Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Dr. Al-Majid notes how names can be used to delegitimize. Calling others by unsavory or prejudiced names, though, has a long history within Islam. That doesn’t make it good; in fact, it’s almost always unhelpful. He argue that those who toss around the name ‘Wahhabi’ have politics as their mission, not anything approaching Islamic unity.

Wahabis, the Nawasib and the Rawafid
Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

Are all of the above terms an example of insults and name-calling? The answer is yes, and for one simple reason, and that is that nobody likes to be branded with such names. It is impossible to get to know others, or create a healthy environment for dialogue, or develop a platform for understanding or communication, whilst branding others with names that they do not like being called and consider insulting. Of the three terms mentioned above, let us bear in mind that the term “nawasib” is the most insulting because it is untrue. The term “Nawasib” comes from the root word “Nasibi” meaning to declare hostility against, and in this context means those who declare hostility against Ahl al-Bayt [Household of the Prophet]. This is a term used by some Shiite extremists when referring to Sunnis; however this is a huge fabrication, for all Sunnis without exception love and respect Ahl al-Bayt. As for the [original] Nawasib who were hostile towards Ahl al-Bayt for political reasons, they are all extinct.

May:28:2010 - 10:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (24) | Permalink

According to Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, when enough members of Saudi society are convinced that it’s a good thing for women to drive.

In his column in Asharq Alawsat, he says that efforts to push the government to wave its magic wand and simply say, ‘Women shall drive!’ is misguided. That’s not the way social change works, particularly in the face of strong opposition from other members of society. He notes, correctly, that incidents don’t generally result in change, but instead, a long stream of incidents that upset larger and larger numbers of people. Eventually, that mass grows great enough to offer government the protection it needs to make drastic change. Saudi Arabian society has complications that other countries might not have, at least not the same complications. While the mass of public opinion might lean one way, some groups within the country have voices that count more than others. Unfortunately for women drivers, many of the religious conservatives have very loud and weighty voices. Even here, though, there are clerics who want to see women behind the wheel, or at least have the right to be there.

Al-Rashid does note that no one really knows what the Saudi population thinks about women’s driving, due to a lack of polling data. A poll on the subject would be very helpful, I think.

Women Will Not Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia!
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid

Repeated appeals to the official authorities in Saudi Arabia to put an end to the ban on women being allowed to drive have been to no avail. Women will not be sitting in the driver’s seat anytime soon, despite a huge number of text messages and emails calling for this by those who advocate women being permitted to drive.

All campaigns to remedy this situation have failed, and in my opinion this is as a result of a mistake being made by attempting to take a shortcut with regards to convincing the government to change its position on this issue. I personally believe that it is impossible to convince any government, regardless of one’s influence, of something without there first being widespread public acceptance of the idea. Those who oppose this idea base their opposition on the official rejection of this, as well as on religious and social aspects as well. It may be difficult for others, by which I mean those outside of Saudi Arabia, to believe that a large proportion of Saudi Arabian men and women are against the idea of women driving cars, especially as this is something normal and ordinary to them, and women also ride donkeys, horses, and camels. Those outside of Saudi Arabia believe that this ban exists in opposition to the will of the public, but we do not know if this is true, in light of the lack of polling information to reveal public opinion on this issue.

May:28:2010 - 08:11 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

The Boston Globe has an interesting essay on religion. The writer, Stephen Prothero, is the author of the book God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter. His point is that efforts to make all religions part of the same happily family are misguided. The differences among the religions, he says, are at least as important as the similarities. Do read the whole piece at the link.

Separate truths
It is misleading — and dangerous — to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom
Stephen Prothero

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim, which reaches back to “All Religions Are One” (1795) by the English poet, printmaker, and prophet William Blake, is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so self-evidently at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, both essentially the same and basically good.

This view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture, not least on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, “Eat Pray Love,” where the world’s religions are described as rivers emptying into the ocean of God. Karen Armstrong, author of “A History of God,” has made a career out of emphasizing the commonalities of religion while eliding their differences. Even the Dalai Lama, who should know better, has gotten into the act, claiming that “all major religious traditions carry basically the same message.”

Of course, those who claim that the world’s religions are different paths up the same mountain do not deny the undeniable fact that they differ in some particulars…

This is a lovely sentiment but it is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

UPDATE: For another view on the limitations of interfaith dialogues, take a look at what Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf has to say (Google translation into English here). [Thanks to Solomon2 for the link.]

May:28:2010 - 08:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (26) | Permalink

Here’s an article, from Saudi Gazette/Okaz, that starts out well: A Saudi cleric supporting athletics for women. It starts to run into the ground, however, as the sheikh starts enumerating those sports he thinks inappropriate. I can sort of see boxing, perhaps even weightlifting (but only if one considers those sports to be ‘unfeminine’). He really starts to lose me when he gets to car racing and bicycling.

Judge sees no harm in women’s sports
Abdullah Al-Dani

JEDDAH – A Saudi cleric has encouraged women to engage in modern sports activities that are compatible with the teachings of the Islamic Shariah.

Sheikh Nasser Al-Dawood, chief judge at the Ministry of Justice, said that sports such as volleyball, basketball, tennis, running, horse riding, swimming, rowing and shooting are categorized under permissible fun in Islam for both men and women. No-one has the authority to ban what Allah has made Halal (permissible), the Sheikh said.

A Muslim woman must not wear revealing clothes that expose her body when practicing sports or be in direct contact with men when doing so, he said.

Al-Dawood, however, argued that some sports such as boxing, weightlifting, car racing and bicycling do not suit the genetic and physical make-up of the female body.

But the dear sheikh needs to take some biology classes when he say the following:

Virgin women, he warned, should not put their innocence at risk practicing sports like wrestling, boxing, and aerobics.

While ‘speechless’ might be an appropriate response, instead I’ll suggest that a society that puts such a high value on a woman’s virginity needs to work on re-setting its priorities. Besides, where’s his condemnation of horseback riding? It’s pretty well known that riding horses has spelled the end to more than a few hymens (if only in excuse). But clearly, women rode horses at the time of the Prophet. So what gives?

What gives is that by trying to keep artificial and antiquated notions alive, the sheikh gets wrapped up in inconsistencies which, if examined, prove to be self-contradictory and rather silly.

Still, he’s taken a step in the right direction, even if skewed…

May:27:2010 - 05:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (10) | Permalink

Arab News translates a piece from Okaz Arabic daily about Saher, the traffic camera system recently implemented in the Kingdom. Naturally enough, those who receive traffic tickets as a result are not pleased. Traffic cameras are not perfect. In the US, there is a strong move against them because it’s been discovered that rather than promoting traffic safety, they’re being used by municipalities to promote their incomes! Some cities, it seems, have shortened the duration of amber lights—which are supposed to warn drivers to slow and be prepared to stop—in order to put more cars in the camera’s red light zones. More, there are some disturbing statistics that when the locations of red light cameras are widely known, the incident of rear-end collisions rises dramatically.

The Saher system seems, however, to involve both stop light and speed cameras. At present, only two US states, Arizona and Maryland, use speed cameras. They’re pretty widespread across Europe however. Speed cameras are less subject to manipulation and do provide a check—even if only a monetary penalty—against speeding. Of course, cash-short authorities can play around with trigger speeds, but that’s a bit harder to get away with.

Driving in Saudi Arabia is not a pleasant affair. While many drivers seem to think that they’re on German Autobahns, they are not. Saudi highways are not up to the safety standards of the Autobahns; drivers in Saudi Arabia are not up to the standards of German drivers, either. In Germany, one can’t get a driver’s license until age 18. And that license costs somewhere between $1,800-$2,000! Implementing that aspect of driving would certainly bring down the rate of traffic accidents and fatalities! It could also help develop a sense of personal responsibility, beyond what automated cameras do.

Saher never sleeps

Many people who complained about the Saher system after being notified by SMS that they had committed a traffic violation later found out that there are photographs to prove that the violation had taken place and that there is no way to deny it.

One of my friends became extremely angry, saying he was not in the country when the violation took place. After calming down, he realized that his being in the country was not necessary for a violation to take place; the car was his and was being driven by somebody else when the violation took place.

This reminded me of an editor in chief who threatened to publish an exclusive story the next day in his paper about a Saudi woman who received a traffic fine. However, when he was told that it is normal for a woman to receive a traffic violation if the car is registered under her name, he felt embarrassed and did not publish the story.

I read a letter from a Saudi citizen who called on the authorities to stop Saher. I was about to accept what he was advocating as this was his right to express what he wishes freely. However, when I learned he owned a taxi company, I understood exactly why he wanted to stop the system.

I want all those who call for the system to be scrapped to think for one second about the large number of deadly traffic accidents that happen every day.

May:27:2010 - 05:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

It’s not just American airport security and the TSA that lack a sense of humor over airline security. This piece from Arab News points to an incident in Saudi Arabia in which the word ‘explosive’ found a poor reception at the Dammam airport. The incident also led to the airport in Tabuk being shut down for four hours as security officials swept it for explosives.

As to the merits of this passenger’s complaint, I have no opinion. I do know that uttering words like ‘bomb’ or ‘explosive’ at an airport nearly always has a bad outcome for the person using those words, anywhere in the world.

Saudi harassed at airport, files complaint

DAMMAM: A Saudi man who claims he was harassed at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam has filed a complaint with Prince Muhammad bin Naif, assistant minister of interior for security affairs.

Mokhallaf bin Doham Al-Shamri claims he was harassed after an official at the airport twisted his words and alleged his baggage contained explosives. This subsequently led to the closure of Tabuk airport for four hours and a high security alert. Al-Shamri was flying on a domestic Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Tabuk to Dammam. On arriving in Dammam he found his luggage missing, reported Al-Madinah newspaper.

… “When I saw the baggage scattered and unattended, I expressed my displeasure. I also mentioned that it would be easy for somebody to put explosives or drugs into a person’s baggage, including mine. This apparently infuriated the official and so he began harassing me.”

May:25:2010 - 08:00 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The Washington Post today reports on a case of ‘honor killing’ coming out of the Hindu community in India. My point in noting this story is only to demonstrate that ‘honor killings’ are not a part of any specific religion, but are instead cultural practices stemming usually from tribal societies. They, as with the various forms of female genital mutilation, are often believed to be fundamental aspects of Islamic societies: they are not. There certainly are cases of ‘honor killings’ within various Islamic societies, but if one bothers to look, it’s clear that these are actions founded in tribal concepts of honor and shame. These tribes and their behaviors are not restricted to remote regions like Yemen, but can exist in more sophisticated places like Lebanon, even among Christians.

An additional point to note: here, both a man and woman were killed (or forced to commit suicide), so ‘honor killings’ are not exclusively a threat to women. Men, too, can be crushed under the weight of traditions and cultures.

5 sentenced to death in honor killing of Indian couple
from same clan
Rama Lakshmi

KARODA, INDIA — No one in this village visits Chanderpati Banwala’s home, which stands at the end of a lane full of sleeping buffaloes and overturned wooden carts. The boycott began three years ago when her son eloped with his sweetheart, a neighbor from his clan.

But the marriage was short-lived. Village elders declared the relationship incestuous, a violation of ancient Hindu rules of marriage because the two were descendants of a common ancestor who lived thousands of years ago. As the couple tried to flee town, the young woman’s family chased them down and dragged them out of a bus on a busy highway. The groom, Manoj, was strangled, and his bride, Babli, was forced to drink pesticide. Their bodies were dumped in a canal.

“My son did the honorable thing by marrying the girl he loved. But the village council said the boy and girl belong to the same clan and are siblings. They said the couple had brought dishonor,” said Banwala, sitting on her porch kneading dough. “It has been three years, nobody invites us to marriages or funerals, and no shop sells us groceries.”

May:25:2010 - 07:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

The Breitbart news aggregator carries this AFP story about a group of Saudi girls in the Eastern Province who found themselves in a bit of trouble for wearing Emo gear. At the least, this suggests that in addition to Metal and Hip-Hop, other Western musical forms are having an influence in the Kingdom. It’s a bit of a pity, though, that the lamest of the lame forms of music and social identification finds a new audience…

Saudi ‘emo’ girls busted by religious cops: report

Saudi Arabia’s religious police have arrested 10 “emo” women for allegedly causing a disturbance in a coffee shop, Al-Yaum newspaper reported on Saturday.

The coffee shop owner in the eastern city of Dammam called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to complain after the young women, dressed and made up in the “emo” fashion, apparently began disturbing other clients.

The religious police then called their parents to come and collect the women, and to sign pledges that the girls would not repeat their ostensibly offensive un-Islamic behaviour and dress.

UPDATE: I do note—and a commenter calls me to task—that both dress and behavior are behind these girls’ problem. The article states that. ‘Un-Islamic dress’ is a social crime that some in Saudi Arabia believe should be criminally sanctioned, along with ‘Un-Islamic appearance’, i.e., long hair on men, in styles that differ from traditional Bedouin long hair styles. Clearly, some people found these girls’ clothing to be objectionable. As to what their exact behavior was, the article does not state. Saudi Gazette‘s reprise of the AFP story is no more illuminating:

10 ‘emo’ women held in Dammam

May:23:2010 - 11:21 | Comments & Trackbacks (6) | Permalink

Well, there’ve been no medical setbacks, but instead my recuperation is taking a longer and different path than anticipated. It’s all a matter of priorities and getting used to some new medications, but using my analytical skills to parse what’s going on in the Kingdom are a bit lower on the list just now. That will change in the coming days, perhaps weeks, but things will be back to normal soon.

Thanks for your concern and patience!

May:23:2010 - 10:48 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Over the past several months, I’ve pointed to the controversy over comments made last year by Sheikh Al-Ghamdi, head of the religious police in Mecca, concerning the mixing of the sexes in public venues. While some have come to his support, either vocally or by not removing him from his job for wandering too far from the religiously acceptable, others have vehemently opposed his views.

Arab News reports that someone has ginned up a ‘grassroots’ movement among women to argue that men and women aren’t safe to be in each other’s company, even in public. The efforts seems to be what in the US is called ‘astroturfing’, that is, rather than grassroots, it’s a matter of artificial grass (Astroturf [TM]), an effort designed by others but cloaked in what appears to be populist sentiment.

I’ve no doubt that there are thousands of Saudi women who think there’s something wrong with the public mingling of the sexes. I believe them to be in the minority of Saudis—men or women—however. There are, after all, people who think that the moon landings of the 1960s-70s were staged, too. And then there are those who aren’t quite sure if the world is round or flat.

In any event, the paper does give them space to say what bothers them:

Women oppose free mixing

JEDDAH: More than 1,600 Saudi women have backed an open letter to top Saudi leaders and religious scholars, expressing support for the Kingdom’s ban on the free mixing of men and women.

The letter, which is on the Noor Al-Islam website, said women in Saudi Arabia are saddened by the publication of news reports and articles calling for the free mixing of men and women in the Kingdom.

Saudi woman Maryam Al-Khalifa said she is surprised to see some writers attacking Islamic scholars for objecting to gender mixing. “Ahmed Al-Ghamdi described such scholars as astray,” she said, asking how it is possible for him to use such words to describe people who want to protect women.

She added that people who call for the free mixing of men and women do not entertain good intentions for women, adding that such people want to force women into becoming the victims of sex abuse, harassment, rape and infectious diseases such as AIDS.

I’d note that if the situation these women describe is true, it says very bad things about Saudi men. Could it possibly be true that they would rape any non-related women they were next to, just because she was next to them? Do Saudi men have such poor control over their libidos that every women they see is an available sex partner? If so, perhaps the Saudi education system and mosques might want to think about new subject matter for classes and sermons….

May:23:2010 - 09:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (9) | Permalink

Does the US, with its freedom of (and from) religion offer more support and protection to Muslims than many Muslim states? That’s what a Saudi religious scholar and author says. Arab News reports on the comments by Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni who points out that Muslim governments and societies often fail their members in ways that the secular laws of the United States does not. The result, he says, is that the US behaves more like the ideal Muslim than actual Muslims.

It’s not only the US, Al-Qarni says, but throughout the West. Muslim flee their own countries because of oppression, lack of opportunity, lack of a chance to receive a good education. Instead of demonizing the West, it might better serve Muslims to take a long look at why their systems fail and do something about that.

‘Derision of West misguided’

US more in alignment with Islamic values than many Muslim states: Al-Qarni

ALKHOBAR: A popular Saudi author and religious scholar has raised some questions about governmental and societal practices across the Arab world and asserts that the United States is more in alignment with many Islamic values than many countries represented as Muslim states.

Aaidh ibn Abdullah Al-Qarni, whose self-help book “Don’t Be Sad” sells briskly both in English and Arabic, made the remarks in two recent columns published in Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News.

In the columns, Al-Qarni compared a Saudi woman’s experience after being beaten by an abusive husband in the United States with what often happens — or doesn’t happen — in her native land. In the second column, Al-Qarni explored the reasons so many Muslims move to the US and find both greater opportunity and more tolerance that they could expect in their homelands. The thought-provoking articles have prompted many discussions at coffee shops and dinner tables.

“The US deals with its subjects through systems that look like they were based on Islamic teachings while Muslims fail to implement such systems,” Al-Qarni wrote in his column about domestic violence, which focused on a family that moved to the US while the husband was working on a university degree.

Physically and verbally abused, the wife appealed to his family and her family to intervene but to no avail.

May:19:2010 - 09:25 | Comments & Trackbacks (55) | Permalink

Today, let’s enjoy a couple of events that cause certain heads to explode! It’s Cognitive Dissonance Day!

First off, there’s the awarding of the Miss USA beauty queen title to Rima Fakih, an American-Muslim. Now, American beauty pageants nearly all feature a ‘swimsuit competition’, with the contestants wearing, usually, bikinis. That right there—if the idea of a beauty competition weren’t enough—is setting off all sorts of complaints from conservative Muslims: the usual about ‘immodesty’.

What’s really interesting to me, though, is that right-wing extremist Americans see her winning as an example of ‘growing dhimmitude in the US! Wackos and nutcases like Debbie Schussel seem to believe that Donald Trump, owner of the competition, is leading the US to becoming part of the ‘universal Caliphate’ by ordering that a Muslim-American be chosen to win. This thread is being picked up by other Islamophobic websites.

Other sites and blogs, such as Sissy Willis’ SISU report more objectively. Interestingly, Willis throws in a comparison of conservative Muslim women’s dress with the habits worn by members of religious orders, even in the US.

Both sets of objections are, of course, without merit. Ms Fakih is an individual. She claims to be a practicing Muslim and we cannot but take her at her word. Being a Muslim is something that cannot be defined by others; it is a personal relationship with God. If her relationship permits her to publicly dress at the level of modesty afforded by a bikini, that’s between her and God, not onlookers. Her winning has received strong support from the Arab-American community in her hometown of Dearborn, Michigan, as a matter of ethnic pride. (Yes, Dearborn is largely Christian-Arab populated, but not exclusively.)

The conservative, Islamophobic group is equally wrong in its assessment. If Ms Fakih’s Islam permits her entering such competitions, it is far from the beliefs of the Caliphate crowd. It is a form liberal enough to be indistinguishable from average American culture. Had Ms Fakih competed while wearing a burqa, there might have been an argument to be made. As it is, a bikini is about as far as you can get from a burqa on nationally broadcast TV.

The second thing that caught my eye comes from the Religion Clause law-blog which focuses on the intersection of law and religion. This piece notes that efforts to ban the defaming of other religions cuts both ways. Here, a Sri Lankan Muslim is charged with offending Buddhists through the books she wrote telling why she converted to Islam. This isn’t at all the end envisioned by the OIC and other Muslim groups who seek to quash free speech; their view only sees Islam as the protected faith. Not so in Sri Lanka, at least. This is exactly why laws forbidding ‘defamation of religion’ or ‘blasphemy’ are so ill-advised. The only work to one’s own favor when it’s your own court doing the judging. If the legal playing field is balanced, then all critics of any religion are open to legal punishment. It’s easier and wiser to simply avoid the entire issue and let each religion speak for itself in response to speech it dislikes rather than to try and impose the power of the state.

Sri Lanka Charges Muslim Convert With Insulting Buddhism By Publishing Books

On Friday, the British-based Islamic Human Rights Commission reported on the upcoming trial in Sri Lanka of Sarah Malanie Perera, a Sri Lankan national who lives in Bahrain. While she was vacationing in Sri Lanka in March, she was detained by the Ministry of Defense under special emergency laws and charged with offending Buddhism. She was released on bail in April, but banned from traveling. Charges against her stem from two books she wrote describing her 1999 conversion from Buddhism to Islam. Authorities claim that writing the book in the Sinhalese language creates the insult. The trial was supposed to have begun on Saturday.

May:18:2010 - 10:15 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink
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