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Behind and Beyond the Veil

Muslims in America: Rewriting the Hijacked Story

I AM AMERICAMarch 9, 2015

President Obama’s recent State of the Union address inevitably met with controversy. Particularly, the lack of applause on the part of Congress when the President stated, “It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims- the vast majority of who share our commitment to peace.” I will concede that applause stopped towards the end of that statement. However, I heard applause that was left over from the statement about speaking out against anti-Semitism. It wasn’t silent though, as some articles have contended. As a matter of fact, Vice President Joe Biden was clapping behind him as he was talking. Further, Obama talked about closing Gitmo. He went so far as to say,”… I will not relent in my determination to shut it down. It is not who we are. It’s time to close Gitmo.”  Some members of Congress stood up and applauded that statement. We all know that the majority of prisoners in Gitmo are Muslim. So, let’s not split hairs on what was applauded and what wasn’t. Exaggerating minor issues is counterproductive to the real issue of destroying the stigma around being Muslim. Granted, the point some are trying to make is that our elected officials don’t seem to care about the Muslim population in this country. I say it is the job of the moderate and progressive Muslims and a responsible media to make them care.

Muslims are a marginalized group in this country at the moment; it is our job to take responsibility for our own image from within and make our elected officials and government care about us. We are for the most part newly arrived in this country, and for many of our families, it was a question of survival in America.  Having a voice and position in society at large was on the backburner for many people. Hence pre 9/11, although Muslims were present in America, most people knew very little about them. When I was in school, I told a classmate I didn’t celebrate Christmas, and he immediately asked me if I was Jewish. He never heard of Islam and was still baffled when I explained it. Luckily, most people knew who Gandhi was and lumped us in with him. While I don’t want to be stereotyped at all, I can live with that. I would rather be associated with a peaceful, non-violent force for change than violent extremists.

Post 9/11, everybody brown was Muslim and a terrorist. Of course, the media will jump on that because it’s intriguing and draws people in. Lately with ISIS attracting morbid curiosity and feeding Islamophobic hysteria, the focus is drawn away from Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafsai and Muslim clerics worldwide who publicly denounce Islamic extremism. “Muslim terrorist” instead of “Muslim peace activist” is a far more provocative headline that will attract an audience.

What the mainstream media chooses to ignore is that there are people who want to know the reality of a situation. The reality is that the extremists make up less than 1 percent of the Muslim population. Different factions and different levels of practice are prevalent, just like any other religion. Within those factions, the majority of Muslims just want to be free to live their lives, like anyone else.

However, it is not just the media’s job to show who Muslims really are. It is the job of Muslims ourselves. We need to focus the spotlight on ourselves. We need to be involved in our communities and not sit quietly in our esoteric bubbles. The newly arrived need to stop looking down on American culture and try to keep their children away from its corrupting influence. If you’re going to live in America, be a part of the American experience.  Recently, I have seen younger people who embrace their Muslimness and have American friends who are not Muslim and do what other American kids do. They go to the mosque and play with their friends, regardless of religion. We need to keep being positive, visible forces within our communities.

Other communities in this country have achieved success raising their positions in society. In the 60’s, African-Americans changed the trajectory of their journey in this country by actively claiming their civil rights as citizens and as human beings. Legal, social, and institutional racism barred their path. Yet while this country is far from perfect where the racial divide is concerned, African-Americans are more affluent than they have ever been, comprising a large percentage of the middle class and holding a large percentage of white collar jobs. An African-American president is an undeniable sign of progress. The Muslim community doesn’t have the same impediments. Undeniably, iniquities and injustices have been perpetrated against Muslims. Obama promised in 2008 to close Gitmo and did not. Officials in the Bush administration who authorized torture at Gitmo will never be prosecuted. Foreign policy, drones, and the “War on Terror” have killed countless Muslims. Even with those unapologetically detrimental events, we have to follow in the steps of the path that was laid out before us and change our trajectory in this country.

Elevating ourselves from the margins of society and history is not an easy task. The Muslim community needs to educate ourselves related to issues that affect us to become active members of American society.  We must actively take our own destinies into our own hands and rewrite our own story.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

From American Born Confused Desi to American Born Infused Desi

Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

February 21, 2015

“American Born Confused Desi” and the skewed perceptions that come along with that title have always permeated my life.  Recently, I have been thinking about that term, particularly the “confused” part. At this point in my life, there is really nothing confused about me. I know exactly who I am and what I want.  I now embrace and enjoy being a cultural hybrid.Hence, I offer a new term: American Born Infused Desi. One who embodies an eclectic amalgamation of aspects of various cultures, recognizing the merits of all and not putting one on a pedestal, including one’s own.

Generally speaking, the biggest difference between Western and Eastern culture could be seen as the central focus. In Western culture, the needs of the individual are at the forefront.  In Eastern culture, the needs of society and the family are often paramount. Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t I make sure my cup is full and still sacrifice for the greater good? Or conversely, am I instantly wrong when I don’t engage in blind sacrifice?

Why does society tell us we have to be one or the other? That it’s all or nothing. In so many areas of life, balance is key.Choosing cultural ideology is no different. I have had the privilege of being exposed to more than one culture. I choose the ideals that I feel make me a better human being.

When I feel it is warranted, I spend my time, my energies, and my talents on what I deem worthwhile. The expectation should not be automatic because of some perceived duty. Other times, I choose me and have every right to. The whole matters. I am a part of the whole, so I matter, too.

In how I dress and how I carry myself, I am very Western. Obviously, I was born in a western country. However, I enjoy wearing a kurti, dupatta, and jeans. I can’t get enough of my dresses with Indian accents and embroidery. I still can’t bind a sari to save my life, but I don’t mind getting someone else to do it. I’ll wear Indian jewelry with pretty much anything. My fierce individuality and independence come from my western side. Those two ideals are the cornerstone of my life.

Still, I can be traditionally Eastern in any given situation. I can wear my salwar kameez or sari and be reserved and quiet. At the same time, I never gravitated towards being a submissive, sacrificial archetype. I have seen movies where even kings say they are slaves to their crown or servants to their people. Why can’t you be of service to others and still remember you matter?Being generous to myself and others doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. I can lean towards either end of the spectrum but like to stand in the middle.

In my language, I enjoy mixing English and Punjabi. Effortlessly code switching between two or more languages once embarrassed me because I thought it highlighted my lack of fluency in the eastern languages. Now, I see it as me having facility to recognize which language can convey my thought better. Again, I don’t see the need to choose one or the other.

While I may not be an angel or a paragon of Desi culture, I am still an excellent human being. My bicultural background is not a source of discomfort or confusion. Why should it be? It is a gift.  I no longer see myself as an American Born Confused Desi. I now see myself as an American Born Infused Desi.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

The Evolution of the South Asian Woman

modern indian BBV
January 28, 2015

When I was a little girl, I was a full-on tomboy.  I climbed trees, watched football, and took a punch with the best of them. My mother would sew me pretty little dresses and lament that I wasn’t wearing them. I was wearing jeans all the time because I was running around with my brothers playing tackle football or engaging in some other activity that would cause me to come back all muddy. In my early teens, my sister gave me the nickname “little brother” because I spent my Sundays watching football or whatever sport my brothers were watching on a particular day. Of course, I grew up and became more feminine by paying attention to my hair, clothes, and make-up.

However, that was the extent of my feminization or what people deem that to be, particularly other South Asians. For me, the message I got was that I should be aspiring to be that coy, bratty, sari-clad Bollywood babe. I was told, “Sameena tera wich nakre ni hai.  Nakre sikle.”(Sameena, you have no coyness in you.  Learn to be coy). Do I gather from these two statements that straightforwardness is just a male quality? Or being a woman is intertwined with being manipulative?

Why? Why do I always have to be demure and soft-spoken even when I feel passionate about what I am saying? When I feel strongly about something, my voice just naturally goes up an active without me realizing it. It naturally projects. I’ve been a high school teacher for over 15 years. I need my voice to be loud once in a while.

In the past when I have been around these demure, soft-spoken, graceful ladies, I have felt like they don’t know what to do with me or that I am horrifying them in some way with my blunt-instrument like honesty.  Some men don’t seem to know what to do with me either. My delivery isn’t so quiet that I am almost whispering. When I am saying something important, I make sure I am heard.

Also when something is important to me, I let it be known. If action needs to be taken I do what I need to do to make what I want happen. I don’t feel the need to sacrifice everything, every time, for everyone. That doesn’t make me more of a woman, if I do. I am no good to anyone, if I am not fulfilled and happy.

However, much of our South Asian tradition has us believe that sacrifice and martyrdom is the path to fulfillment. One of the paragons of Indian culture is Sita. Let’s break down Sita’s story.  She is married to Rama and kidnapped by Ravan. She is imprisoned by him for over 10 years and maintains loyalty to her husband. When Rama finally finds her and brings her back, he gives in to pressure from the people and makes her walk through fire to prove her purity. She does it, and that should have proven her innocence. It wasn’t good enough for some people, and she is then exiled by her husband. While in exile, she gives birth to god-like twin boys. Eventually, she is reunited with Rama, but she is asked to go through fire again. She refuses and says a prayer to Mother Earth to swallow her up to show her purity. Mother Earth takes her into her lap, thereby proving Sita’s innocence. For her sacrifice and purity, she is a symbol of ideal womanhood.

I admire her patience and humility, but why is she persecuted over and over again? She is put through trial for something that is done to her not for something she’s done. I love that she humbly goes back to Mother Earth. However essentially, her suffering ends by being buried in the earth. To me that message is the woman who is continuously subordinate to the point of oppression is most honored and blessed in the end.

To take the sacrificial lamb motif further, one of the classics of Hindi cinema, “Mother India” depicts a perennially suffering heroine who is rewarded after her years of hardship. Arguably, one of the most depressing films I’ve ever seen in my life. The main character is a village belle who gets married and everything is wonderful until her husband loses his arms in a farming accident. Seeing himself as a burden, he then disappears. She loses one of her sons, also. All of this loss earns her the title of “mother of the village.”

This has been a pervasive archetype in South Asian literature, as well. According to this model of womanhood, a female has to suffer silently with a smile in order to deserve and achieve happiness. I’ve read books I couldn’t finish where this was pervasive. Why does self-denial have to be the pathway to acceptance and happiness as a woman?

Even with this centuries old ideal, I find we are headed in a different direction. More South Asian women work outside the home and still maintain that balance of family and career. Our literature is featuring more diverse women who seek fulfillment beyond their traditional roles. I see more and more powerful female characters in Hindi cinema who actually have more fleshed out lives beyond wives and mothers.

In my life, I find people are intrigued by my straight, no chaser brand of honesty. My lack of nakre. While I have always strived to be demure and charming in my delivery, I will never be soft-spoken. For me, that’s fine. I don’t feel the need to be anything other than what I am.

More and more, I see a stronger, more assertive, South Asian woman. She’s not afraid to ask for what she wants and be who she wants to be. She hasn’t forgotten her duties as wife, daughter, and mother. She just remembers her duty to herself as well.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

The Top Ten Misconceptions of an American Born Confused Desi

american-born-confused-desiJanuary 15, 2015

I was born in America. I am proud of that. I am South Asian. I’m proud of that, too. Infusing the two sides has been a confusing, chaotic, fantastic ride.Hence, the term, “American Born Confused Desi” emerged. At one time, one felt like they had to choose: either to act all American or all Indian. Infusing the two was never an option until recent times. Many of us have said: “I’m an East/West blend.” Sounds like one of those General Foods International Coffees.

Unintentionally amusing labels aside, bicultural identity is now embraced and not criticized.  Nobody is telling us to choose one or the other. On that wonderfully haphazard journey, (at least for me), I have affectionately recognized my past lack of cultural awareness of my South Asian side to create a list of ten misconceptions that I and some of my brethren have shared:

Number 10:  Creating your own version of your Mother Tongue thinking you were actually speaking correctly because your family understood what you were saying.

Number 9:  Having no conception of what pani puri is or why it is so appealing. I still don’t get it.

Number 8:  Thinking that only the kids born in India smelled like khaldi. Believe me, you did, too. That smell gets everywhere and has a life of its own.

Number 7:  Never quite mastering a nala. To this day, I will only buy shalwar kameez with elastic.

Number 6: Not every Indian man looks like a nerd or one of your uncles. Some of them are actually pretty hot.

Number 5: Goodbyes cannot be less the thirty minutes. I’ve tried to make them shorter. It doesn’t work.

Number 4:  Not every kid born in India or Pakistan is an angel and a paragon of Desi culture.

Number 3:  Not being quite sure how to make chai with loose tea because you’re so used to teabags. The first time I ever made chai with loose tea was a perplexing adventure, but I got through it.

Number 2:  Thinking every Bollywood actor is either Raj Kapoor or Amitabh Bachchan.

Number 1:  Thinking every Bollywood actress has the same singing voice because you did not understand the concept of a playback singer!

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…  

On Bill Maher, Malala, and the Marginalization of Muslims


malala for blogDecember 17, 2014

A few weeks ago, I was watching “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  Normally, I find his topics and guests interesting, even if I don’t agree with everything the panel is saying.  Additionally, I find Bill Maher’s sledgehammer atheism amusing at times.  But that episode just gave me pause because it was the most reactionary I have ever seen him be.  It was like watching white supremacists talk about “lazy black people” and “shifty Jews,” to quote Ben Affleck.  It took me a long time to write this blog because unlike Bill Maher, I actually like to do thorough research before I send something out into the world.

In the beginning of this episode, Maher talked about “liberals not standing up for liberal principles” and how essentially, these principles do not exist in the Muslim World.  Those of us who have studied Islam contextually know that the religion was founded on liberal and even feminist principles.  The whole episode was one broad generalization after another asserted by Bill Maher and one of his other panelists, Sam Harris.

For my purposes, I will focus on Bill Maher.  One of the many blissfully ignorant quotes about Islam: “It’s the only religion that acts like the mafia that will f**king kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.”  Since when does a religion commit any action?  So, was it Christianity that killed Muslims during the Crusades?  Or was it brainwashed, overzealous, knights who had visions of Paradise in their eyes?  Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Maher goes on to say that violence and extremism, “in the Muslim World is mainstream belief.”  Yet, five Muslims since 2000 have won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Most of the recipients were distinguished in their fields with the exception of Malala Yousafzai, who is only 17 and the youngest Nobel Prize winner.  I would say these are leaders in the mainstream.  I suppose Bill Maher and Sam Harris would say they are the exception and not the rule.

Let’s talk Malala.  She was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting education and justice.  Yet, she continues her peaceful journey with her moving words in front of the United Nations and on television shows worldwide.  How many more, brave, moderate Muslim voices echo throughout the world that just don’t get the media coverage?

Yet according to some and a Congressmen named John Bennett, we’re all bloodthirsty terrorists.  He actually said Muslim Americans are the same as ISIS and seek “the destruction of Western Civilization from within.”  Well, somebody better call Homeland Security because I’m Muslim American and especially dangerous because I have a brain and a public platform.

Actually, it is John Bennett who dangerous.  He has supposedly researched Islam and drawn his conclusions.  He decided that Shariah was dangerous enough to start a campaign to ban it in his home state of Oklahoma.  How is Shariah even an issue when Muslims are in the minority in Oklahoma?  Compounding the absurdity is in November, he ran unopposed and was reelected. Inflammatory elected officials are far more pernicious than any Muslim I know.

Taken together, these extremist groups don’t even make up 1 percent of the billion people who practice Islam.  Most Muslims are appalled by the violence committed by fringe groups in the name of God and religion.  We’re taken even further into the rabbit hole when we are lumped into those groups.  Did anyone vilify Christianity after Waco, Texas and Oklahoma City?

The complexity of humanity is such that no group is just one thing.  There isn’t one type of man, woman, Christian, Muslim, Jew, and every other group in the world.  Diversity exists in every form.  To label a billion for the actions of a few is ludicrous.

While certain sections of the media and others in the public sphere try to ensconce us in the dark corners of history, the moderates and progressives have to come forward and light the way.  We need to float on full pages and not skulk in the margins.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

Heaven, Hell, and the Circuitous Pathways in Between

purgatoryOctober 22, 2014

Recently, it was Eid-ul-Adha, the commemoration of the end of the Hajj and the story of Ishmael and Abraham. I’m not really a mosque visitor, but for both Eid holidays, I go. It’s important for me to pray in a community of believers on those days.  I don’t follow many rituals. However, that one appeals to me.

In any case, I was in the mosque, and the imam was reciting the Eid sermon or khutbah. Now, a major part of Eid observance in the mosque is the khutbah. I make it a point to listen to it. Or in this case, I attempted to listen to the khutbah. The sound system and acoustics were so awful most people couldn’t even hear it.  However, I did hear one word of the entire sermon: forbidden.

That word at that moment, was an instant turnoff. Why do so many religious leaders focus on fear, guilt, and punishment? The best weapon to control others with is fear. Fear of God’s punishment, wrath, and vengeance. This type of religious teaching is the method found in many religions. Ironically, the foundation of religion is love. Love for God and all his creation. Why isn’t religion taught that way?

Karl Marx once referred to religion as, “the opium of the people.” I submit that religion is the rein of the people. Especially, when it is taught through fear. It is the ultimate tool of the victimizer over the victim, the oppressor over the oppressed, and the ruler over the ruled. It’s a shame that many times all of these titles exist simultaneously. It is God’s will. God will reward you in the life to come. Your suffering is the path to heaven.

Why must we look ahead to heaven? We can create heaven all our days. Milton said in Paradise Lost, “…the mind… can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…” Watching the sun disappear over the horizon while it blankets everything in its warm hues as the moon and stars take over with their special brand of illumination, that’s paradise. Loving unselfishly and being loved in return is heaven. That’s God at his miraculous best, not the potentially violent judgment that is part of the paralyzing propaganda of many organized religions.

If we choose to teach religion and spirituality, why don’t we just focus on God’s love for us and loving one another without judgment? Someone once talked to me of studying religion from the stance of “compassionate scholarship.” Too often, we use religious teaching as an excuse for being fearful of and eventually hating other people. When a Klu Klux Klan member would burn a cross, he would talk about doing “God’s work” before he did it. How is hating another human being and then burning a symbol of God his work? When the Israeli government creates illegal settlements in Gaza and displaces and kills Palestinians when they resist, their justification is because it was the land of the Jews thousands of years earlier If the land was unjustly taken, what God wants you to replace one injustice with another? Or when ISIS beheads a human being, they demonize the God and religion they supposedly hold dear. When vicious acts are committed in the name of God or religion, that is one of the ways hell is created on earth.  Fear and hate are the foundation of hell, whether it’s here or another dimension.  ove and compassion are the foundation of heaven.

We create heaven and hell on earth in many ways every day. Focusing on what is wrong in God’s creation and what is forbidden leads to the fear and the hate.  Let’s keep it simple when we talk religion. Leave fear, vengeance, and punishment out of it. Nobody does anything productive out of real fear. Love and joy are the essence of life. They should be the essence of religion.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

On Fasting and Not Feasting


FF blog picAugust 15, 2014

A few weeks ago, Muslims around the world celebrated Eid-ul-Fitr, culminating the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. I was one of them. Now, I am not the most religious person at this point in my life. Actually, I question organized religion entirely (not God, before you religious types come at me). Organized religion. That’s it. Ironically, I will at this moment and forever more call myself a Muslim. Additionally, I will, as long as I am physically able, observe the fasting during Ramadan. You might say that’s a contradiction. I might agree with you, but while I don’t embrace ritualistic religion like I used to, I embrace the spirituality where I see it. That’s what Ramadan is for me, spiritual learning and growing.

Many people say to me: “How can you do that? I don’t see how you cannot eat or drink any water all day.” What they don’t understand is that it went beyond the physical for me long ago. The more you do it, the more a part of you it becomes. It’s part of me. I never choose to not do it because I feel weak or I don’t feel like it. I go for almost three mile hikes when I fast. I am just used to the physical aspect of it. That’s the only way I can explain it.

However, I’ve evolved in the spiritual aspect of it. I went from being constantly grumpy and snappish to setting an intention at the start of Ramadan. (Well, I’m still a bit grumpy and snappish, but I do watch the cursing). This year, I wanted to learn more about creating real change in my life.I prayed, meditated, and studied the Quran. One thing that came up and comes up again and again when I read the Quran is patience and perseverance. Many verses mention those two qualities. These ideas weave their way into my meditations. I find they are the antidote in many situations.

It’s not only that. In order to create change, you must actively direct your focus. If your focus is on what is not being done or done correctly, you don’t move forward. Awareness of a weakness or mistake is useful when you face it and accept it. But when you dwell on it, it becomes an obstacle. I have known this for a while but have not applied it in all areas of my life. I became more aware of those areas during this past Ramadan.

Some might ask, “How does the learning happen?” I can’t say specific moments when I learn what I want to learn. I just know that my awareness is heightened in many ways during this time. Lucky for me, this awareness is going beyond Ramadan. Which is what you want: to evolve. If you don’t evolve whether it’s in life or the actions you take in life, what’s the point?

That’s what Ramadan has become for me: an opportunity for evolution. I’ve started to realize every day is an opportunity for evolution. Religion should never be used as an excuse for stagnation. Rather, it should be a vehicle for illumination. So when I’m fasting, I may not be feasting on food. Instead, I’m feasting on knowledge.

Until next time…look behind and beyond the veil…

Lament for Palestine

New pic for LFP blog

July 21, 2014

The other day, I saw a photograph of Israelis lining up beach chairs on a hillside. They were smiling as they anticipated watching the rockets being launched against Gaza. I understand that they were outraged at the loss of three innocent lives, but the loss of hundreds more innocent lives is something to cheer for? I was horrified, as I have been for the past 12 days watching the total disregard and far worse, the overflowing zeal for the loss of human life.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a vicious cycle that started before my lifetime, and unfortunately, will more than likely continue for years to come. I cannot begin to fully comprehend the quid pro quo behavior that has occurred on both sides for over sixty years. Protesting injustice or meting out justice should never include the murder of innocents.  Violence is not in any religion, which is at the undercurrent of this conflict.

However, violence is a quicksand that sucks its participants in at rapid speed. Hence, the quid pro quo behavior. It actually becomes more of a competition in terms of who can be more brutal. Three Israeli teenagers are kidnapped and murdered. Then, one Palestinian teenager gets kidnapped, tortured, and burned alive. Both cases break my heart. Casualties in a brutal history that started long before they were born..

I don’t want to get too deep into the politics and the history here, but both sides claim a historical right to the land. However, if you legally purchase one bit of land that doesn’t give you the right to seize another piece of land, and then become righteously indignant when the people whose home you’ve invaded defend themselves. It is not beyond rationality to understand that they might get a little angry while doing it. Of course, violence is never the preferred course of action in defending oneself, but desperation leads to escalation.

Does Israel have the right to defend themselves? Of course. But Israeli artillery and firepower are far superior to Hamas’ rockets. It’s like an Army general who launches a rocket launcher from a Sherman tank against a cadet who is throwing firecrackers at him from an ice cream truck. The defense against Hamas is an assault on civilians with extreme prejudice to say the least.

I fail to understand that a residential building gets attacked because the Israeli military knows who is inside, but they don’t know four children are playing on a public beach? Over 400 Palestinians have been killed in this conflict. About 80% are civilians.  A large number of those killed are children. In Israel, the death toll amounts to eighteen soldiers and two civilians. Loss of life is tragic no matter which side it is, but which side has the most might here?

My heart bleeds for the people of Palestine, not for Hamas or for the Israeli Defense Force. My heart bleeds for Israeli civilians who are caught in the crossfire also. How many more mothers have to bury their children before politicians on both sides put their egos aside and implement real peace?

Until next time…look behind and beyond the veil…

​​Vindication of the Rights of the Veiled Woman


Leila for blog

July 14, 2014

“Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.”

                              – Cersei  “Game of Thrones”

 Sadly, this is as true in the Muslim World as anywhere else. As a matter of fact, the inflicting of pain on a Muslim girl seems to occur at will and whim. Although it is injustice when any girl is hurt, in a culture that stands on the platform of Islam for any and everything, it is particularly appalling.  In the community of the Prophet’s time, women were respected leaders. Where is that standard today? Inevitable media embellishment aside, horrible crimes against Muslim women occur every day. What would the Prophet say? A man who supported women’s rights even before there was a word called feminism. If we are to model our lives after the perfect Muslim as we are encouraged to do, why do we forget his balanced treatment of the women in his world?

Injustice occurs everywhere across space and time, across gender. Recently, I have read reports that have given me more pause than usual. In Iran, young girls decided to do a lip-dub to “Happy.” They wanted to show the world that people are happy in Iran. However, the message was lost because they were dancing on rooftops. Certain segments of the population found this to be vulgar. The girls were arrested, forced to take their clothes off in front of female officers, and humiliated publicly. First of all, I saw no vulgarity in the video. The girls were dancing by themselves and fully covered. They didn’t have their hair covered, but I hardly call that distasteful.  Clearly, some do. What exactly did they do wrong when they were trying to show that people in Iran are happy? I realize that I am looking at it from my Western lens.  But even if you look at it from the other side where is the compassion? Fear and intimidation are not the way to teach lessons and share your perspective. I also understand that this does not happen everywhere in Iran, but the fact that it happens is a problem. Additionally, it is yet another mark on the Muslim World. Yet something else that makes us look like savages to the rest of the world.

The other report that caught my attention was about Iranian actress, Leila Hatami who served on the jury at Cannes. She should have received commendation for representing the artistic side of Iran to the world. However, she was beyond criticized for allowing the 80-year old festival president to kiss her on the cheek, as is European custom. She extended her hand for just a handshake, but he still kissed her. How was she supposed to respond? Was she to create a scene and disrespect her host? Or should she have handled it with grace and decorum? She chose to handle the situation with tact, and there was still controversy, like she instigated it, which is par for the course for any woman in any part of the world.

The backlash was unnecessarily harsh. Different factions within the country have called for her punishment. A women’s group, Student Sisters of Hezbollah called for her public flogging.  According to them, her “sinful act of kissing a strange man in public” should have been punished. Again, she did not kiss him. He kissed her when she wasn’t expecting it. Furthermore, why are other women calling for the abuse of another woman? I am sure there are underlying causes that because I am not a part of the culture I do not understand. However culture aside, there is no justification for physical abuse.

Hatami then had to issue a public apology and explain herself. Even the Minister for Culture and Guidance said that she seemed to be “caught off guard,” which she clearly was. She was at an international event representing her country in the best manner possible. She found herself in an awkward situation and handled it as best she could. She should have been commended for handling herself in a graceful manner. Instead, she was vilified and forced to explain herself for something that at the end of the day is between her and her husband. Ironically, I don’t hear any complaints from him.

At the end of the day, I respect the sentiments and perspectives of all, even if they differ from my own. However, I do believe that all situations where possible should be handled with kindness and compassion. I am sure that elsewhere in Iran, situations are handled with both these ideals and that media attention tends to focus on those situations when they are not present. Both these situations were handled irrationally and harshly… in the name of Islam.  That’s my problem.

During the Prophet’s time, any punishments were distributed equally amongst men and women. And in cases of fornication and adultery. Neither of which occurred in Leila Hatami’s case.  Neither of which occurred in the case of the girls dancing in the video. The morality police need to reexamine their definition.

In any case, it is a dangerous proposition for morality to be dictated. If someone is asking for guidance, that’s another matter. If you are going to use a religion like Islam to impose morality, look at the Prophet’s example. So many times, he showed compassion and mercy towards people who intentionally tried to injure him, even kill him. He showed tenderness and kindness to the women in his inner circle and encouraged the men in his community to do the same. So when our model Muslim took these actions, how can anyone who identifies as Muslim justify doing any less? Sadly, we justify the opposite of his example and become a part of a world that hurts little girls.

Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…

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