Broadcasting across the pond

Greetings from New  York City, where I am to tape the latest series of Shariah TV for the UK’s Channel 4. Shariah TV is a discussion-based program where a group of young Muslims engages with a panel of contemporary scholars.

We filmed from a rooftop in TriBeCa (lower Mahattan). A great view of the Empire State Building was the background for our conversation.

Shariah TV has young people ask scholars some of our most pressing issues. For example: what is a young Muslim to do when work functions involve alcohol? Do we have the right – or even responsibility – to reinterpret sacred texts?

I won’t spoil the show by telling you what the scholars said – or how our conversation went. What I will tell you is that it was vivacious – and the show’s staff did a great job of pulling together a diverse group of participants. The show airs in the UK in mid-July. I’ll do my best to get the footage accessible to you. For now, enjoy the photos I’ve included below.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed meeting my fellow participants and the panel of scholars. The conversations that started even after the tape stopped rolling were some of the most meaningful fellowship I’ve had in a long time. Differing opinions were met with the utmost respect, sincerity and compassion. My heartfelt gratitude goes to those participants I had the blessing of speaking with further. Non-alcoholic cheers to my new brothers and sisters!

Participants pose with one of the imams who sat on the panel of scholars (he is the man in the white shirt). I’m on the far right. Check out the great backdrop we had!

A network executive briefs participants before taping

The New York City skyline sets the scene for our conversations

Participants with Shariah TV host Tazeen Ahmad

 

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Afghanistan: the latest

                     

A friend recently wrote to me on the subject of Afghanistan. She wondered if, given all of the attention being given to other situations worldwide – Afghanistan has slipped many people’s radar screens. She elaborated: people are still suffering there. Civilians and military forces are still losing their lives. Yet, it seems that people are talking about the situation less and less. 

We can’t forget about Afghanistan. And we’ve just been issued a serious reminder.

Last week, Taliban insurgents (did you think Bush got ’em all? Sorry to disappoint) invaded the region just north of Kandahar – taking over 7 to 18 villages.

The Taliban may be making a comeback. That is, if you believe they were successfully suppressed to begin with.

See also: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the potential risk of conflict with Pakistan. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned.

More to come, but for now: let us not lose sight of this devastating situation. And let us not forget those who are still suffering.

Please tell me they’re not serious?

A very quick break this morning to bring you this:

Alright, so I’m an Obama supporter. It’s true. I voted for him in the primaries, my once Hillary-admiring self cheered him in the debates, and I even have an “Obama 2008” shirt.

But, please, people. He is not a God, he is not perfect, and all of this messiah-light worker-humanity’s savior incarnate stuff is just plain freaky.

We’re in a rough spot these days. The economy is awful, injustice is rampant, and the left and right are tearing each other’s throats out. A lot of people are looking to the next president – whomever he may be – to get us out of a giant mess. I get it. But we’ve still got to recognize that our politicians are just that – politicians. We watch, we vote, and we can hope that they are acting with integrity. I do believe that voting is often more a game of “picking the lesser of the two evils” than picking someone we can truly believe in. I definitely feel less like that this year, but I’m not about to let go of common sense in evaluating our leaders.

Just a reality check. Thanks, and back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Albinos in Tanzania face extreme danger

“I’m on the run because if I’m walking along, someone might cut off my legs. I’m really scared.” – Yusuf, a young albino man in Tanzania

Watch this video to learn about the struggle of albinos in Tanzania. Then, learn more here.

I’ve looked for things to do to help – and am drawing a blank. For example, the video informs us that it’s hard to come up with even basic needs like sunscreen. If you have an idea for getting these kinds of items there – or should you find links to organizations doing political and social action work, post the resource here as a comment. Thanks!

Banning headscarves = democracy?

Aksine, I say. (That’s Turkish for “on the contrary“).

                                    

This week, Turkey’s parliament revived its ban on wearing headscarves on university campuses.

The hijab ban is nothing new. Shortly after a military coup in 1980, the hijab was banned in public buildings, universities, schools and government buildings.

The reasoning for banning the hijab is simple. Some factions of the secularist movement feel that public wearing of the hijab undermines the separation of religion and state. Some secularists fear that a visibile symbol of religiosity could lead to a rise in fundamentalism.

In February of this year, the ban on the hijab was lifted . The event was met with both celebration and protest. Only three months later, however, and the ban has been reinstated.

Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. It is also a democracy. Restricting freedom of religious observation and expression, then, seems wrong – doesn’t it? After all, hijab-wearing women aren’t demanding that public institutions stop activity during the five daily prayers (though interestingly, the call to prayer is still heard throughout the country) or asking that all women wear the headscarf.

Some of the ban’s supporters make an argument I’d like to find valid. They assert that for women otherwise forced to wear the hijab by their families or husbands, the ban provides a space – be it on the workforce or in the university – where they will be not just able, but required, to go without a headscarf. In short, women who don’t want to wear the hijab would be protected by the law.

In theory, this makes some sense. However, to believe that legislation like this would protect women from unreasonable family members is, I believe, profoundly naïve. 

Do the ban’s supporters really think that a woman returning home to an illogical family or spouse will be well received without her hijab? Do truly oppressive, dogmatic families care that the law requires the women in their lives to violate what they view to be a religious obligation? Certainly not. The very nature of such mentalities is that they are beyond reason. I’m not endorsing the behavior of those who would mistreat the women in their lives. I’m simply acknowledging that they exist. I’m being realistic in a way that I wish the ban’s supporters would be. Women must follow this law – and thus it is women who will be directly impacted by the reactions it sturs.

I’d argue that women aren’t at all protected here. In fact, legislating women’s self-presentation is the oldest and most repressive game in history. Women’s bodies have always been used as a measure of a community or nation’s purity – be it racial, cultural, religious or secular. Rather than protecting women, then, the state sacrifices them to protect itself. It is women who will have to live with the spiritual, familial and other struggles of this legislation.

If Turkey is serious about democracy, and serious about the separation of religion and state, it would not restrict the choices women can make about their self-presentation and religious expression.

Turkey has good reason to be concerned about fundamentalism. The country must work to protect its democratic system. However, it needn’t borrow from fundamentalists by telling women how to dress.

A much more democratic approach would be to enhance education and vocational training for women – in a way that would reach both more conservative and more secular communities. It would also challenge those men (and women!) who would mistreat a non-hijabi woman. Further, resisting censorship (did you know that all of WordPress is banned in Turkey? All in an effort to silence a secular-minded Muslim!) doesn’t send the message  of democracy. Reforming the Muslim mindset – including focusing on the education of both male and female children – establishes a robust, dynamic society.  Legislating what women put on or take off, however, is the same tactic used by the enemies of democracy.

Why must women prove Turkey’s democratic success with their bodies rather than with their minds and their votes? Ultimately, the hijab ban tells us that the government can’t prove its own legitimacy as a democracy that protects women, their voices, and their bodies.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the United States presents Muslim women with more opportunities to express “traditional” Islam than a country that is, in fact, 98% Muslim?

Stewardesses: you must fit into the overhead compartment

Check this out: Air India on hiring and firing based on a woman’s weight, skin, and teeth. The cutoff for a five-foot tall woman is actually 18 pounds under the maximum “healthy” weight by most measurements.

Apparently the skinnier you are the better you will be at evacuating a plane in an emergency?

That is if you don’t fly off the wing or get crushed by a suitcase.