Monday, February 28, 2011

New Book Explores Lives of American-Born Muslim Women

(Thanks to Lisa Mabe for the following writeup about this new book which is soon to be released)

New Book Explores Lives of American-Born Muslim Women

WASHINGTON D.C. USA – February 28, 2011 – Islam has become one of the hottest of hot button topics in America. Time Magazine featured the rise of Islamophobia on its cover (August 30, 2010) and attacks on Muslims and mosques are taking place regularly across the United States. Pundits and politicians raise the stakes by questioning whether it is possible for an American to be both a good Muslim and a good citizen. Muslim American women are the subject of endless discussions regarding their role in society, their veils as symbols of oppression or of freedom, their identity and their patriotism.

In this polarized climate, a new book challenges stereotypes about being Muslim in America through the stories of forty women. I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim (May 2, 2011, White Cloud Press) brings together a diverse group of women, all born and raised in the United States, telling their stories of faith, family, and country.

The book editors are Maria Ebrahimji, executive editorial producer at CNN in Atlanta, and Zahra Suratwala, a writer and editor who owns Zahra Ink, a writing firm in Chicago. The editors want to fill a gap in current literature on American Islam by bringing out the stories of American-born Muslim women between the ages of 20 and 40. Ebrahimji notes that “As a member of the mainstream media, I am frequently exposed to the stereotyping of my faith, and this book was created to present the public with more candid, realistic portraits of a diverse group of women who are proud of their faith and their country.”

Readers of I Speak for Myself are presented with a kaleidoscope of deeply personal stories. A common theme linking these intimate self-portraits is the way each woman uniquely defies labeling, simply by defining for herself what it means to be American and Muslim and female. Each story is a contribution to the larger narrative of life stories and life work of a new generation of Muslim women.

Though the book’s official release date is May 2, it is currently available now for pre-order on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and White Cloud Press. The suggested retail price is $16.95.

The book has already caught the attention of thought leaders who are calling the book an important addition to the literature on religious pluralism
in America.

Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourners magazine and faith community calls I Speak for Myself “a very important contribution to the growing interfaith dialogue in this country.”

Her Majesty Queen Noor notes that “By telling their stories they offer us new perspectives that are vital to the peace building process, and through their honesty and courage they are making a lasting contribution to the search for cross-cultural understanding.”

Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International says that this is “a must read for anyone curious to understand Islam from a woman’s and an American-Muslim perspective. I Speak for Myself is the story of every woman embodied in voices of today’s American Muslim woman.”

Bestselling author and school builder Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea) feels that “this collection of essays . . . is empowering and inspiring, and a vital part of any education.”

“In an era where women’s empowerment is essential, these are women who have the ability, through their stories and their work, to empower women all over the world to truly speak for themselves.” Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Winner & Founder, Grameen Bank.


For more information and dialogue on our book and American Muslim women, please join us at www.facebook.com/ispeakformyself, www.twitter.com/ispeakformyself and our website, www.ispeakformyself.com.

Media Contact: Lisa Mabe, Hewar Social Communications, +1 202.834.4498, lisa@hewarcommunications.com

Monday, February 21, 2011

From SaudiWoman: The Arab Revolution Saudi Update


The following is a reprint of a post from SaudiWoman:

Remember, in a former post, when I said that Saudis were captivated and shocked by what happened in Tunis and Egypt but hadn’t collectively made up their mind about it? Well it appears that they have. Everywhere I go and everything I read points to a revolution in our own country in the foreseeable future. However we are still on the ledge and haven’t jumped yet.

I know that some analysts are worried particularly of Saudi Arabia being taken over by Al Qaeda or a Sunni version of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. Calm down. Besides my gut feeling (which is rarely wrong), the overwhelming majority of people speaking out and calling out for a revolution are people who want democracy and civil rights and not more of our current Arab tradition based adaptation of Sharia. My theory of why that is, is that Al Qaeda has already exhausted its human resources here. The available muttawas, are career muttawas (fatwa sheikhs) and minor muttawas (PVPV) of convenience both paid by the government and do not want the current win-win deal between them and the government to sour. So it’s unlikely that they would actively seek change. Actually quite the opposite, they will resist and delay as much as they can. Fortunately the winds of change can’t be deterred by a PVPV cruiser.

Last night Prince Talal Bin Abdul Alaziz, the king’s half-brother, did a TV interview on BBC Arabia that was widely watched and discussed. In it he warned of an upcoming storm if reforms aren’t dealt with right now. He used the word “evils” to describe what would happen if King Abdullah passed away before ordering the required changes. Prince Talal also strongly advocated a constitutional monarchy and democracy as long as it’s similar to what they have in Kuwait and Jordon. However he hinted that there were people in the ruling family who do not believe in change.

This whole past week was eventful. The first political party to form during King’s Abdullah’s reign, the Islamic Umma Party, has been arrested. According to the party’s released statement, they were informed that they would not be released until they sign a document promising that they will abandon all political aspirations.

In Qatif, a Shia majority area in Eastern Saudi, there is talk that there was a protest demanding the release of political prisoners yesterday. Ahmed Al Omran from SaudiJeans tweeted a pamphlet that was being distributed in Qatif, calling for protests today, Feb 18th, at 8pm.

A hashtag on Twitter, #EgyEffectSa, about the effect of Egypt on Saudi was popular, with a lot of courageous Saudis speaking their mind. The common thread across most of the tweets was for human rights, freedom of speech, democracy and government accountability.

Saving the best for last, a 6100 strong and growing group on Facebook has been started. The group is only for Saudis and you need to be approved to join. I’ve translated their demands:

The People want to Reform the Government Campaign

To support the right of the Saudi people and their legitimate aspirations:
1 – a constitutional monarchy between the king and government.
2 – a written constitution approved by the people in which governing powers will be determined.
3 – transparency, accountability in fighting corruption
4 – the Government in the service of the people
5 – legislative elections.
6 – public freedoms and respect for human rights
7 – allowing civil society institutions
8 – full citizenship and the abolition of all forms of discrimination.
9 – Adoption of the rights of women and non-discrimination against them.
10 – an independent and fair judiciary.
11 – impartial development and equitable distribution of wealth.
12 – to seriously address the problem of unemployment

Impressive, right?! And if these demands aren’t met, according to a lot of the discussions on the group’s page, there will be a protest in Riyadh on Olaya street March 11th. I was also impressed by their code of conduct in which they committed to no sectarianism, no violence or incitement to violence, and no hate speech.

Everyone is holding their breath and delaying doing anything drastic until the King is back. Reports vary, some say he is expected Monday, others say Wednesday. Either way, whatever he does when he gets back will decide the fate of our country. In my opinion, the least he can do is draw up and announce a clear succession that will carry the throne from the brothers’ generation into their sons’. As this is an area of great concern and instability for Saudis because we fear that without a clear and public succession, we might have a civil war between factions of the ruling family. King Abdullah should name names such as heir1 then heir2 then heir3…etc so that the fifth or sixth is a ten or twelve year old. Thus stability is maintained fifty years into the future. Another thing that needs to be done is to aggressively fight corruption and promote transparency and accountability for everyone no matter who they are. If these two issues are taken care of as soon as he gets off the plane, then I predict that things just might calm down and a lot of people won’t be so anxious for change. If not, then the campaign above will just grow bigger and bigger and many more will crop up until eventually the Saudi people will cross the revolution threshold.

Please click here to go to SaudiWoman's blog and read the more than 100 comments on this post.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"The Ignorant Saudi Sheikh" by Khaled Amayreh

Khaled Amayreh is a Palestinian journalist (pictured right) who has been censored and jailed for his outspoken views. He received his advanced degrees from universities in the US and has worked for many news sources throughout the Middle East. The following article was written by Mr. Amayreh in response to remarks made by Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti (the highest ranking religious official) regarding the revolutionary events in Egypt and Tunisia. It was published in MWC News, Media with Conscience.

It has been reported that the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh, condemned the ongoing revolution against the tyrannical regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

According to reports from Riyadh, the Sheikh condemned anti-regime protests in all Arab countries, calling demonstrations "chaotic acts" carried out by the enemies of Islam in order to "divide" the Muslim world.

The Saudi government outlaws all sorts of demonstrations which government-backed puritanical clerics consider a form of heresy that is incompatible with Islam.

There is no doubt that the edict of the Saudi Sheikh (pictured left), which by the way was not issued for the first time, reflects a primitive mentality and ignorance in understanding the true spirit of Islam. The sheikh justifies his ignorant opinion by arguing that rising up against an oppressive despot would cause "fitna" which means division or tumult or confusion.

However, it seems it doesn't occur to the sheikh, who seems to be living in the middle ages, not in the 21st century, that the fitna of living under tyranny and succumbing to organized oppression by brutal despots exceeds by far whatever fitna that might result from rising up against an oppressive authority.

Let us take Tunisia as an example. The former Tunisian dictator Zeinulabedeen bin Ali, who has been given asylum in the land of Prophet Muhammed (S), sought rather frantically to discourage people from observing Islam. He imprisoned and tortured thousands of Muslim activists for just frequenting the mosques. He instructed his repressive police apparatus to hound every religious person and fight every form of religiosity.

Indeed, in order to be able to access the mosque unhindered, especially during dawn prayers, one had to obtain a special permit from the police. Women, young and old, who donned a headscarf (I am not speaking about the full headdress veil or Niqab that is common in Saudi Arabia or Iran), had their scarves snatched in the streets by the police. Any objection to this humiliation would land the objector in prison immediately. In short, every possible effort was made by the brutal regime to discourage people from practicing their own faith.

Incidentally, Saudi Arabia, which claims, mendaciously of course, to follow Islam to the letter, maintained good, even cordial relations with the thuggish regime of President Zineulabedeen bin Ali.

And now this so-called Mufti is telling us that this anti-Islam policy must not be resisted, protested or even demonstrated against for fear of fitna.

Well, this kind of submissive, subservient and slavish Islam is what enabled the decadent Saudi dynasty to enslave and ransack a huge country that could have become the richest nation on earth, thanks to its huge oil revenue. This is what made an essentially illiterate and nearly senile monarch, who can't even write or read his own name, stand at the helm of the very country where the glorious message of Islam was revealed to mankind through the Prophet Muhammed (s) who said "The greatest form of Jihad is uttering a word of truth in front of a oppressive king."

Needless to say, this pseudo-Islam which is being promoted by this Saudi sheikh, which dreads telling oppressors "you are oppressor" for fear of fitna is what makes adulterers and sodomites rule with an iron fist the land of Islam in Mecca and Madina and surrender Muslim sovereignty to the United States on a silver platter. They simply have a sheepish people that is told it is haram to criticize the decadent and oppressive rulers, let alone demonstrate against them. It is very much like the people of the Pharaoh who as the Quran said led his people to hellfire because they refused to rise up against him.

So, one wonders what kind of Quran does this ignorant mufti is reading from? There are hundreds of verses in the Holy Quran urging Muslims to resist and oppose oppression, so why does this so-called mufti overlook all these ayas? Isn't he by so doing displeasing the Almighty in order to please the decadent Saudi family?

Didn't the prophet (s), in the following authentic hadith, urge Muslims to resist evil: "Whoever of you sees a wrong done, he should try to change it, first with his hand, second with his tongue, and finally, if he couldn't, he should denounce it in his heart, which represents the weakest point of faith."

In another hadith, the Prophet said "If my Umma dreads telling the oppressor you are oppressor, it is finished."

I would further ask this sheikh: What are Muslims supposed to do when they see their rulers become servants for Israel and tools for their own enemies as well as thieves plundering billions of dollars from their people's coffers? Are they supposed to just sit down on their comfortable sofas and watch tyrants violate people's dignity, usurp people's rights and ruin the people's wealth, pending the arrival of the Day of Reckoning?

There is a prophetic tradition saying that two categories of people, if they don't deviate from the right path, the umma will be alright, but if they get corrupt, the entire umma will get corrupt. It was asked "who are they O Prophet of Allah." He said "the ulema (scholars) and rulers"

I urge this misguided mufti to revert to true religion and not to pay attention to the sticks of carrots of the House of Saud. They won't help him on the Day when neither family nor wealth would help, except he that appears before God, with a pure heart.

NOTE: I myself have written about this religious scholar before: Noor - TV Soap a Threat to Islam; and Divorce Saudi Style.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Arab Revolution's Effect on Saudis

The following is an essay written recently by my friend and fellow blogger, Saudi Woman. She is a modern well-educated Saudi woman whose insight into the culture and mindset of Saudi society is always of interest. The SaudiWoman Blog has been nominated for a 2011 Bloggie Weblog Award for Best Asian Blog. I would urge you to take the time to vote for her outstanding blog for this honor.

With what’s going on right now in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Tunis and Egypt, I get a lot of questions about how Saudis are taking it and what’s the reaction. The short answer is they are shocked and captivated but haven’t made up their minds about any of it.

The long answer is Saudi Arabia is a country where 40% of the population is under 14 years old, unemployment is rampant and the conservative religious approach is the key to the majority. These three ingredients are a dangerous mixture, and add to that the now available social media tools, and you have a bomb waiting for detonation. So why has nothing happened?

We have been faced with defeat over the last three generations. First it was with the Ottomans and I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve heard stories about how my great-grandparents generation faced off with the Turks in Qaseem. There are even walls still standing with bullet holes from then. Then my grandparents’ generation faced the creation of Israel. Every family knows a Palestinian refugee or had someone in their family killed or injured; my own grandfather was maimed in 1948 when Israeli forces bombed the hospital he was being treated at. Then my parents’ generation witnessed the fall of Jamal AbdulNaser’s high hopes and grand plans. After that every country in the region had its own version of dictatorship and people suppression evolve so that in the end you had different countries with different names but all sharing the same tactics and the same system. People have lost hope in being represented politically and have adapted and figured out other ways to move forward in life.

This is the context and the lenses through which our young people are watching what’s going on in the region. And this is why that the fact that there was an uprising is not as important as the aftermath of that uprising.

They are watching, though. All over the country, all these Saudis who rarely watch or read the news and their only interests in doing so are for more local social openness or conservativeness (depending on their background), are now carefully observing what’s going on in neighboring countries. Saudis who didn’t know what the channel number for AlJazeera News was on their receivers now have it saved on their favorites list. University and high school students are now watching the news and social media feeds in their study breaks instead of a rerun of Friends. It’s a new atmosphere. The thing lacking is analysis or a discussion on what it means for us.

The only tangible effect is more outspokenness in their criticism of how the Saudi government was ill-prepared for the Jeddah floods. In just three days from the first Friday after the floods to last Sunday, there were one hundred and ten opinion pieces in Saudi newspapers condemning what happened and criticizing how the government handled things. Also Shiekh Salman Al Ouda broadcast an unprecedented episode of his MBC show where he spoke about how the government must listen to Saudis' demands for more transparency and spoke highly of the movements in Tunis and Egypt. And then Ali Al Olayani, a popular TV presenter, also dedicated a frank and brave show where YouTube videos uploaded by citizens in Jeddah were shown. And the most recent were reports of protesters in Jeddah with some being arrested and there was even a video that was taken down a day later of the protest where you can see men and women marching down a Jeddah street.

We are only at the beginning and the only thing that has been determined is that Arabs are fed up and that we won’t back down.

To read more of Saudi Woman's thought provoking posts on important issues facing Saudi Arabia, here is the link to her blog.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011