Archive for the ‘Sarah’s blog’ Category

News and Analysis (7/29/13)

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Has Egypt found its new pharaoh? …

… “Several thousand supporters of Egypt’s ousted Islamist president began marching on a military facility in Cairo on Monday in defiance of an army warning to stay away, risking a new confrontation after dozens were shot dead at the weekend” …

… and “President Adly Mansour has authorised his PM to grant the army powers to arrest civilians … [which] some people see … as an ominous sign – a prelude to a crackdown on the protest camp around the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque”:

“[P]rotesters set on fire two buildings – one belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and another to the” Justice and Construction Party,  the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing:

“Muslim-American civil rights groups are criticizing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for vetoing a bill … passed the bill June 27 as a check against controversial NYPD policies that critics say violate the civil rights of Muslim and other minority New Yorkers”:

Sisters in Islam’s concern that a fatwa on the participation of Muslim women “in the Miss Malaysia World 2013 beauty pageant” exemplified “by Islamic officials here beyond the faith’s intent” when the nonbinding legal opinion “was gazetted as law, making it an offence punishable with a three-year jail term” and/or a $932 fine:

“This is the silliest directive ever! Somehow I don’t think the world have to stop just because we’re fasting. Fasting in Ramadhan is an awesome time between me and my beautiful God. It has nothing to do with non-Muslims eating in restaurants? Sorry MUIB! This is a #fail. Lets stay positive and be a more tolerant society!”:

Fox News feels no need to explain the train of Christians, Jews, and atheists it has paraded to explain Islam over the years, but when the a scholar with “a PhD in the sociology of religion from UCSB and a masters in theological studies from Harvard” writes a book on Jesus, they make his Muslim identity the focus of the discussion:

“We are not all alike. One cannot blame an entire nation for crimes committed by individuals. Also, her destiny is similar to mine” — Almir Salihovic, a Bosnian Muslim massacre survivor married to Dusica, a Croatian Serb:z

“Liberals and candidates from some of Kuwait’s more marginalized tribes have won seats in a parliament which may prove more cooperative with the ruling family after opposition Islamists and populists boycotted the election”:

“Prominent conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari recently said that this June’s presidential election brought national reconciliation and … that Mousavi and Karroubi be freed. Hardliners have repeatedly called for the execution of the two leaders but Khamenei’s remarks suggest that Iran’s ruling system has softened its stance”:

 

Being Profiled

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

My recent experiences traveling back from the Middle East reaffirm my belief that not only does profiling fail to protect us, but it can actually lead to the resentment and marginalization that can feed extremism and violence. I recently had the privilege of visiting Jordan and Turkey over the winter break. However, once arriving at the airport in Istanbul to return to the US via a direct flight to JFK, my pleasant vacation went sour fast.

It began as I stepped into the check-in line wearing a long brown skirt, sweater, and purple silk headscarf. Immediately, the private security hired by either the airline or the airport asked for my passport, as it does with all passengers. Then the questions began: “Where have you been? Where did you stay? Who were you with? Why did you come?” After explaining that I began my vacation in Jordan before arriving in Turkey, they began asking why I was in Jordan, where I stayed, who I stayed with, and if I had any receipts. Then, having looked at my passport, they began asking about previous trips, specifically about trips made to the United Arab Emirates (or Dubai). The security agent asked more and more personal questions, eventually even asking for my student ID card to prove I was really a student. He then took my passport and ID card and went to consult with another man and fingers were pointed my way as they spoke softly out of earshot. Then, he walked away with my passport to make copies in a backroom. Upon return, he gave me back my passport and I checked-in. However, another security agent listened over my shoulder as I spoke to the airline attendant at the desk. Then, the security agent recorded my bag check numbers onto a copy of my passport. No other passenger was given this ‘treatment’.

Having check-in, I made my way through passport control without any questions or problems. Then at 11:15am, it was time to go to the waiting lounge for my flight to New York. This meant going through one last security check (baggage x-ray and metal detector). However, before I even got to the metal detector, again, my passport was taken way and another small conference of security guards took place out of earshot. Why was I so suspicious? What had I done? I then placed my bags, coat, and shoes on the x-ray belt and walked through the metal detector—silence. I did not set of the detector and my bags did set off any alarms at the x-ray machine. I then walked five steps and a security agent asked for my passport. “She has it,” I said, pointing to a security woman a few feet away. The security agent quickly ushered me to a table for my bags to be searched by hand (despite the x-ray agents giving my bag the all clear). I thought, “Fine, other people have had to do this.” But after searching my bag and making me sign something in Turkish that they refused to translate, I began walking away with my bag and passport, but with a mustered a smile trying to understand that they were just doing their job. But they were still not satisfied. “No! You must come this way. Body search!” a female security agent said. I lost my smile. Why? I hadn’t set off the metal detector. No one else was going through this. As they took me back to a small back room, with all the other passengers staring, I felt as if I was a criminal, but what crime had I committed? In this small room, two women felt around my breasts and around my lets under my skirt. This time, I voiced my question, “Why?” “I don’t speak English!” the woman said with force. Then she demanded I sign another form in Turkish, again refusing to translate.

I understand that in comparison with other people’s experiences, this incident may seem minor. And I understand that I have traveled to countries that to the ignorant eye look dangerous. But I was pulled aside because of how I looked and where I have had the privilege of traveling. I felt humiliated and angry, but I didn’t feel any more safe.

The 9/11 hijackers didn’t have long beards or wear thobes, and the London bombers probably would have passed right through security without being profiled. I don’t advocate a security state, but if we must have security at airports, all I ask is that everyone be treated equally. After this experience, I was angry. Then I imagined if I had to always go through this every time I went through a security check, I would be even more angry and alienated, but I have this blog and the Minaret of Freedom Institute as an outlet. I can share my frustration and anger because we have the freedom to express our views, feelings, and experiences. But in many, if not all, Muslim countries, that freedom does not exist or is severely limited. Even Turkey, despite its claims of modernization, does not guarantee the freedom of expression as MFI supporter Prof. Atilla Yalya has discovered (“Turkey Jails Academic for Insulting Ataturk”).

Thus, my experience at the Istanbul airport reaffirms my belief that profiling does not keep us safe and can actually contribute to the alienation of minorities and targeted groups. Moreover, the experience also reaffirms my belief that the freedom of expression is also essential to a safe and secure society.

Sarah Swick

Minaret of Freedom Institute

www.minaret.org

An American Muslim Woman in Saudi Arabia

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

When you hear someone mention “Saudi Arabia”, what images come to mind? Is it is a place of mystery where women are hidden away in vast harems? If you are Muslim, most likely your thoughts turn to the Holy Mosque in Mecca, a sanctuary for Muslims from around the world. As a liberal American Muslim woman, I must admit that I was nervous, scared, and anxious all at once at the thought of spending my summer in Saudi Arabia. I had heard the stories of religious police beating men who didn’t pray and women who weren’t covered properly (according to their interpretation of Islam). I was worried that as a woman traveling alone that I would be turned back at the border, or even put in a “woman’s claim room” where women are claimed by male relatives like a piece of luggage. I am happy to say that the Saudi I experienced was nothing like what the media or rumors portray it to be.

The first thing to understand about Saudi society is that it is extremely family friendly. Most activities are geared towards entertaining families with children. For example, several shopping malls, amusement parks, cafes, and beach resorts are ‘Family Only,” which means that men can only enter it if they are accompanied by female relatives. In this reverse discrimination circumstance, it is single men or groups of men who are excluded, as groups of women may freely enter.

Much attention has been paid to the injustice of forbidding women from driving cars in Saudi Arabia. What people also don’t realize is that this law not only restricts women, but it also puts a burden on many fathers and brothers who practically turn into part-time drivers at night shuttling around their female relatives.

Overall, I enjoyed Saudi society and culture. Like any place else in the World, including America, if you surround yourself with kind, generous, fun, and tolerant people you will enjoy yourself. And, even in Saudi, you can find the famous Arab and/or Muslim hospitality.

Sarah Swick
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Finding Respect in the Arab Peninsula

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute

Recent representations of the status women in the Middle East, and the Arab Peninsula in particular, have focused on how women are disempowered and marginalized. Critics point to the clothes of the region, the black dress (abaya), headscarf (hijab), and in some cases the face veil (niqab) that women wear as evidence of the poor status of Arab or Muslim women. Therefore, on my first trip to the Arab Peninsula I was prepared to be treated as second class person and discriminated against. Moreover, from my experiences in Morocco, I was prepared that when I was not being ignored or ‘overlooked as a mere woman’, I would be subject to constant sexual harassment. Al hamdu lillah, I am pleased to say that this image or fear I had in my head is far from what I have actually observed and experienced.

I first arrived to the United Arab Emirates, before traveling to Salalah, in the south of Oman where the khariif or monsoon rains turn the desert into a lush landscape each summer. After a few amazing days in Salalah, I traveled to Muscat and then back to the United Arab Emirates for a few more days. I then traveled on to Saudi Arabia where I am currently spending a month in Jeddah. Having taken a summer sabbatical from my work at the Minaret of Freedom Institute, I had not intended to write any blogs this summer, but what I have experienced on this trip has inspired me to share my observations and experiences.

Like the perception given in the West, in Salalah, Oman, most local women wore the black robe, headscarf, and face cover, some even covered their eyes. However, what the media rarely reports is that these same women, covered head to toe, were economically active outside the household. When visiting the Gold Suq, I was surprised by the number of women working alongside men and owning their own businesses. I soon observed that this was not uncommon in the region, even at the grocery store, the women working the checkout were completely covered, yet they were clearly part of public and economic life.

What also impressed me about my time in the UAE and Oman was the amount of respect given to women on the streets. Despite my love for Morocco, where I lived for ten months, the daily gauntlet of sexual harassment made life there sometimes unbearable. However, in the UAE and Oman, I never experienced any sexual harassment nor saw any other women being harassed.* In fact, it was quite the opposite of what I anticipated. In both the UAE and Oman , I observed that men stepped aside and gave priority to passing women. This respect for women even translated into official government posts.

At the land crossing into the UAE from Oman, there was simply a trailer in which men had to wait outside in the heat to get their passports stamped or visas issued. When I arrived to this outpost, a man in line signaled to me that I should not have to wait in this long line of men. Instead, I was pointed to another window with not a single person in line and which was “manned” by a woman (who wore hijab but also the official government uniform). Unfortunately, there were problems with my passport which caused over an hour delay. However, unlike the men who had to endure the heat, I was invited inside the air-conditioned trailer to wait and was given a seat and a cold glass of water. When a man tried to also enter the trailer, they informed him that he would have to wait outside. Instead of being treating as a second-class person, my gender granted me an advantage. I did feel a little guilty for the clear discrimination against men, but it was too hot outside for me to protest and give up my privilege.

In my next blog entry I will share my experiences and observations so far in Saudi Arabia.


*However, in the UAE I did experience some uncomfortable moments when walking on the street as some of the South Asian migrants would stare quite hard, however an Arab male friend said that even he has experienced such glares, and therefore would not solely chalk it up to my gender.

Re-Interpreting the Qur’an from a Female Perspective

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute, www.minaret.org

For the last part of my blog series on a “Women in Islam” conference I attended, I’d like to highlight another response to how we should understand the Qur’an today. One of the last panels of the conference featured a discussion on re-reading the Qur’an from a female perspective. One particularly interesting member of the panel was Dr. Asma Barlas, author of Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. As the title of her book suggests, Dr. Barlas argues that patriarchy is not inherent in the Qur’an but rather has been read into it throughout the centuries of patriarchal dominance of Muslim societies.

Dr. Barlas began her argument by reminding the audience that a God who rejects sex and gender as criteria for judgment cannot then teach the oppression of women. Moreover, following other academics, Dr. Barlas reminded us that nowhere in the Qur’an does it say that women were created from men. After building her foundation that the principles of the Qur’an do not treat women unequally, she then highlighted a few verses that have traditionally been used to oppress women. She insists that these verses should be reinterpreted so as not to contradict the principles of the Qur’an.

For example, she highlighted the word “daraja” in Verse 2:228 about divorce:

Divorced women shall wait concerning themselves for three monthly periods. Nor is it lawful for them to hide what God Hath created in their wombs, if they have faith in God and the Last Day. And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation. And women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; but men have a degree (of advantage) over them. And God is Exalted in Power, Wise (2:228)

In this case, daraja translated as ‘degree’ has been used to reinforce a patriarchal system in Muslim society by expanding the ‘degree’ which men have over women to all areas of family, social, economic and political life. Dr. Barlas insists on limiting this ‘degree’ to the context of this verse about divorce. Moreover, she says that this ‘degree’ men have is in terms of the right to rescind or revoke a divorce he initiated. This is supported by the preceding phrase, “And their husbands have the better right to take them back in that period, if they wish for reconciliation.”

Another example that Dr. Barlas highlighted was verse 4:34 of the Qur’an:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because God has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband’s) absence what God would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For God is Most High, great (above you all). (4:34)

Dr. Barlas spoke about two problems in the translation and interpretation of this verse. The first was “Men are the protectors and maintainers of women,” which has been used by some men to claim authority and/or supremacy over women. Dr. Barlas insists that here the Arabic word used “qawwamoona” should be limited to the context of the verse which highlights men’s obligations financially towards women. She reminded us of other verses of the Qur’an such as 9:71, which states: “The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil: they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey God and His Messenger. On them will God pour His mercy: for God is Exalted in power, Wise.

Also in response to verse 4:34 above, which commonly is interpreted to allow men to ‘beat’ their wives, Dr. Barlas asked why it was that Muslims would choose the ‘worst’ meaning of the word ‘darraba.’ She cited another meaning of ‘darraba’ which means ‘to separate’ as an alternative understanding.

Two other interesting points that Dr. Barlas spoke briefly about were:

1/ She denied that the accusation that women always receive half of the inheritance of men. Citing Dr. Amina Wadud’s work, she said that the Qur’an gives other examples in which women receive equal inheritance.

2/ In response to restrictions on female testimony, Dr. Barlas cited the counter example in Islamic law that a husband’s testimony alone is not enough to prove adultery, whereas the wife can deny it without a witness and her word is the last!

Overall, I found Dr. Barlas’ approach refreshing and engaging. As a student of language and culture, I’ve realized how much of what we understand about a text is formed by the social context within which the text is being read and interpreted. If a man in a highly patriarchal society, reads a text he will most likely understand and interpret the text within that social framework. However, that does NOT mean that it is the ONLY understanding or interpretation of that text. In the West, which is growing less patriarchal by the day (I hope), I agree with Dr. Barlas that it is finally time to unread patriarchy from the Qur’an.

How Should We Understand the Place of the Qur’an Today?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute, www.minaret.org

In addition to the hijab issue discussed in my previous blog, another constant theme during the recent “Women in Islam” conference I attended in Germany was the role or place of the Qur’an in our lives. There were two perspectives presented at the conference: one position that emphasizes what they see as the original intention of the Qur’an, and the second approach being re-reading the Qur’an.

Nahed Selim, author of Take the Koran Away from the Men, largely represented the first position at the conference. Ms. Selim who is an Egyptian-Dutch journalist believes that by empowering women, we can empower Islam. Ms. Selim argued that in order to empower women we need another concept of religion- one that is uniquely an ethical concept that lets go of literal texts.

Ms. Selim criticized the work of Dr. Aminah Wadud and Dr. Asma Barlas, among other, which seeks to re-interpret or re-read the Qur’an. Ms. Selim criticized these female theologians for trying to protect the Qur’an from criticisms of modernity; rather Ms. Selim says it is up to God to protect the Qur’an. Therefore, she believes we should look at the original intent of the Qur’ain, which she argued was the improvement of the lives of women. According to her, we should then maintain this intent, even if it means omitting or ignoring certain verses in the Qur’an. Here, she cited the abolishment of slavery as evidence that this approach has been used before and should also be applied to issues pertaining to women..

Moreover, when pressured by a questioner in the audience, Ms. Selim admitted that it was important to re-interpret the texts, but, according to her, even from a female perspective the Qur’an discriminates against women.

While I agree with Ms. Selim that we need to remember the intention and overarching principles of the Qur’an, such as justice, I find her approach problematic. The Qur’an is universal in time and place. If we come across a verse, which doesn’t fit our lifestyle, we should not simply ignore that verse and throw it out. Rather we need to critically examine both our understanding of the verse and our lifestyle.

This leads us to the second approach presented at the conference: re-interpreting the Qur’an, which I will discuss in the next and final part of this blog series.

The Plague of the Hijab Issue

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute, www.minaret.org

I was recently invited to represent the Minaret of Freedom Institute at an international conference in Cologne, Germany sponsored by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Foundation). The topic of the conference was “Women in Islam: Between Oppression and (self-) Empowerment.”

The Conference brought together Muslim and non-Muslim women[1] from around the World to discuss ways to improve the status of Muslim women.. The credentials and passion of the women assembled impressed me, however I was distressed by the constant confrontations over the “hijab”[2], both by women pro and con hijab (headscarf). It seemed we could not get beyond the issue and lost valuable time in which we could have spent more time discussing the more vital issues, such as divorce, forced marriage, domestic violence, and discrimination. However, these heated, if not repetitive, debates about the hijab allowed me to come to a personal ‘revelation’: women, themselves, are largely to blame for the constant attention paid to a piece of cloth, inhibiting real progress on the vital issues mentioned above.

On the ‘con’ side, I was disappointed in the close-minded discourse presented. For example, a respected Moroccan female academic even went so far as to say, “I do not believe a woman can be free if she wears the scarf.” I don’t believe that we can determine someone’s freedom simply on the basis of their clothing. Moreover, a representative of the Forum Progressive Muslims of Switzerland argued at the conference that female teachers should not be allowed to wear the scarf, as in her view, such women are not good role models for children. Again, I would argue that one cannot judge someone’s morality by their clothing, moreover I would insist that ‘judging of morality’ is not an exercise for humans, rather it should be left to the Divine.

Similarly, problematic is the discourse on the ‘pro’ hijab side. At the conference, and even more generally in the Muslim community, there is a feeling that a woman not wearing the scarf is somehow ‘less Muslim’ or ‘not-as-good of a Muslim’ as one who does wear it. This judging of piety on the basis of clothing is also very problematic in my mind, and, again, should be left to the Divine.

Morality and piety are personal and internal to the mind and heart. As the cliché goes “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” I also implore Muslims not to judge a woman by her cover (or lack thereof)! For me, this all comes down to individual and personal liberty. In deciding which interpretation of the Qur’an to follow, I believe that, in addition to using intellect and reason, we should remember to listen to our hearts as Allah guides our hearts.[3] So, for example, Dr. Asma Barlas (who was a speaker on that panel) and I may disagree about what the Qur’an says about the hijab. My intellect and heart tells me something different than how she understands it, but that does not mean I am any more right or more ‘guided’ than she or vice-versa. I believe that it is only with such an approach, which stresses the personal liberty and responsibility to reflect on the Qur’an, that we can be healed by the plague of the hijab issue and move on to greater illnesses in our ummah.

As part of a three part series on this conference, the next of my blog comments will be on “How we should understand the role of the Qur’an in our lives today?”


[1] There were also a few men in attendance.

[2] The scarf that covers the head and not the face.

[3] “No kind of calamity can occur, except by the leave of God. and if any one believes in God, (God) guides his heart (aright): for God knows all things.” Qur’an, 64:11 (Yusuf Ali translation).

“Freedom of Expression Denial”

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Recent debates have swirled over an Iranian conference characterized as “denying the genocide” of the Holocaust.  Moreover, the Iranian president, Ahmedinejad, has been repeatedly quoted as calling the Holocaust a myth.  Actually, Ahmadinejad called the conference questioning the number of people killed in the Holocaust mainly as a means of challenging boasts about the freedom of expression in Europe. 

Most histories describe the number of people killed in the Holocaust as 6 million. Some historians would dispute this claim saying that it is exaggerated to provide a stronger case for the existence of the Zionist State.  What is missing on both sides of the argument is the value of each individual life.  Whether 6 million, 1 million, ten, or one, the murder of innocent civilians whether in Europe under the Nazis, in Palestine, Iraq, Africa, etc. is a crime, deserves justice, and should not be belittled. 

I don’t know how many were brutally murdered in the Holocaust – that question is in the domain of historians. Yet, historians in Europe who dare to investigate the topic are being jailed and their expression repressed.  David Irving, who ‘coincidently’ was unexpectedly released from prison after the Iranian conference, is one such historian.  He was sentenced to three years in an Austrian prison for “denying the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz.”  Again, I am not a historian, but I have been to Auschwitz and find it unbelievable for anyone to deny the existence of a gas chamber there.  However, should a man really be sentenced to prison for being a bad historian?

Moreover, I find it hypocritical for the Iranians to hold a conference aimed at exposing the lack of European freedom of expression, while in Iran freedom of expression remains stifled.  Recently students have braved government restrictions by protesting the decreasing freedom of expression in Iran.  “”Freedom of speech is being restricted more than before in Iran,” says Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.”  And students are complaining of being expelled from universities and professors forced to retire for expressing opinions counter to the government line. 

Isn’t it, then, hypocritical on both the Iranian and European sides to charge the other with denying freedom of expression?

The Holocaust was a tragic and horrible taint on human history, but certainly it was not the first, perhaps was not the worst, and unfortunately was not the last.  We say “never again,” but it continues to happen with every rape and death in Africa, Iraq, Palestine, etc.  What I find most disheartening is that the legacy of the Holocaust victims has been tarnished with the death of every innocent Palestinian.  But, for this, we must be careful to blame Zionism and its supporters, and not Judaism, a respected Abrahamic faith.

-Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute

Pakistani Rape Laws: An Unholy Hybrid

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Over the past weeks and months Pakistan has been embroiled in a debate over changes to the “Hudood Ordinances,” which, among other things, require a woman to provide four eyewitnesses to complain about rape—lacking the four witnesses, she may then be tried for perjury and/or adultery. The institution of the required four witnesses to prove adultery was implemented to promote justice for women who were falsely accused of adultery. But what once was a justice for women, has been turned into a complete and utter injustice. Happily, this week, Pakistan’s parliament passed legislation to amend this injustice.

However, I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that so-called “Islamists” have rejected this legislation. As a practicing Muslim woman, I reject calling these representatives “Islamists” or “pro-Islamic.” Instead, I will refer to them as “Tribalists,” since what they are trying to protect are tribal customs rather than Islamic law.

The new legislation pertaining to rape removes it from the sole jurisdiction of the Shariah system and adds it to the civil code while still remaining a part of the Shariah system. This would distance rape from adultery and place it in the same realm as murder and assault. This will allow women to seek justice without four witnesses and will allow forensic evidence to be used.

I would agree with the “women’s activists” (although, I reject placing “Islam” against “women’s activists,” since the Prophet [pbuh], himself, was one of the biggest proponents of women’s rights) that rape needs to be completely separated from adultery, in fact this is a position supported by “true” Islamic Law.

Yet, the Tribalists continue to protest these changes by threatening to resign and hold mass protests. One female Tribalist represented in the Parliament went so far as to say, “The Hudood Ordinance was devised by a highly qualified group of ulema (Islamic scholars), and is beyond question.” Unfortunately, this is how Tribalist view Islam: what scholars say is beyond question, despite the fact that even the Qur’an is not beyond question. Allah challenges people to find contradiction and falsity in the Qur’an (yet, of course, it is a fruitless search). The fact is that the “Hudood Ordinances” are an unholy hybrid of Islamic law and British common law. The classification of rape as a sex crime rather than a crime of aggression (as it is classified in Islamic law) was taken from British law and the requirement of four eyewitnesses was then tacked on as Islamic law requires for sex crimes (where considerations of right of privacy trump accusations of illicit sexuality).

Moreover, the Tribalists are now also objecting to another legislation that “aimed at ending the practice of women being married off as compensation in murder cases and forced marriage.” Again, the Tribalists are distancing themselves from Islam by objecting to this legislation which is in line with the Islamic prohibition of forced marriages.

I am disheartened that the reputation of Islam is being tarnished by these Tribalists. And I am angry that women are again being used as a pawn in a political battle between Tribalists and secularists. We must remember that in this debate, women, who have been victimized once by the crime of rape and again by a lack of justice, are suffering. May Allah give them strength, courage and justice. Amîn.

-Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute

Wide Angle Explores “Faith and Prosperity in Turkey”

Monday, August 28th, 2006

By Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute, www.minaret.org

The latest episode of PBS’ Wide Angle, which highlighted successful businessmen in Turkey, explored the relationship between Islamic piety and business. The film followed a devout Muslim man who had founded a clothing line which caters to pious Muslim women. (The film also followed a secular businessman catering to a more “Westernized” clientele.) The owner of the Muslim clothing store, Tekbir, pointed out that two of the five pillars of Islam require business: Hajj and Zakat. Afterall, how can someone afford to go on the pilgrimage or afford to give charity if they haven’t made any money?

The various Muslim businesses in central Turkey featured in the film not only cater to Muslim clientele but also Muslim workers. They provide buses to take workers to Friday prayer services and in one area they built a beautiful mosque near the factories. These successful international businessmen believe that there is no conflict between Islam and business. Moreover, despite accusations that they are “fundamentalists,” the men do not wish to see Turkey turned into a “Shariah state” and do not want Turkey’s future looking like that of Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Another interesting aspect to the film was the role and status of women in the rising market. One worrying sign presented in the film is that the businessmen in one town meet weekly for a “unity lunch,” which inherently excludes women from this networking opportunity. But one of the businessmen has taken a positive and active stance on women’s inclusion by establishing a training program for women to become executive assistants. While this fits the stereotype of women’s limited skills, one of the women participating in the program expressed a desire to someday become a CEO—proof of the lofty aspiration of Turkish women.

The film also discusses barriers to female advancement in business. The foreign minister of Turkey, who is part of the ruling Islamic party, explained that while previously girls didn’t usually attend school, more women are staying in school longer because of the economic progress in the last decades. So while, the wives of the businessmen did not work, their daughters do. Another barrier is the strict laws against the hijab. Under Turkey’s extreme interpretation of secularism women are not allowed to attend university or enter government buildings while wearing the headscarf. This restriction has inhibited many women from pursuing higher education and even prevents the foreign minister’s educated wife from practicing law. So while the West views the headscarf as oppressive, it seems that the laws which force “liberation” from the hijab are truly the oppressive agent which dramatically hinders female empowerment in Turkey. And as the businessman who runs the female executive assistant program alluded, while prevented from government work due to the headscarf, pious Muslim women may find an outlet for empowerment through business—as, according to him, business cares about money, not the scarf.

For more information on the program, the Washington Post recently hosted a discussion forum with the director and producers of the program. And the New York Times also published an article (Turks Knock on Europe’s Door With Evidence That Islam and Capitalism Can Coexist) about Islamic businesses in Turkey.