central Uganda grew feverish over reports of jinn haunting and raping women in the district. So when a young woman stumbled out of the forest one day, unkempt and deranged, she was denounced as a jinn. Villagers beat her almost to death. Police finished the job with six bullets at close range. The young woman called out for her children in her last moments. An investigation revealed her to be from a neighbouring district. She had spent days without food or water, searching for her missing husband. Editorials in Ugandan newspapers called on the government formally to deny the existence of jinn.

That would be divisive. Although a few Islamic scholars have over the ages denied the existence of jinn, the consensus is that good Muslims should believe in them. Some Islamic jurists consider marriage between jinn and humans to be lawful. There is a similar provision for the inheritance of jinn property. Sex during menstruation is an invitation to jinn and can result in a woman bearing a jinn child. According to the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad preached to bands of jinn. Some converted to Islam. This is how jinn describe their condition in the Koran:

"And among us [jinn] there are righteous folk and among us there are those far from that. We are sects, having different rules. And we know that we cannot escape from Allah in the earth, nor can we escape by flight. And when we heard the guidance [of the Koran], we believed therein, and who so believeth in his Lord, he feareth neither loss nor oppression. And there are among us some who have surrendered to Allah and there are among us some who are unjust." (72:11-14)

In Somalia and Afghanistan clerics matter-of-factly described to your correspondent the range of jinn they had encountered, from the saintly to the demonic; those that can fly, those that crawl, plodding jinn, invisible jinn, gul with vampiric tendencies (from which the English word ghoul is taken), and shape-shifters recognisable in human form because their feet are turned backwards. Occasionally the clerics fell into a trance. Afterwards they claimed their apparently bare rooms had filled with jinn seeking favours or release from amulet charms.

A parallel universe

Although Somalia and Afghanistan have different religious traditions (Somalia being more relaxed), jinn belief is strong in both countries. War-ravaged, with similarly rudimentary education systems, both have a tradition of shrines venerating local saints where women can pray. Women are supposed to be more open to jinn, particularly illiterate rural women: by some accounts education is a noise, a roaring of thought, which jinn cannot bear. Sometimes women turn supposed jinn possession to their own advantage and become fortune-tellers. Among the most popular questions asked of such women is: “Will my husband take a second wife?” The shrines are often little more than a carved niche in a rock, with colourful prayer flags tied to nearby trees. Jinn are said to be attracted to the ancient geography of shrines, many of which predate Islam; as some have it, the shrines were attracted to the jinn.

Islam teaches that jinn resemble men in many ways: they have free will, are mortal, face judgment and fill hell together. Jinn and men marry, have children, eat, play, sleep and husband their own animals. Islamic scholars are in disagreement over whether jinn are physical or insubstantial in their bodies. Some clerics have described jinn as bestial, giant, hideous, hairy, ursine. Supposed yeti sightings in Pakistan's Chitral are believed by locals to be of jinn. These kinds of jinn can be killed with date or plum stones fired from a sling.

But to more scholarly clerics jinn are little more than an energy, a pulse form of quantum physics perhaps, alive at the margins of sleep or madness, and more often in the whispering of a single unwelcome thought. An extension of this electric description of jinn is that they are not beings at all but thoughts that were in the world before the existence of man. Jinn reflect the sensibilities of those imagining them, just as in Assyrian times they were taken to be the spirits responsible for manias, who melted into the light at dawn.

When a donkey brays

The English word genie, from an unrelated French root, is now too soft and gooey with Disney's Aladdin to catch the acid qualities attributed to jinn. Sepideh Azarbaijani-Moghaddam, a specialist on Afghanistan who has undertaken anthropological research on jinn belief, reckons she may once have been in the presence of jinn. She was riding with others in the Afghan province of Badakhshan. It was towards dusk. They came down into a valley forested at the bottom. The horses tensed. “Suddenly from out of the trees I felt myself being watched by non-human entities.” A cold fear overcame her, “the fear of losing the faculty of reason”. A Kabul cleric describes this sort of feeling as a shock at the existence of otherness. Animals sense it also: when a donkey brays, it is said to be seeing a jinn.

Unbelieving jinn, those who resisted the Koran, are shaytan, demons, “firewood for hell”. Many Muslims see the devil as a jinn. Some reckon the snake in the Garden of Eden was a shape-shifting jinn. All this may yet play a part in the war on terrorism. Factions in Somalia and Afghanistan have accused their enemies of being backed not only by the CIA but by malevolent jinn. One theory in Afghanistan holds that the mujahideen, “two-legged wolves”, scared the jinn out into the world, causing disharmony. It is jinn, they say, who whisper into the ears of suicide-bombers.

Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, a Pakistani cleric connected with a jihadist group, Jamaat al-Fuqra, has given warning to America that its missiles will be misdirected by jinn. It was all very different in the days of King Solomon, who was said to have had control over jinn and used them as masons in building the temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish influence over jinn is strong. It is probably no coincidence that the inscription on Aladdin's lamp, which bound the jinn, was engraved with Hebraic characters. Believers in abduction by aliens like to think jinn are aliens; some of the more confrontational Muslim clerics dismiss claimed apparations of the Virgin Mary as the work of jinn.

The story of Ahmed Shah Masoud, the commander of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, clearly shows up the link between jinn and myth-making. Masoud resisted the Soviet Union and the Taliban from his base in the Panjshir valley until he was assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives on September 9th 2001. According to local legend, Muslim jinn were on his side. One of his fighters was said to have slain a dragon in a mountain lake during the Soviet occupation and to have brought the dragon's jewel to Masoud, with the help of Muslim jinn. In murdering Masoud, some Panjshiris say, Osama bin Laden declared war on Muslim jinn also. This is obvious, they say, from Mr bin Laden's insistence on division and violence.

Your correspondent spent a night with Masoud's former bodyguards in the Panjshir. The men were employed to look after Masoud's tomb. His office was locked. The bodyguards sat cross-legged on the floor of a room opposite. A kerosene lantern flickered. Machineguns were propped against the bed-rolls. A few men went outside. The first winter snow was falling on the jagged peaks that towered up on all sides. It was fiercely cold. A dog limped below, ears flat, tail between its legs. It whimpered. The men looked at the dog. “The jinn is still here,” one said. “Bismillah,” responded the others. They pointed out jinn settlements just below the snow-line on the mountain slopes. Inside, over plates of mutton and grey rice, tea, snuff and Korean cigarettes, they told the story of how the cook had been possessed by a jinn the week before. He was a devout man, they said, a non-smoker and illiterate. “He fell ill. When he recovered, he found he could speak and write in many languages. The jinn that was in him was well-travelled but also pushy. It demanded a cigarette, then another, and then it became impatient and swallowed lighted cigarettes whole.”

In Somalia, the port of Bossaso is famous for its sorcerers. Some of its ruling class claim to have intermarried with jinn long ago. On a recent visit your correspondent was taken to a metal shed at the edge of a slum where jinn were supposed to be banished from taking human form. The air inside the shed was thick with frankincense. There was a man cloaked in red cloth kneeling on the ground. A jinn was in him, a sorceress running the ceremony said, and indeed the man wore an eerie expression, as though a part of him was obscured. Young men jumped up and down around him, chanting and beating drums. The gunmen accompanying your correspondent were too scared to step into the shed. Later, walking away from the shed in hot sunshine, one of the gunmen insisted that he could see a jinn scavenging for bones in the dirt. There did not appear to be anything there.


If it ain't one thing...'s another. SE Asia's at the start of its "winter" monsoon season (properly known as the "northeastern monsoon," because the winds bringing in the rain blow to the northeast). Unlike the so-called "monsoon" season in the American west, with its duststorms and thunderstorms, the monsoon in Singapore is the real deal. A week ago Tuesday, Singapore had the third highest rainfall in the past 75 years for a 24-hour period. (We got more rain in that one day than we did all of last December.) That rain caused minor flooding and a couple of mud slides in S'pore, but significant flooding in southern peninsular Malaysia (primarily from the state of Melaka on down through Johor). There's also been some very heavy flooding on the Indonesian island of Sumatra (to our west), with over 100 dead and hundreds of thousands evacuated. (Sumatra, if you'll recall, was the island devestated by the tsunami two years ago.) Back here in S'pore, we received another all-day drencher this past Tuesday, although conditions weren't quite as bad as last week. (Although... JD at the doctor's clinic Tuesday night, getting weighed: Doctor: "You've gained 4kg (about 9 lbs) in the past month." Me: "My pants are soaked from the rain.")

Then there was the earthquake just south of Taiwan late Tuesday night. This quake damaged two underwater cables on the Pacific Ocean floor, making internet traffic in eastern Asia (from Japan to Australia) *very* sporadic yesterday and today. I've been very lucky to visit what websites I can. Also, two TV channels were knocked off the air yesterday, although one I don't receive and the other (the Hallmark Channel) I rarely watch. Even now (Thursday morning, as I write this), connecting to some websites (especially American websites) is very much hit-and-miss. Visiting websites that are westward (toward Europe) is somewhat easier. So if you've had trouble visiting my blog recently (and traffic was down by about half yesterday and today), that's the reason why. (Update: Eleven hours after I wrote this, I'm now finally logged into Blogger to post this; I wasn't able to log in all day long.)

Updates: Alhamdulillah, internet access finally started improving significantly on the third day after the earthquake (Friday). Also, the weather service here in S'pore has said that this December is the wettest since 1869, when meteoroligical measurements began here. As of the 28th, 765.9 mm (3.01") of rain has fallen. Still, we haven't yet matched the wettest month ever. That was January 1893, with a total of 818.6 mm (3.22"). However, there's still 31.5 hours left in the month. ;)


While there aren't that many people who beg for money here in S'pore, I was struck by a dilemma last night at one of the bus/MRT interchanges. In a very short distance there were four people asking for money. Whom might I give some money to? The young mother with the crying baby? The blind man who has a slight hunchback selling tissues? (He's a daily fixture at this particular interchange.) The busker singing and playing the guitar? (Another daily fixture.) Or a young man who has a severe disability with his legs? (Imagine sitting flat on the ground with your legs out in front of you; now, instead of your calves and feet being straight ahead, they're turned out, left and right, away from each other at 90 degree angles to his thighs. That's how this poor guy was sitting.)

Born of Fire

In the past two months, I've been reading The Economist somewhat consistently. In this week's (Dec. 23rd) edition, there's an interesting two-page article on - of all things - Jinn! Actually, what I've noticed in these past few weeks is that The Economist regularly discusses various Islamic issues and current events involving Islam and/or Muslims. (The average issue will have anywhere between one to seven articles on these topics; this week's issue has at least three articles). And while The Economist's editorial board doesn't always get it right regarding Islam, they're much more often "right" than "wrong." (For example, regarding the recent UK controversy regarding the niqab in the UK, The Economist argued against a ban.) The article about Jinn is located here, although I'm going to reprint it in my next post, insha'allah.

BTW, my ustaz has told some rather interesting stories about women possessed by jinn and a few of the exorcisms he's performed. Repeat after me: "Ah 'udhu billahi min-ash-shaitan-ir-rajim."

December 24, 2006

The Lady Caliphs

I came across this video via Muslim Apple's blog. It's a feature from ESPN's Sportscenter on the W. Deen Muhammad HS (Atlanta) Lady Caliphs basketball team. The video (run time: 7:01) focuses on both the team and the coach, Fard Abdur-Rahman. The team, two years prior to the making of this video, had an abominable season of 0-20. (I know the feeling all too well; my HS swim team my freshman year had a similar 0-whatever season.) Moreover, the team had been treated with typical American bigotry and Islamophobia. However, with Brother Fard's guidance, the team had gone in the 2005-6 season to a 21-1 record and a "Sweet 16" finish in the Georgia state basketball championship (this, despite being a school with only 87 students).

And let's not forget that these girls compete with sweatpants and hijab on - yet another nail in the coffin for the idea that Muslim girls/women can't compete effectively in sports unless they dress immodestly.

December 20, 2006

Blaming Islam: Examining the Religion Building Enterprise

The following is an excellent essay by Dr. Louay Safi, entitled "Blaming Islam: Examining the Religion Building Enterprise" (published 3 December 2006). This summary of a much longer article (26 pages) examines how Orientalist viewpoints have found new life in neo-con political thought, and how this in turn has affected relations between the American government and Muslims worldwide. The full version of the essay seems to focus much more intensely on the infamous RAND report, Civil Democratic Islam: Partners Resources and Strategies, written by Cheryl Benard in 2003 (although I haven't had the chance to read through the entire full-length essay just yet). Dr. Safi concludes with a number of recommendations that, if implemented, would be greatly helpful, insha'allah, in easing tensions between the American government and the Muslim world; however, I have severe doubts that any of them would ever be implemented (especially by the current administration).

Blaming Islam for the lack of democratic and scientific developments in Muslim countries is not a new idea but an old enterprise, rooted in the nineteenth and twentieth century European Orientalism. The late Edward Said succeeded, in the 1980s, in unmasking Orientalist notions within Western academia and exposing its false pretense. In his seminal work, Orientalism, Said demonstrated that Orientalist views of Islam were used to justify the European colonial ambitions in the Muslim world. Said’s monumental work was pivotal for the eventual transformation of Middle Eastern studies in Europe and the United States, as it forced the academia to embrace more scholarly and objective methods when studying the Muslim world.

Specialists who were intent on presenting Islam and Muslims in a negative light were unhappy with the positive portrayal, as were those who previously considered their work to be objective. Many were particularly disturbed by the rise of authentic voices that presented Islam as a vibrant religion, whose followers share many of the values and concerns of the West. Led by Princeton University historian, Bernard Lewis, they attempted to refute Said’s work and defend Orientalism. But Said’s thesis was profound, and Orientalists never fully recovered.

The September 11th terrorist attacks on mainland United States gave a new momentum to the Orientalist spirit. Bernard Lewis once again led the effort to revive Orientalist notions with the publishing of his 2002 book, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. Using subtle arguments, he indeed placed the blame on Islam and Islamic traditions for the failure of Middle Eastern societies to develop and modernize like the West. Lewis’ book has since been followed by an avalanche of similar articles and publications, mostly by neoconservative journalists and pundits, who reinforce Lewis’ thesis and even blame Islam for the rise of terrorism as well as the rising tension between the West and the Muslim world.

The blame game is led today by neoconservative pundits who often present Islam as the new villain to be confronted by American military power. They have consistently presented Muslims as incapable of democratic rule, and who espouse values that are antithetical to world peace and religious tolerance.

To ensure that their views are not challenged by the academic community, neoconservatives are working hard to undermine academic freedom by intimidating scholars that present a balanced view of the Middle East. Martin Kramer’s Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, a diatribe against Middle East Studies in U.S. universities, and Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, an organization devoted to smearing professors critical of U.S. foreign policy and Israeli’s treatment of Palestinians, are two such examples. This campaign is one that aims to intimidate free thinking on Middle East politics and silence voices that challenge their perspective.

Although many of the anti-Islam writers and neoconservative pundits play on the fear of the general public by publishing books for a general audience, others have been done for policymakers under the cover of respected institutions and think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the RAND Corporation. Readers should note that this activity began in 1992 when Defense Department staffers I. Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz drafted the “Defense Policy Guidance.” and was followed more discretely and in more depth in a report, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” published in 2000 by the Project for the New American Century.

The neoconservative attitudes of, and approach to, Islam and the Middle East is well illustrated by a widely publicized report written by Cheryl Benard and published by the RAND Corporation in late 2003 under the title Civil and Democratic Islam. Like other neoconservatives, Benard blames the rise of intolerance, anti-democratic tendencies, and terrorism on all Muslim individuals and groups that closely adhere to Islamic values and practices. RAND openly advocates “religion building” as the only way to counter terrorism and anti-Americanism.

Religion building is an invitation to world powers to reform Islam. It is a call for reinterpreting Islam and restructuring Muslim societies so as to counter the rise of militancy in Muslim societies. There is no contention over the need for reform, and the need for cultural and social reforms in Muslim societies and communities is well articulated by Muslim intellectuals long before Islam became the main focus of Western reporters and pundits. Indeed, reform has been underway for more than a century now, and Muslims have been engaged in an internal struggle to redefine modern Islamic societies in ways that aim at empowering civil society and ensuring democratic control.

The contention is rather over how reform is to be achieved, and who is more capable of leading the reform. The contention is over whether reform can or should be imposed by outsiders who have little understanding of Muslim societies and vague sense of the nuances of local cultures, and who call on world powers to use their political and military clout to impose sociopolitical design on Muslim societies and communities. A call for external intervention to restructure the Islamic faith and rebuild Muslim societies is faulty, and is guilty of misreading Islam and ignoring the sociopolitical reality that gives rise to global terrorism.

Religion building is perilous, complex, ill-conceived, and practically untenable. It is a distraction and a blatant attempt to avoid any serious evaluation of the responsibility of world powers for the radicalization of Muslim politics. The rise of radical Islam cannot be explained purely on the level of religious doctrine. Radicalization of Muslim politics is directly connected to the rise of authoritarian regimes in Muslim societies. Authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes that suppress open debate and silence opposition have long enjoyed the support of successive U.S. administrations.

On balance, Islam has been a positive force, rather than a villain to be arrested and chastised, in the development of the modern Middle East. The focus on radical groups perpetrating violence in the name of Islam prevents some analysts from appreciating the centrality of Islamic notions and values in the progress toward a more open society and vibrant culture. A full assessment that takes into account the impact of Islamic reform on Muslim society would illustrate that pessimism toward Islam, reflected in RAND’s Civil Democratic Islam and similar documents, is unwarranted.

While urging support to one group and opposition to another, neoconservative pundits remain oblivious to the connection of the various ideological groups to the larger population in Muslim societies and to one another. The United States, as an external political actor that is increasingly perceived by Muslims as biased and uneven-handed, cannot positively affect political development by rendering support on the basis of artificial religious preferences. Rather, it must base its positions on intrinsic values and political principles. In actuality, Benard’s recommendations are nothing but a recycling of the very old foreign policies that got us where we are today and that have led to the radicalization of the Middle East.

The United States has tried in the past to put its weight behind Muslim secularists. The result has been the aggravation of the internal political balance and the radicalization of the societies where the U.S. took sides on the basis of superficial criteria and short-term interests. It was the very approach of siding with modernists against socialists and traditionalists that got the United States into trouble with the Iranians, the Lebanese, and, most recently, the Palestinians.

The report is conspicuously silent on the effects of U.S. foreign policy, which has been frequently characterized by Muslims as one of inconsistency and double standards – one that supports friendly dictators and corrupt, but useful, regimes in the Muslim world, while pushing for democratic reform in Eastern Europe; one that defends human rights in China, but ignores them in the Middle East; and one that protests Palestinian violence against Israel, but remains silent in the face of Israeli violence in Palestine. Indeed, the politicization of Islam and the rise of anti-Americanism are directly linked to the very efforts that aim at marginalizing Islam and forcing Western secularism on Muslim society.

RAND’s Civil Democratic Islam is a case in point and illustrates the tendency to treat Islam as an anomaly to be evaluated on the basis of different standards than the one used to evaluate Christianity, Judaism, and other world religions. The author of Civil Democratic Islam has surprisingly chosen religious identity rather than political values to distinguish foes from friends. While Civil Democratic Islam declares democracy and civil rights to be its ostensible goals, it surprisingly stresses religious doctrine and lifestyle to distinguish democratically oriented Muslims. Benard can hardly say the same thing about similar practices among Christians and Jews. The author would not use the same terms to describe Joe Lieberman, the U.S. senator from Connecticut, who is also a practicing orthodox Jew.

Containing radical groups and ensuring more friendly and cooperative relations with the Muslim world requires a drastic shift in policy and attitude. Rather than searching for “lifestyle” criteria to separate friends from foes, the United States’ position should be based on principles and values. The United States should support and cooperate with political forces in the Middle East that uphold the values of freedom, equality, and tolerance of ethnic and religious diversity, and should embrace those who display commitment to democracy and the rule of the law, regardless of their religion, religious doctrines, and their “lifestyle.”

Rather than using lifestyle and religious criteria to assign guilt, the U.S. government needs to extend its founding principles to followers of all religions, and ensure that it does not use different standards for dealing with different religions. The United States must be consistent in pursuing its support for democracy and human rights, and must ensure that the principles of right and justice that guide its relations with Europe also apply to its relations with Muslim societies.

American Muslims can be of great help in fighting terrorism and extremism, and in bridging the deepening divide between the United States and the Muslim world. American Muslims have deep understanding of both Muslim and American cultures, and are well-positioned to help reconcile Islam and the West. American Muslims have already made remarkable achievements at reconciling Islamic values with the founding principles of the United States, and have managed to develop good and important experiences as to how Islamic values can bear on modern living. They can be instrumental in sharing their experiences of aligning Islamic values and education with democratic institutions and practices with coreligionists in Muslim countries. But for that to happen in more effective ways, American Muslims need to be involved in policy making and implementation, rather than allowing themselves to be marginalized and chastised.

In addition to involving American Muslim leaders in consultation on policies relating to Islam, the Muslim world, and the war on terror, civil society and government organizations should: (1) engage Muslim leaders who represent social and political groups that are committed to democracy, instead of relying completely or exclusively on the views of experts who do not have firsthand contact or experience with Muslim groups; (2) ensure that U.S. foreign policy is always respectful of democratic principles and values, the rule of law, and protection of human rights; (3) apply the same set of principles and values to all people, regardless of their religious and ethnic affiliation; (4) withdraw support from authoritarian regimes, and send a clear message by requiring an open political system and free and fair elections as a precondition for economic cooperation; (5) have a clear position regarding Islam, and avoid sending mixed messages to Muslim communities and societies.

* This article is a condensed summary of a more elaborate paper on the question. For full version of the arguments, please refer to Dr. Safi’s paper at

Dr. Louay M. Safi serves as the executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center, an Indiana-based organization dedicated to enhancing leadership awareness and skills among American Muslim leaders, and a founding board member of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He writes and lectures on issues relating to Islam, American Muslims, democracy, human rights, leadership, and world peace. His commentaries are available at his Blog:

December 17, 2006

December 16, 2006

Sama Sama

Every now and then, Milady asks me to run across the street to this one Malay-food restaurant. I've gone over there a number of times over the past two years, but it seems like, no matter how many times I go over there, the guys who work there (Malay Malaysians) can never get over the fact that I can speak a tiny bit of Malay. Now I've gotten a tremendous amount of grief over the past three-plus years from Milady and her parents because I haven't really tried to learn Malay, although I do have a tiny vocabulary and know most of the greetings and courtesies. That's what happens at this restaurant: Ang Moh here speaks a few Malay courtesies and these guys flip. Around Eid, I went over to the restaurant and one guy gave me several greetings; I gave him the correct responses. For example, he said, "Hari raya eid ul fitri," and I responded, "Eid mubarak!" He looked at the other workers, pointed at me and made a face as if to say, "Get a load of this guy! He knows what to say." Today, I gave one guy some money to pay for the food and he says, "Terimah kasih" (thank you). I say, "Sama sama" (you're welcome). His boss, who's looking on, laughs! (The Ang Moh knows what to say yet again. Can you believe it?) I swear, if I were to speak fluent Malay to these guys, they'd probably drop dead on the spot from the shock! ;)

December 14, 2006

"It's a Glory for All Muslim Women!"

Back in September 2005, I began writing several posts about the controversy surrounding Sania Mirza and her clothing on the tennis court. In the comments to one of those posts, I began discussing whether women tennis players would be hampered if they wore, say, sweat pants on the tennis court, comparing the issue to baseball players who wear both pants and long-sleeved shirts as part of their uniform. My conclusion then was that, no, both men and women playing tennis really wouldn't have their performance negatively affected by wearing more modest clothing.

Enter Ruqaya Al Ghasara, a 24-year-old Bahraini sprinter who took the gold in the Women's 200m and the bronze in the Women's 100m sprints at the Asian Games, currently playing in Doha, Qatar. Ruqaya is different from most sprinters, though, in that she's an observant Muslim and won while having covered her legs, arms and hair.

The debate whether Muslim women can succeed at high-profile track and field competitions without compromising their beliefs on attire may have been buried for good at the Khalifa Stadium yesterday [December 11] when Bahrain’s Ruqaya al-Ghasara sped to a spectacular 200m gold at the Asian Games. “It’s a glory for all Muslim women,” she declared after crossing the finish in 23.19 seconds, adding an extra emotional dimension to her achievement by falling to her knees and kissing the turf.

It marked the first time in the history of the Asian games that a Muslim woman kitted in a full tracksuit and a hijab has won a track gold medal and that too in the draining 200m sprint which calls for a tremendous burst of energy and mental resolve.

"I want to say I'm very thankful for being a Muslim; it's a blessing," said the sports management student. "Wearing conservative clothes has encouraged me. Wearing a veil proves that Muslim women face no obstacles and encourages them to participate in sport."

"Wearing traditional Muslim dress has encouraged me. It's not an obstacle – quite the opposite. Wearing the hijab shows that there are no obstacles. I've set my best times wearing the hijab and even qualified for Osaka in it," she said, referring to the Japanese city which is hosting next year's world championships."

Congratulations, Ruqaya!

Ruqaya Steals the Thunder
Veil No Bar to Glory for Muslim Women Says Doha Champion
True to Her Faith

December 3, 2006

The "Empire" Strikes Back (?)

The modern day version of the "He-Man Women Haters' Club"...

...and just as childish too. Yo, Spanky, don't OD on them Cheetos!