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Entries in Islam (17)


One Day A Warrior 


What have we done to you, death,

That you treat us so,

With always another catch

One day a warrior,

The next a head of state; 

Charmed by the loyal, 

You choose the best.

- Al-Khansa, Poet, Arabia (600 - 670 C.E.)

Photo Credit



Rewriting the Headlines: The Murder of Shaima AlAwadi 

An uncharacteristic apathy washed over me when I heard the news of an American Muslim woman murdered in El Cajon, California last month. Thirty two year old Shaima AlAwadi was found bludgeoned to death in her home as a note calling her a terrorist lay next to her. Recently discovered court documents indicating that AlAwadi was filing for divorce are now leading the media to suggest that her assailant may have been a family member thus rendering her another casualty in a phenomenon that is on the rise in North America called "honor killings" that supposedly emanates from the higher numbers of immigrant Muslim communities into the continent.

I'm not an apathetic person. To the contrary, I often find myself in the embarrassing situation of explaining why I've suddenly become passionate, angry, or upset about issues that affect "other" communities besides my own. Shaima AlAwadi was an immigrant from a Muslim nation, and my parents immigrated from a Muslim Republic. I'm a wife and mother living in America in my thirties, and Alawadi was also a thirty something mother and wife living in America. AlAwadi was a woman who because of her head scarf was visibly Muslim, and I, too, am visibly Muslim in the same way.

Despite our many intersections, however, I find myself in new territory, engaged in an awkward, guilt ridden internal struggle that of which the major undercurrent suggests that I'm not angry or upset enough about this event. Fundamentally, my guilt lies in rejecting an  idea that most people seem to take for granted: I should be very, very upset because AlAwadi was a Muslim woman and somehow this death should matter more to me because of that. It does not. In fact, the continuous focus on her Muslim status detracts from the broader, more universal context of her murder. It also seems to confuse people when they try to extract actionable meaning from the tragedy.

In an age where news stories are broken in seconds not minutes, it's easy to fall into the trap of having the wrong conversations about important events. Opinions and scholarship are no longer methodically laid out for careful consideration but are quickly packaged and produced for immediate consumption by an audience that's time constrained and seems more concerned with quantity of information rather than quality. The rhetoric surrounding Al Awadi's murder is no exception.

At the peril of being misinterpreted as being opposed to hate crime legislation, I will express that I find the hate crime paradigm of understanding AlAwadi's murder both divisive and distracting. Hate crime legislation exists to protect those that would be victimized by violence that is rooted in a political or social cause. The problem with this terminology seeping into public discourse is that it automatically pits communities unfamiliar with the nuance of defining hate crimes against one another. Conversation then ultimately moves away from the central issue, that of one individual being murdered by another individual mercilessly, and then becomes a conversation about whether bias is real, whether the minority in question is being oversensitive or not and most unfortunately whether or not the victim's inability to be perceived as a member of the broader society at large is not at the heart of their demise.

Calling AlAwadi's murder a potential "honor killing" proves even more distracting. I spoke with Dr. Nancy Stockdale, a Middle Eastern Studies profesor at University of North Texas and author of Colonial Encounters Among English and Palestinian Women, 1800-1948 (2007), about this terminology and its impact on discussions about Shaima AlAwadi. Dr. Stockdale brought up the idea that honor is not an ideology that is exclusive to the Muslim world. "If someone cheats on their spouse here, don't they feel disrespected in front of their community?" The professor also mentioned a point I had not considered previously, that nearly one third of women murdered in the United States die at the hands of someone with whom they're intimate. Is it a huge leap to assume that many of those murders could have been committed by partners who felt betrayed, undermined, disrespected and, yes, even dishonored?

Just a few days ago, Kevin Allen fatally shot his wife, Katherina, and his daughter in an Ohio Cracker Barrel restaurant after his wife told him she was leaving him. Is it ridiculous to guess that Kevin Allen may have been motivated by a sense of honor or shame? What is the criteria that holds him exempt from having participated in an honor killing? Katherina Allen was shot and killed because her husband was mentally unstable, but Shaima AlAwadi may have been murdered by her husband because she's foreign and a Muslim? What religion was Katherina Allen? Was she born in this country or not? Why is it important to know those details about the late Mrs. AlAwadi but not about the late Mrs. Allen?

As an American Muslim, this untenable distinction between the two women cuts deeply in my psyche and lays at the core of my shutting down when it comes to discussions about AlAwadi's death. I cannot discuss her on the terms that both the general population and the media want to discuss her. The nomenclature used crowds out the sense of connection I have with women who are non-Muslims. It makes me feel othered and misunderstood. I imagine for many non-Muslim American women in the United States, it also causes them to view this crime as something that happens to "those people" from "over there" and thus offers a safe, yet intellectually questionable degree of distance from this type of violence.

The overemphasis on ethnic and religious identifiers obfuscates more important and central issues. While it would be remiss of anyone considering the merits of the case to dismiss entirely that she was an immigrant, a Muslim, or leaving her husband, I believe we can do better in terms of how we as women and a community of informed citizenry frame the discussion. As I researched this story, almost all of the headlines included terms such as "hijab", "honor killing", and "hate crime", and I can't help but feeling that these buzz words detracted from conversations we should be having about violence in general as it applies to women or anyone, for that matter.

I'm struggling with how to frame this death and the discussions about it so that each of us are moved by it in a way that we consider how to pull a more productive and meaningful course of action from it other than making it yet another line of distinction between us. A woman in El Cajo, California was beaten to death in her home. First, investigators thought it may have been someone who didn't like the way she dressed or looked, but now they think it might have been her husband.

Does the absence of AlAwadi's faith and ethnicity change how you would frame this discussion?

What would be your headline?

Photo Credit

Mujahideen Plunder


It was 1996.

My father had recently returned from a trip that allowed him the unusual opportunity of venturing beyond Lahore. He and my cousin went on a road trip and wandered through Peshawar and areas bordering Afghanistan. During that excursion, my father met and conversed with some Afghani "mujahideen."

The word mujahideen has become synonymous with "Islamist" and “terrorist.” For Americans knowledgeable on the topic in 1996, though, a mujahideen was something different. Mujahideen means "one who fights in the way of jihad," and this is not the post 9/11 "jihad" that Muslims in the United States are quick to point out as a spiritual struggle. It's am actual reference to battle.

In 1979, the former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and Afghanis fought back. The defense of Afghanistan proved significant to Pakistan and the United States by virtue of a enemy that was perceived to be shared. Many of the young men who battled tanks  with hand held weaponry strongly felt that God had contributed to their victory. The most famous mujahideen we all know was a Yemeni man named Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden never directly fought the Soviets in combat, but instead funded and supported training facilities and medical camps during the war. In this way, he seems less representative of Afghani mujahideen than most conservative talking heads are willing to admit.

By the time the Soviets were defeated, over 2 million Afghanis had died. That was the beginning of the death toll, though. In the next ten years, a complex series of battles, both physical and ideological, within Afghanistan would create circumstances that would lead to the rise of a Taliban government. Ultra-orthodox interpretations of Islam of this religio-political faction would lead to repeated violations of basic human rights to education, justice and even mobility. It also provided fertile soil for the development of an ideological movement that has contributed to the deaths of over one million people all over the world.

But back to 1996.

My nineteen year old self's sense of awe at the mujahideen victory claimed against the USSR with little more than borrowed training and ammunition from its neighboring nation of Pakistan and funding from the United States was likely naive.  I was just a kid and couldn't have foreseen how the stories of these victorious underdogs would contribute significantly to an ideology that would change us all forever.

I knew at the time that these were people who had fought to save their homeland, and that both of the countries I called home, America and Pakistan, had helped them do that.  It was childlike on my part, but when I listened to those stories in 1996, I felt whole.

One story my father told me of his visit had to do with shopping in makeshift markets that former mujahideen had set up.  Many of the goods weren't the usual fare.  When my father inquired about the origin of certain items that looked more eastern European in nature than south Asian, the sellers gave mysterious smiles and assured him that he was lucky to have the ability to acquire such quality merchandise at such a low cost.

I don't know if it was my dad's addiction to getting a good bargain or that he felt sorry for the guys, but he bought some stuff and brought it home. When he presented my mother with some of the things he had bought, my brother and I laughed at how gaudy it was, made jokes about it belonging to the Romanovs and feigned horror at my dad's purchase of what was essentially "war plunder."

After getting married, though, I took a few of the things with me. Maybe I wanted to hold on to the innocence that led me to believe that Pakistan and the U.S. had worked together to make something good happen.  Or maybe it was just that no matter how gaudy those things were, they reminded me of my parents and I wanted to take that with me to my new home.

The item deemed "most gaudy" in 1996 sits at the entrance of my home today. I don't find it tacky anymore, but tremendously beautiful and significant. On dusting days, when it’s given more attention than usual, I pass my hands over its delicately beaded surfaces and wonder how far this item has journeyed. I imagine the places and the homes that it once occupied.

I worry for the people who first owned it and I wonder what it might have meant to them. I also worry for the people who sold it (stole it?) and wonder if they are even in this world now.  I think of countless yet imagined hands that have touched this odd item and wonder about the hopefulness of the hearts to which those hands belonged.

As I wipe the dust, I think of how best laid plans and intentions often end in despair. I remember that small moment when I thought all was right in the world and then I'm suddenly shoved back into the present reality of being a grown up where nothing is ever simple and things seldom make perfect sense.

Life is tragic, fleeting, unpredictable, and yet it is, like this item, extraordinarily beautiful in the most complex of ways.

The Tim Tebow Thing

Don't know much about football.

I do know a little about religion in America, and these days a young man named Tim Tebow is center stage.  For those of you not in the U.S. or who have "irritation induced amnesia" from 2006, Tim Tebow is a quarterback who plays (American) football for the Denver Broncos.

He's very good. And he prays. Like, all the time.

They call it "the Tebow."  Tim will silently kneel on one knee at various points in the game and pray for a favorable outcome.  He prays when he's winning as well as when things aren't going well. He talks to God a lot.  Which is, let's admit, most Americans find sort of creepy.

I'm not phased in the least by Tim Tebow's praying because Muslims pray, like, all the time.  Technically, five times a day, but way more if you count little prayers.

If I see a Muslim friend, I say, "May the Peace of God be upon you." A prayer.

Than that Muslim friend says, "May the Peace of God be upon you as well as his mercy and his blessings." Another prayer.

When I ask that friend how they're doing they reply, "All praise is due to God" and continue with their sentence.  I mean, it hasn't been two minutes and we've already prayed three times.

Oops, I sneezed, so I say "Praise God." We're up to four times.

So the person I'm talking to says, "And may his Mercy be upon you." Five.

My friend gives me a tissue and I say, "May God reward you with goodness." Six.

They tell me they just god a new job and, I say, "As God Wills." Seven gets you to heaven, baby.

And before I do most anything, get in the car, start writing something, lose my temper, start cooking, I say, "I seek refuge from Satan and his evil, and begin in the name of God."  I don't know, that happens anywhere from ten to fifteen times a day?  And I will not even begin to count how many times I ask for forgiveness.

So, I pray a lot.  Which means I don't think Tim Tebow is off putting for praying. And before you go, "Well, you're not kneeling on the floor and..."  Yes.  Yes, I am, for at least five of those thirty or more times times, I am kneeling.

You know who is off putting these days?

Bill Maher.

Many of you know, Bill Maher does not pray because he's an atheist.  WHICH IS FINE. Great.  And good for him!

That's not the annoying part.  The annoying thing is that Bill Maher thinks ridiculing Tim Tebow and other religious people is some sort of activist thing. I know he has a right to say what he likes, but I have a right to dislike him for what he says and take his methodology to task, too.

I'm not even remotely suggesting laws be passed or boycotts or anything of the like.

Bill Maher is just oblivious to the fact that he employs the same kind of "blinders on" thinking that he suggests are the source of all of our problems in the first place. News flash, Mr. Maher, you can be a fundamentalist and not believe in God. god.  Whatever. Ridiculing Tim Tebow makes him look good.  In fact, the third most googled term last week was "Tim Tebow 3:16."

Maher and other people who think this is all so very hilarious actually take the focus off of a very important fact: Tim Tebow ascribes to a paradigm that promotes the meshing of public policy and conservative Christian values that seek to limit the civil rights of American citizens to marry and women's reproductive rights. Furthermore, his popularity is either rooted in implicit support for this paradigm or is aimed at garnering support for it.

Now that would be a cause for concern for me  if I weren't so annoyed with Bill Maher making fun of the fact the the kid prays so much.

Last week on on Hey! That's My Hummus!, Mike and I discussed Tim Tebow as well as how Jamaican nationalism is affecting a recent translation of the Bible. You can download from iTunes or listen at the main site.  We're on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Perspective: Eid Mubarak 2011

Eid Mubarak henna My hands and Emma's feet

We celebrated our first Eid al-Adha in Memphis today.  Like last year, this year's Eid brought a (mostly) unexpected blessing in the form of America's coolest nomads. There was henna, laughter, henna, food, henna, fasting and, of course, henna.  I've been so busy, in fact, that I've asked my dear friend (and fellow Muslimah) Kate to post an Eid post here.  She's a rare jewel of the Internet and an incredible writer.  It's my honor to have her here.  Thank you, my sister.


Today is Eid Al Adha and I can’t think of a better place to share the very first moment of my journey in Islam because, as it says at the top of this page, we all come from somewhere.  This moment is where I come from, in so very many ways.

I got off the bus on a cool morning at the Jean Talon market in Montreal’s little Italy.  I was alone shopping and wandering on a weekend because at 22 I had time to wander.

An unassuming tin roofed brick building stood on the outskirts of the market; inside it was a glorious palace with mountains of fruits and vegetables, teeming with the diverse colors of Canada’s cultural ‘salad.’

The people matched the produce. Bright dashikis and plantains, blue jeans and plums, stilettos and apricots, red leather and even redder tomatoes, saris and spindling long beans, salwar kameez, ginger root, niqab, tube tops, hijabs, dreadlocks, kippahs and kufis.

And me, a blond dance team captain from Iowa with a backpack and tennis shoes. We blended together, all of us doing a Saturday morning ballet and thinking nothing of our otherwise unlikely proximity and shared rhythm.

The strong and speedy employees spoke a mixture of French and Arabic and seemed to all be brothers. They hoisted boxes, weighed produce in hanging scales and yelled animatedly to one another.

Somewhere between the tomatoes, the lemons and the action, I heard music.

But it wasn’t music. It was just a voice.

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, la Illaha il Allah.

An unexpected call to something larger in the middle of life unfolding in her daily glory.

People who know ‘what I am’ ask me all the time why I’ve chosen such an unlikely path.  This is the truest answer:

A need to answer to something larger in the middle of life unfolding in her daily glory.

It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Eid Mubarak.

May we all make more sacrifices and give more charity, and may our Hajj be accepted wherever our journey begins and no matter how unexpectedly it leads us.

This morning in particular, we’ll be praying alongside Keith Ellison and Brother Ali (or at least at their regular mosque).

What’s. Up.


About Kate

Kate is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and a globally aware parent raising dynamic children in a plural world. She writes about family and the beauty of the mundane, with a focus on the shared aspects of life that unify us. Find her at home at Perpetually Nesting and for a conversation on Twitter.

If you're interested in offering your unique perspective of a specific practice, celebration or idea that contributes to North American diversity, I'd love to have you do a guest post here.  Please e-mail me at