Part I. Afghanistan

For decades, the concept of female protectionism in Islam has garnered much attention from the Western media. As a symbol of the “clash of civilizations” phenomenon – the Muslim woman's dress code has often led to eruptions of emotion from the West and the East, with each party absolutely convinced that it holds Muslim women's rights in the highest regard. Within the sacred doctrines of Islam – The Qur'an and the Prophetic teachings (Sunnah) – there are codes of living that serve to protect the female role in society. These codes range from dress criteria to limitations on movement. In the West, these regulations which are found within the divine sources of Islam have been ridiculed by feminist groups as forms of female oppression. Yet, Muslim states have not done much to assuage these fears; on the contrary these states have the worst track records when it comes to women's rights. As a result, laws that were intended to protect women became instruments to contain their role in society.

It is first critical to ask several questions. Why have protectionist laws in Islam, such as veiling, which were initially intended to protect women in societies such as Afghanistan, been transformed into a symbol of patriarchy? Concurrently, why have headscarves been banned in public French institutions under the pretext of protecting female liberty? It is critical to explore the extent to which the rationale of protection is used as an excuse to provide rights for Muslim women in Afghanistan and France, and how these claims actually end up crippling those rights.  First, an understanding of the origins of veiling and its significance in Islam will help to demystify this conflict. Followed by an examination of veiling in Afghan society. And finally, I'll conclude with an analysis of the contentious and ongoing debate over the role of the veil in France and its implications for women's human rights.

Although the veil is commonly ascribed to the Muslim community, the advent of the veil predates the coming of Islam. Originally, the “first reference to veiling is in an Assyrian legal text which dates from the 13 century BC, which restricted the practice to respectable women and forbade prostitutes from veiling” (Hoodfar 1993: 6). Historically, veiling signified status and “was practiced by the elite in the ancient Greco-Roman, pre-Islamic Iranian and Byzantine empires” (6). The hijab (i.e. veil) became a distinct facet of Islamic identity after veiling was revealed as a divine mandate prescribed for Muslim women by God. Several verses in the Qur'an speak to the command of veiling, one of them (Surah Al-Nur, verses 30-31) stating that women “not display their beauty and adornments “but rather to “draw their head cover over their bosoms and not display their ornament.”  The other verse (Surah Al-Ahzab, 59) states “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over themselves, that is more convenient that they should be known and not molested.” Defining what constitutes hijab is often subject to cultural norms of dress and varies around the world (Hoodfar 1993: 7). But, through the interpretation of the Qur'an, there have been differences of opinion concerning this commandment.

Regarding these critical Quranic verses, there has been great dispute among scholars – non-Muslim and Muslim alike – about the interpretation of these verses. One example is Fatima Merssini, a prominent Muslim feminist who vigorously challenges the notion that veiling is explicitly commanded in the Qur'an. According to Merssini, “the veil represents a tradition of 'mediocrity and servility' rather than a sacred standard against which to judge Muslim women's devotion to Allah” (Read & Bartkowski 2000: 401). Anti-veiling Muslim feminists such as Merssini also cite “the historical fact that veiling is a cultural practice that originated from outside of Islamic circles” (401). Feminists also question the scriptural interpretations used by Muslim scholars to justify the veil, “call[ing] attention to the fact that the Qur'an refers cryptically to a “curtain” and never directly instructs women to wear a veil” (401). Obviously, the arguments on both sides go beyond some of the feminist grievances selected here, but this debate is beyond the scope of this present discourse. As a matter of historical perspective though, it is critical to understand that a contentious debate over the very legitimacy of the hijab has existed and this debate offers a backdrop of how the veil is implemented in different societies.

Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, many Americans became increasingly concerned with the plight of the Afghan women under Taliban rule. One instance of this intrigue was demonstrated by Laura Bush who declared that “because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment…the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women” (Abu-Lughod 2002: 784).   In western eyes, the burqa (the enveloping garment worn by many Afghan women) was often portrayed in the media as a symbol of oppression that “women in Afghanistan have had to bear” (Noelle-Karimi 2002: 3). Yet, in light of the theological underpinnings previously discussed in this discourse that serve to protect Muslim women, how is it that the West has come to deplore Islamic covering in Afghanistan? One undeniable answer to that question lies within the Taliban's wielding of power in that country. In order to understand why the Taliban came to impose the female covering as a hallmark of their rule, it is first important to understand origins of their ideologies.

The Taliban's harsh interpretation of Islam helps to explain why the group's imposition of a strict form of Islamic dress has limited the role of Afghan women in society, despite the protectionist intentions of Sharia law. Prior to its consolidation of power in Afghanistan, Ahmed Rashid argues that “since the Taliban were orphans of war, who in their long hard battle against Soviet occupational forces had little or no interaction with women and their company, they retreated into a male brotherhood compared to that of the Crusaders of the Middle Ages” (Misra 2002: 582). A majority of the Taliban followers grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan, where they experienced harsh poverty and as refugees “they were encouraged to espouse the idea of revenge in countless madrassas sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the CIA” (582). Rashid not only argues that the Taliban's strict actions against women were “designed to reinforce the tribal patriarchal order” (582) but also that Taliban ideology is rooted in the Qur'an – “which explicitly presents a male-dominated society where women only play a secondary role” (582). But is this the case? As discussed earlier, the orthodox doctrines in Islam codified a set of rules for women that were intended to protect rather than hinder. Laila al-Hibri discusses this matter in depth in the article “Islam, Law and Custom: Redefining Muslim Women's Rights.” Al-Hibri argues that the egalitarian mandates of Islam, particularly those concerning women's rights, were executed fully during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed and the successive generations. Yet al-Hibri claims, these reforms for women were masked by the interpretations of many male religious scholars, as Muslim female scholars were pushed to the background. As evidence of gender equality in the Qur'an, al-Hibri states that “[the Qur'an] articulates a basic general principle about proper gender relations; namely, that they are relations between mates created from the same nafs [soul], which are intended to provide these mates with tranquillity, and are to be characterized by affection and mercy. Such relations leave no room for Satanic hierarchies which result only in strife, subordination and oppression” (al-Hibri 1997: 15). In relation to this present issue, it can be concluded that the Taliban strictly interpreted women's rights in Islam in order to maintain patriarchal dominance over the Afghan women. And there is evidence that documents how the Taliban executed their extremist ideology with regard to female covering.

According to Jurgen Kleiner in the article “The Taliban and Islam,” with the Taliban's creation of the Department for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue in 1996, “squads from this department tour[ed] Kabul and ensur[ed] that rules for conduct and dress [were] followed” (Kleiner 2000: 27). As evidence of these strict mandates, in December 1996, “225 women who did not observe the dress code were punished” (27). Kleiner goes on to state that “all this [was] done in the name of Islam – stamping out everything which might detract from the 'right path'” (27). But not only was the Taliban's reinterpretation of Islam limited to forcefully enforcing women's dress code, they also adopted measures that excluded women from education and employment. Ironically, it was the very religion that the Taliban claimed to safeguard which endowed women with equal participation in society, since its advent. Although the Taliban insisted that that their enforcement of the burqa “award[ed] women a position of 'dignity and honor'” (28), they end up reducing women to no more than just clothing. For instance, the Taliban's ban on education for women was a far cry from the realities that existed in early Muslim generations. The Qur'an clearly mandates that education is a duty upon both males and females (al-Hibri 1997: 23). Some of the most well-versed individuals in the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition were women and al-Hibri mentions that “there were also hundreds of women who were among the Companions of the Prophet” and that “the religious education of women in early Islam proceeded hand in hand with that of the men” (22). Even beyond the Taliban, looking broadly to the entire Muslim world, al-Hibri questions the decline in the representation of Muslim women's scholarship. She attributes this absence to the patriarchal systems which have dominated Muslim lands, and by extension Muslim scholarship in the generations after the Prophet. In the twenty-first century, the most compelling factor that can explain the Taliban's harsh dealings with women is their strict misinterpretations of the protectionist laws for Afghan women, meant to preserve their male-dominated society. Besides the Taliban, Western democracies are also capable of infringing upon women's rights to dress freely, and France is a country that has been at the center of this debate in recent years.

Part II will continue with a look at France's historical struggle with Muslim women's dress code…

References:

Abu-Lughod, Lila (2002) “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?: Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others,” 104 American Anthropologist 783-790.

Al-Hibri, Aziza (1997) “Islam, Law and Custom: Redefining Muslim Women's Rights,” 12 The American University Journal of International Law and Policy 1-33.

Hoodfar, Homa (1993) “The Veil in their Minds and on our Heads: The Persistence of ColonialImages of Muslim Women,” 22 Resources for Feminist Research 5-18.

Kleiner, Jurgen (2000) “The Taliban and Islam,” 11 Diplomacy and Statecraft 19-32.

Misra, Amalendu (2002) “The Taliban, Radical Islam and Afghanistan,” 23 Third World Quarterly 577-589.

Noelle-Karimi, Christine (2002) “History Lessons: In Afghanistan's Decades of Confrontation with Modernity, Women Have Always Been the Focus of Conflict,” 19 The Women's Review of Books 1-3.

Read, Jen'nan G., & John P. Bartkowski (2000) “To Veil or Not to Veil?: A Case Study of Identity Negotiation among Muslim Women in Austin, Texas,” 14 Gender & Society 395-417.

83 Responses

  1. Mutumainah

    interesting article sister! Jazak Allah khair

    Whatever we hear about the Taliban seems to just be the biased perception of the reporter/messenger… and I’m curious as to why the Taliban are trying to “contain the role of women in their society” and oppress their own wives and daughters but when non-Muslim journalists are captured, they’re treated properly and given some form of da’wah…

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    • Safia Farole

      Good observation Mutumainah. I’m also curious as to why that double standard occurs.

      Yvonne Ridley was a reporter (you may know who she is) who visited Afghanistan I think in the 90’s or after the invasion, and she ended up converting as a result of that experience. I don’t think they abused her during her time of captivity, but after being released she eventually embraced Islam.

      I think Muslim women in the west can also relate to this double standard – sometimes some Muslims go out of their way to please non-Muslims, but treat their co-religionists like trash. Lets hope its not too common of a phenomenon.

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      • Ruwayda Mustafah

        …It’s actually rather common, Muslims go out of their way trying to come across as super-nice-loving-caring and gentle, but they NEVER go out of their way (to such an extent) to their Muslim friends. (IMH)

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      • Everybody's Dad

        That’s true to an extent. And I say that to avoid falling into the trap of painting everybody with the same brush.

        I once saw a documentary by an Afghan woman (am forgetting her name atm) who was interviewing a group of Afghan villagers. In this case they were all male and she was asking them why they don’t let their sisters get their picture taken, or (in a few cases) even speak to other men while they had no problem performing skits in front of the television (there was some sort of audition taking place) or talking freely to the female film director.

        They replied that it wasn’t a problem for them but if their sisters did such a thing, ‘it would be a stain upon our honour’. So I guess that there’s some sort of tribal values/ patriarchy interaction going on here. And we all know how hard to disentangle those can be.

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  2. Ruwayda Mustafah

    As-salamu `alaikum warahmatuAllahi wabarakatuh

    A very interesting and thoughtful article. Looking forward to the second part inshAllah.

    Well done dear sister <3

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  3. newboy

    Salam sis,

    Just to let you know, ahmed rashid is someone who is NOT to be trusted. Please look up A.S. Adler’s insightful article on the taliban. If you are curious enough to know more about Taliban and women’s education, I can provide some primary evidence that during the Taliban’s rule, women’s education actually increased! Shocking I know. However, it is understandable why the taliban officially banned women’s education in the beggining stages of their rule; afghanistan was in a horrible condition.

    Keep in mind though, I am not saying that the Taliban did not commit any mistakes.

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      • Hazara

        Anyone who opposes al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stooges of the West now?

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    • Safia Farole

      I will look into that suggestion about ahmed rashid. Sometimes it can be hard when you are looking for academic sources on a particular subject because you can’t do a fact check on every single author. Thanks for dropping the line though.

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      • A

        When their wellbeing is threatened, similarly men e.g. subcontinental Indian Muslims avoided Raj schools as missionary fronts.

        Salman Rushdie is a classic example of “education” going wrong.

        Education is not merely something neutral, there is context. Looking into the rise of the industrial society & education, some even consider it brainwashing /propaganda. After all, what amount of learning do we actually recall from all those years in the system.

        Apart from basic literacy & numeracy, how much useful knowledge is retained. It is glorified socialization into a producing docile workers for a mass society.

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    • Hebah Ahmed

      Asalam Alikum Sr. Safia,

      Masha Allah and May Allah reward you for the obvious time it took to research this article. I learned quite a bit!

      Just to add my 2 cents. I worked with some Afghani refugees in Houston years back and had the chance to ask them directly about the situation. They by no means represent the whole but they did give me insight.

      One lady said she was a teacher in Afghanistan. I asker her who and where she taught. She said she taught the girls in her home. I then asked her if she was scared that if she was caught by the Taliban she would be punished. She said, surprised, “No! They told me to t each the girls in my home!” I corroborated her story with an interview I read once with a Taliban ambassador who said they absolutely support women’s education, it was in the Quran. But, he said, beacuse of all the endless wars, there was no infrastructure in Afghanistan so the few schools that did exist were used to school boys up to 3 rd grade and the rest of the boys and girls were schooled at home until they had the security and money to build them schools. He also said the harsh dress code and requirements that women have a mahram when they leave the house were needed because of the extreme amount of rapes and kidnapping that were going on. He said once the situation was secure, the plan was to relax the rules. Also, in Greg Mortenson’s book, “Three Cups of Tea” he writes that he was kidnapped in Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold. After several days in captivity, the men released him, told them that they heard about the girl’s schools he was building in Afghanistan, and gave him money they had collected to support his mission.

      I think the Taliban are so much more complex then we ever hear. I think there is a big difference between the actions and beliefs of low level tribal foot soldiers and the leaders. I think there is so much culture mixed with religion, educated mixed with ignorant, sexism mixed with a sense of justice. Its so hard to know what the truth is….

      Allahu ‘Allum….

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      • Safia Farole

        Thanks for sharing that Hebah. You’re right that its essential to get the perspective of the indigenous people. Its just hard to find out that information when your dealing with “academic” sources – its like all the papers make broad generalizations about the Taliban, and I think thats a failure on the part of the researchers.

        This same thing occurs with other “indigenous” or grass-roots movements around the world – the group gets labeled something bad and hardly any Western journalist/writers take the time to get to know how these groups provide services for their people. Its almost like the information they gather is based on hearsay! Like you said, at the end of the day its a mixed bag.

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      • newboy

        Wow, my thoughts exactly! but much more eloquently stated…

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      • Mansoor Ansari

        If one grew up in developing countries in South Asia, Middle east or Africa… then u would know families too place importance of education of girls than boys. Boys have to perform good in school so that they go out and get jobs to provide and take care of their families while girls do go to school, the pressure is less. They have to become professionals or take care of their families monetarily but they do have to learn how to cook & take of the house. The expectations of each gender is different. In most families if they r on limited income and they have to choose between the son & the dighter to go to school, they would choose the son as he would take care of them when they r old while the girl will get married and take care of her ‘new’ family. Even in families where every one can afford to go school & college… the same amt of money is not invested in to them. I will give my personal exam, we r 4 siblings (2 brothers & 2 sisters) all of us have University degrees… my brother & I came to the west to get them while my sisters went to local universities. My family would not allow them to universities in far away land without any mahrams and also due to limited finances… the priority were the sons. From a western perspective. my parents are sexist & God knows what and from both cultural & Islamic perspective they have not done any wrong!

        I think the Taliban scenario was the same except at a macro level than micro.

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      • Ummousama

        Assalamu alaikum,

        I totally agree with you. Even, if when kids are small, you treat them the same and boys do help out in the house like girls do, when they become teenagers, boys might still help at home but they help more outside. After all, if you have the choice tbetween your son and your daughter to get something from the market, who would you send. If you need to do this after dark, who would you send?

        Yes, the boy’s secular education is more important than the girl’s one but the importance of religious education is equally important for both. After all, at the time of Rasulullah (sale Allahu alayhi wa sallam), when we speak of education, which kind of education are we speaking of?

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    • newboy

      I didn’t mean that it is understandable to ban women education, i was more referring to the environment of that time. Afghanistan had just gone through a very heavy ordeal. The civil war that erupted afterwards directly affected women in afghanistan, often in violent ways. I this context, it sorts of makes sense why the taliban wanted women to stay home. However, I do not think this was the way to proceed.

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  4. suhail

    We can discuss this and that about what feminists have written or other authors have written about hijab. The more important point is what do the 4 schools of thought say about these issues. Hijab is not some new issue or a modern predicament. It has been in place among the muslims for almost 1400 years. Our scholars from all the schools of thoughts have given there ruling on this issue.

    For muslims who really care about what Allah and his messanger(SAW) have said about this issue they will look into what these scholars have said not some feminists or other authors who really have no background in fiqh and usul.

    When we discuss this issue among ourselves we need to look into that rather than writing of some new writers or feminists. Also regarding the rulings in Afghanistan about wearing Burka it is quite idiotic to blame Taliban for that. A lot of muslim woman in south asian country wear the whole burka and it has nothing to do specifically with Taliban. And did we see what the Hanafi school says about hijab? Because that is the predominant school in that area.

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    • Safia Farole

      I realize the points you are making Suhail. But you fail to understand that this article is discussing hijab in contemporary societies and how it is used in dealings towards women. Not every article on a muslim blog has to always cite what Muslims scholars say about a particular issue. We need to know what non-Muslims are saying so we can educate them about our religion.

      BTW, Aziza Al-Hibri (who I quote) is a learned Muslim scholar, and if you read the article you will note that she is making valid points about Islamic history and women’s education. We should not only limit those who can write about Islam to the 4 imams.

      As for the hanafi school, no blog article can every be enough to cover the plurality of thought with regards to hijab in south asia.

      Come back for part II; its about France – I wonder if you will have any objects to the sources I will use in that article because I will quote alot of non-Muslims references as well (due to a lack of Muslim academics to quote).

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  5. Si.

    So what is YOUR interpretation of the veil?

    I have read all those “academic” interpretations before but I’m curious to know what your interpretation is.

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    • Safia Farole

      Thanks for leaving a comment Si. This wasn’t meant to be an opinion piece – it was more research based (i.e. what are academics/ideologues saying about this issue). Its not meant to be slanted one way or the other, although I as a Muslim woman I completely embrace the sharia’s mandate that women should cover (because Allah instructs us to do so, first and foremost). Hope that helps.

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  6. Brother

    Several years back, I think even before 9/11, I heard on the radio or someplace that Taliban did not have education for girls because they didn’t have money for it, so they diverted whatever resources they had to educate boys for reasons I forgot. So did the Taliban outright ban education for girls or was it a money issue?

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    • Amal

      Why don’t we ask some of the girls whose schools were bombed? Or maybe those who received death threats? Or perhaps the teachers who got acid chucked in their faces?

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  7. Ummousama

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Since when will you get a true picture of the Taliban based on Western literature? Isn’t such literature biased? Did you happen to hear any debate in the Muslim community when they were ruling Taliban? No, you are too young with that. You didn’t quote any interview of Afghani women either. You don’t know why the Taliban rose to power, how they were successful and how the society changed during that time. How can you change a whole very poor society in just a few years to the “standard of the West?”

    And what about France? Do you know the French culture? Do you know the history that France has with Islam? Have you spoken to any French Muslim living in France? Just as if you need a fatwa special to the land to where you live, you should ask a scholar of the land, when writing about such issues, it is best done by people living in the land who have experienced the problem. Do you know the French way of thinking? It does play a big role in this.

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    • Amal

      It’s “Afghan,” not “Afghani” (Afghani is the currency). And I think the testimony of Afghans themselves gives a fair portrayal of what’s happened under the rule of the filthy Taliban. It’s not some “Western conspiracy.” Ask any woman who’s lived there when most women doctors were forced out of women’s hospitals so they could either be shut down or converted to men’s hospitals. The Taliban hate and fear women so much, they would rather allow them to die of simple disease and childbirth complications than treat them with humanity.

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      • Hazara

        I really want to know is why do so many of the naive commenters on this site have such a rosy picture of the Taliban? We all know how many Muslims react when Islamophobes glorify Serbian war criminals as heroes, yet here we have Sunnis praising genocidal warmongers such as Saddam Hussein and Mullah Umar.

        Amal, they not only feared and hated women, but they also tried to exterminate us from the country. To me, it appears that to many on here, genocide and ethnic cleansing is acceptable as long as Shari’a is established. And justify it based on the claim that for example, us Hazaras opposed the implementation of Islamic law, when the reality is that the Taliban were scum that truly deserved to be wiped out.

        Too many Muslims have a tendency to support oppressive regimes when it suits their worldview, which makes Taliban supporters the biggest hypocrites around.

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      • Amal

        I hear you, Hazara, and am glad you’re speaking up. The Muslims who defend the Taliban are *always* those who have not had to live with them. It seems these days anyone can do murder, torture, and genocide, with the full approval of many Muslims, so long as they claim their filthy deeds are in the interest of establishing “shariah.”

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  8. Bilal

    Safia, I tool must question your research methodology. As a PhD student myself, I find your entire analysis and narrow selection of sources very biased, despite your claims of impartiality. Firstly, I completely agree with the points raised by Ummousama about the methodology of your research. She is right that you were unfair in your selection of “expert” sources, your lack of interaction with locals to the respective cultures and of cultural / psychological understanding of the peoples there. You dismissed these criticisms offhandedly as “This is a blog, not a comprehensive anthology on Afghani and French women.” I am afraid you will have a hard time defending your thesis at uni if this is the way you answer critique.

    Besides, I would like to point out :

    1) You said “”Regarding these critical Quranic verses, there has been great dispute among scholars – non-Muslim and Muslim alike – about the interpretation of these verses.” You seems to prepare the reader that the dispute is ancient, but then in the next line you bring the personal opinion of a living feminist, Fatima Merssini! ….followed by more modern feminist writers. I am not saying it is wrong to quote feminists, but to show what you called “great dispute among scholars”, you could only produce evidence of the said great dispute from what you called “anti-veiling Muslim feminists “?

    2) You said, “”Prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, many Americans became increasingly concerned with the plight of the Afghan women under Taliban rule.” And the next line was “One instance of this intrigue was demonstrated by Laura Bush who declared that “because of our recent military gains in
    much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. ” Perhaps you did not realize that Laura Bush said this *after* the invasion!

    3) You said “…how is it that the West has come to deplore Islamic covering in Afghanistan? One undeniable answer to that question lies within the Taliban’s wielding of power in that country.” And in the next paragraph you actually admitted that covering up was the NORM in the Afghan society even before the Taliban. I believe you have had a hard time in connecting two different streams of thought. The first was probably your own musing, but the second was the decidedly anti-Islamic line of thinking of Ahmed Rashid.

    4) You answered Hiba by saying “You’re right that its essential to get the perspective of the indigenous people. Its just hard to find out that information when your dealing with “academic” sources – its
    like all the papers make broad generalizations about the Taliban, and I think thats a failure on the part of the researchers.” If you deplore the integrity of the “academic” sources, why not add a disclaimer of caution in your thesis? Your article makes the reader understand that you agree with the “facts” they provide.

    5) In response to Suhail, you said “I realize the points you are making Suhail. But you fail to understand
    that this article is discussing hijab in contemporary societies and how it is used in dealings towards women.” I am sorry, but it is you who failed to understand his points. If you are addressing Hijab in contemporary societies, then you need to cite the opinions of *ancient* scholars which form the basis of this *contemporary* issue. I wonder whether you would write a thesis on the *contemporary* phenomenon of evangelical politics in America, by quoting just the people on the Left, and ignoring the sayings of Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers which form the basis of the dispute?

    If this was part of your research in university (looks like a half cooked term paper), I would be interested in knowing what grade you got for it?

    Bilal

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    • Safia Farole

      Thank you Bilal for taking the time to provide feeback on my post. We can all communicate/critique courteously without being witty – afterall, I’m not presenting this to a dissertation committe:)

      You’re free to submit a post to MM that takes a different perspective on this topic – you seem to have nearly written one already!

      I never said this was about impartiality, I was using the texts at my disposal, while showing a plethora of opinion on this matter (including feminist voices). If we as Muslims refuse to hear the arguments non-Muslim feminists are making, how will we learn what we have to defend our religion against? Just because an author cites these sources to demonstrate Western thought on this issue does not mean he/she embraces these ideas. This was meant to just get the conversation rolling.

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      • Bilal

        Thankyou for the reply, Safia. You told me:
        “I never said this was about impartiality”
        But in reply to Si, you had said:
        “This wasn’t meant to be an opinion piece – it was more research based (i.e. what are academics/ideologues saying about this issue). Its not meant to be slanted one way or the other”

        You also told me, “If we as Muslims refuse to hear the arguments non-Muslim feminists are making, how will we learn what we have to defend our religion against? Just because an author cites these sources to demonstrate Western thought on this issue does not mean he/she embraces these ideas.”

        Well, it is the way you presented those arguments, at the same time excluding the other opinions. In response to suhail, you had written, “BTW, Aziza Al-Hibri (who I quote) is a learned Muslim scholar, and if you read the article you will note that she is making valid points about Islamic history and women’s education. We should not only limit those who can write about Islam to the 4 imams.”

        In fact this is what you quoted from Al-Hibri: “Al-Hibri argues that the egalitarian mandates of Islam, particularly those concerning women’s rights, were executed fully during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammed and the successive generations. Yet al-Hibri claims, these reforms for women were masked by the interpretations of many male religious scholars, as Muslim female scholars were pushed to the background.”

        I dont know whether to ubderstand from the foregoing whether

        a) You endorse the views of ” a learned Muslim scholar” (i.e. Al-Hibri) who made “valid points about Islamic history and women’s education”,

        or,

        b) you want to educate us about what you called feminist arguments that” we have to defend our religion against?”

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      • Hebah Ahmed

        Asalam ALikum Br. Bilal,

        Masha Allah I am impressed with your obvious debating skills and knowledge on the issue discussed here. I do want to tell you as a MM writer myself, we are all writing on a volunteer basis and as a side hobby in addition to the million responsibilites we have in our lives. The point of many of our articles is to start a discussion that will help us all come to better understandings. We do not always have the time or resources to write a dissertation on every topic we choose to address, but these are contemporary issues that should be addressed. Many times our articles are a springboard for a much more in depth understanding of the topic based on contributors like yourself..

        I think your points help in that aim but your method is very attacking and makes many of us MM writers hesitate in writing anything more than fluff to avoid the attacks. I ask you sincerely and humbling to continue contributing but in a way that invites dialogue rather than cuts it off at the knees. Avoiding personal attacks on the author and his/her intellect or research abilities is a great start.

        Please forgive me if I offend you with these comments but we really are very sensitive when we write and encouragements work much better than attacks.

        Jazak Allahu Khair.

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      • Bilal

        Thank you for your comments, Heba. You said, “The point of many of our articles is to start a discussion…” There is nothing wrong with that, but hasn’t it been the point of many other such recent endeavors, like Jack Straw’s similar attempt to kick off a debate:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_debate_over_veils

        http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20061010-0539-britain-veildispute.html

        What we are objecting to is the shock-jock manner in which the debates are kicked off these days. Honestly, from the article’s tone, one could not be blamed for thinking it appeared on a blog called “feministmatters”, “neoconmatters” or indeed “muslimsdontmatter”.

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  9. newboy

    Salam guys, take a look at this link,

    This is an interview from the Irish Times with James Furgesson. Mr.Fergusson is a reporter who has been back and forth to afghanistan since 1996, and knows that taliban relitively well – from a non-Muslim perspective. Anyway in this interview, oddly enough, he breaks away from the taliban bashing that reporters love.

    Sis Safia, this would be a good resource for you in the future.

    Take a look at his book too – published 2010!

    Course he makes some important mistakes

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  10. Megan

    Hi,
    i am curently in my last year of high school and was giving a researsh project on anything of my choice. After reading an article in the paper i had decided to bring up beauty, not only in its up front stage but how it effects our lives. i am curently trying to compare the beauty of the united states and canada to islamic women as well as muslim, i was just wondering if anyone had some suggestions on how i should go arround it, if you had some sites where i could understand the reasons why muslim women dress in the maner that they do, and how it effects them in society!

    Thanks so much, Megan

    (ps sorry if my english is bad, i speak more french then english!)

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  11. AfghanMuslimah

    SalaamAlaikum Sis Safia,
    First, I am an Afghan Canadian. So, let’s get some facts straight.
    I was initially curious to read your article as the title implied Western and Eastern (Muslim) perspectives on the Hijab. However, as I continued to read, I became frustrated with the tone, the bias and the incoherence of your writing. This article posed a very basic analysis (from a Western Perspective) of the Taliban rather than a true Islamic perspective on the veil. I think you fail to recognise that the idea “plight of the Afghan women” as portrayed by the West is being used as a political tool to continue with the War of Terror in Afghanistan. Don’t you realise that the “success” of war on terror is being measured by the so called “liberation of Women”. Isn’t it ironic that the idea to Free the Aghan Women translates to them losing the hijab, playing music…etc. It has nothing to do with education or better living conditions for the Afghan women. The hijab as an Islamic custom has been around for 1400 years, yet, this non issue has become the most debated issue of modern history. We need to ask why?

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    • Hebah Ahmed

      I would love to hear your perspective! Please give us the facts of the situation as you see it since you have first hand knowledge.

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  12. Asif

    I dont know where you received your degrees, but your selective use of sources and subjective-partisan approach will ultimately confine you in the academic realm from attaining any higher pedantic branches, that is if you wish to do so. The cudgel of this piece is in your penchant inclination towards one side, while demonstrating complete lack of depth which is dwarfed by your array of inconsistent congruity. In essence do a bit more research before you write about such a sensitive topic, especially when it is regarding muslims.

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    • Hebah Ahmed

      Asalam Alikum Br. Asif,

      Why don’t you supply more sources and point Sr. Safia in the right direction rather than merely blast her methods. She is very sincere in her attempt to understand and present this topic and needs your help rather than your attacks.

      In the end we all just want to understand the truth of the situation, not merely flex our mental muscles of articulation. :)

      Jazak Allahu Khair.

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  13. Asif

    Walikumsalam,

    Well it is the responsibility of the writer to explore and inquire more sources, I mean I never had a professor provide me the sources for my dissertation. Though you may argue that its a simple article for a blog, the fact of the matter is, its an Islamic issue, thus cautious deliberation of sources is exceptionally important.

    In order to understand the “truth of the situation” we must first be exposed to the ample translations of the truth. Unfortunately the writer failed to articulate an objective piece. Sorry if it sounds harsh, but its only constructive criticism.

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  14. Mohammed

    AfghanMuslimah says most of whats on my mind actually,
    And it is not for us to discuss whether ‘To veil or Not to veil’. It is not up for discussion! Rather we better discuss how best to save Afghanistan and other countries from foreign occupation who measure their ‘success’ by the amount they can strip women naked.
    And I am not going to say anything about Taliban cox i don’t have any accurate information on them and I believe none of us do have anything but the distorted western concept that anything to do with Islam is backwardness. Do not you remember what God almighty promised us1400 years ago: “Never will they be happy with us until we start following their ways”

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  15. abu Rumay-s.a.

    thanks sister Safia for this article in hopes clarifying a complex issue (as sister Heba alluded to). I’d like to draw your attention to one other important factor that many writing such topics are not familiar with and is
    pashtunwali – the pashtrun ethical code.

    There is a fairly decent paper by Palwasha Kakar at Harvard law school which serves a good introduction, you can find here, hopefully you can include some of these concepts/sources in your future papers:

    Tribal Law of Pashtunwali and Women’s Legislative Authority
    http://www.law.harvard.edu/programs/ilsp/research/kakar.pdf

    other general links/sources you can find at wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pashtunwali

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    • Safia Farole

      Thank you abu-Rumaysa s.a. for pointing this research on pashtunwali out to me. I had no idea such an ethical code existed like that in Afghan culture. Its like when I go to goole scholar to find in-depth articles about a topic, articles like the one you suggest don’t pop up on top of the list (unless you specify, like googling “pashtunwali and women”. These are very helpful souces; I appreciate readers who are constructive in their comments.

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      • newboy

        Just to keep in mind, many non-Muslims like to claim that what the Taliban were doing the whole time was according to Pashtunwali, and not Islam. However, the Taliban overrode some of the ugly aspects pashtunwali – like the selling of girls for money.

        Hopefully the harvard paper addresses some of these thorny issues (havent read it yet).

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  16. Mantiki

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the subject matter of whether it is correct for Muslim women to be forced to wear the veil, chador or burqua etc. Education and womens’ rights in general are all worthy subjects, but in respect of this article, will no man or women stand up and support the freedom of women to wear what they want without fear of religious police belting them around or being killed by their male relatives for some warped concept of male “honour”?

    While the article on French policy has yet to be published, I would support banning the veil. I know that this is also imposing a dress rule, but the alternative is that women will be persecuted by some Muslims (including their sisters) for NOT wearing the veil. This sort of regulation is a travesty of what Allah wants for His people. Allah is not a tyrant wanting to burden humanity with rules, regulations and guilt. If He were, He would appear like a pillar of fire or something obvious and clearly set out his rules in Person.

    He is instead merciful and loving and shows Himself through our acts of love and kindness towards others. This does not include demanding that women be dressed in shapeless tents to be ashamed of their bodies. Such a thing inevitably leads to men having unnatural desires to see women unveiled and then feel guilt for doing so and then transferring the guilt to the woman for their “sinful” feelings.

    In my country (Australia) a couple of years ago, a girl was raped by a gang of young Muslims who thought because she was provocatively dressed and therefore was a “slut” who deserved to be raped. At the court, their families were outraged, not by their son’s crimes but that this girl had led the son’s into sin! It is the overblown insistence on tribal concepts of modesty that causes so much suffering amongst frustrated young men and young women who are forced to be imprisoned in their clothing.

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    • Mohammed

      Both women and Men should be forced observe modest standards, both should go through compulsory education up to a minimum level, while it is up to the individual to practice whatever religion he or she wishes, neither have the right to insult any religion publicly.

      We should fight against who try to limit the rights given to the woman i.e. those who try say no education, no driving and not allowing them to work. But we should be reasonable and logical; Just because some people do not implement the law correctly does not give us the right to call for ban. The laws are right and clear, just try to implement it without crossing the bounds.

      And I am surprised Mantiki, you do not want to ‘impose’ a dress code and yet you want to ban the veil and ‘impose’ a no veil policy? No offense, but it seems to me that its does not matter to you even if a dress code is imposed. It matters only when an Islamic dress code is imposed.

      Btw I agree the veil is part of the culture and not compulsory to wear for Muslim women. I mean no one should be forced to cover their face. And I heard about that story too, Mantiki. Just stupid, I hope they punished the guys a little extra!

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      • Bilal

        “Both women and Men should be forced observe modest standards”

        Just to give an example, the Caliph Omar (may Allah be pleased with him) once cut off the long and beautiful hair of one of the young men, as he feared this would be a temptation for women. See Dr. Ali Sallabi’s biography of the caliph.

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      • Mantiki

        Hi Mohammed and Bilal

        you are partly correct in that I AM against Islamic dress codes, but that is simply because Islam seems to be the only religion that incorporates dress codes as rules. Dress codes exist in all sorts of cultures and we may or may not agree with them, but at least they are subject to change as a culture or society evolves. Islam alone seems to dictate that Allah has an interest in what clothes we wear. This makes any questioning of dress codes as being against Allah. Similarly this applies to the multitude of rules that Islamic mullahs come up with. These rules then are accepted as coming from Allah when in fact they are thought up by mere mortals. Mortals who are obsessed with maintaining 7th century patterns of thought that were appropriate for a tribal society assuming a national identity. Those days are past!

        Similarly Caliph Omar cutting the hair of the young man was being very silly. I can get annoyed by silly haircuts as much as the next person, but all this concern, worry and guilt about being attractive and attracted to the opposite sex simply creates guilt and unnatural attitudes towards each other. Often this becomes aggression and putting the blame onto people for “inflaming” lusts and desires which Allah gave us in order that we continue to procreate.

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      • Sabour Al-Kandari

        Look Mantiki, if you believe you have a book from Allah and he sent you a Messenger (sual Allahu alayhi salam), then the only thing that makes sense is to follow what the All-Knowing has commanded. This of course is based on correct and academic interpretation (taking into account context etc) which has been laid out already anyway, the way the Messenger sual Allahu alayhi wasalam taught it and the Companions followed it.

        A lot of what you say are straw-man arguments, and it leads me to believe that you’re a little bit new here in the mainstream community and need to learn more for understanding simple mainstream Islam from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Nobody here agrees with the gang rape you cited simply because it is against the Qur’an and Sunnah, and at the same time nobody agrees with your attack on the Islamic dress code because the Islamic dress code is clearly a part of the Qur’an and Sunnah.

        Of course, certain things are up for legitimate disagreement but only in the light of scholarship going back to the Qur’an and Sunnah. For the sake of yourself, I humbly advise you to rethink your conclusions and learn more about the religion, because it makes a person a walking contradiction if one believes they have guidance from Allah but advocate the complete opposite, in an (arrogant) attempt to put their own ideas above what the Lord they prostrate to has commanded.

        Here are some resources:

        http://muslimmatters.org/2008/03/03/authority-of-sunnah-hadithrevelation/

        http://muslimmatters.org/2010/04/28/haya-showcasing-the-shyness-of-a-shepherdess/

        http://bayyinah.com/media/

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      • Mohammed

        Yes ofcox, Islam has rules for everything. Why? Islam is the only ‘complete’ religion. And yeah, God sent down a book in which there are laws to benefit mankind and Modestly dressing in public is one of those rules. It is not for us to say that God should not be concerned about how we dress. We have no authority to say that.

        God knows very well how the circumstances would change in the world he created. We were not meant to wear the headscarf only until we discover the mini-skirt. God had decreed a crystal clear command to be followed eternally: His servants are to say nothing but “We hear and obey”

        Great blog btw, Safia Farole. One of the best I have come across so far. Best of luck.

        May God give us all the best in this world and the best in the hereafter.

        Edit: Sabour Al-Kandari summarised is the best way possible while i was writing this.heheh And i agree with him completely!

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      • Mantiki

        Mohammed and Sabour

        Yes I am new to this web-site. It is obvious that I am not a Muslim. I became a Christian though most Christians would not recognise me as such. To explain, my faith and love of God did in fact come from a personal revelation when I prayed to him in despair using Christian inspired prayers of repentance in Jesus name. The true response I received was to be flooded with a feeling of such powerful love, that my tears of despair were replaced by laughter and tears of gratitude. From my experience I sought fellowship with other Christians in Church but soon discovered that my experience was rare. Most Christians follow Christ out of fear and immerse themselves in rituals and stories from the Bible. My experience tells me that God values only what is in your heart and my joy comes from showing that love to others.

        My blogging experience is largely limited to arguing against atheists would you believe?! I don’t have a problem with those that simply disbelieve in God but many of them hate religion with a vengeance on the basis of the harm that it does. It is obvious that there is merit in their arguments because Christianity has been and is responsible for much suffering. Only up to two hundred or so years ago ago, Protestant and Roman Catholics, were slaughtering and torturing each other by the thousands. But at least Christians are now willing to critically examine their beliefs and holy book. They have become better as a result. My issue with Islam as a religion is that critical discussion and questioning of the Quran and of the Prophet is forbidden. Thus there is no possibility for God to be discovered. Islam becomes entrenched through fear and rules under threats – either physical or (imagined) eternal.

        The obvious fact is that Allah does not care what religion we are. If this were so, He would be clear about which religion He favoured including whether Sunni or Shia etc. Instead we have bombs and guns in Churches and Mosques of all sides. We have deaths through human evil and accidents (such as stampedes) at the Haj where people are looking most earnestly for Allah.

        So I say forget about 7th century rules and worship of old Books. Just love one another and love God and be at peace within yourself, with each other and with Allah.

        May He bless you all!

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      • Sabour Al-Kandari

        I hate to take the thread off track from the article, but I simply cannot resist such a discussion!

        It is obvious that I am not a Muslim

        It wasn’t for me lol! I must have been asleep.

        The true response I received

        The problem with mystical experiences is that they are very subjective Mantiki, and those can’t take you away from the inevitable human conflict that ensues. It may happen that someone has a mystical experience with the devil, or pagan idols, or after watching a video of Justin Beiber – and heavily disagree with you – is that really a source of ultimate truth? From the Islamic point of view, we’re given an innate sense of right and wrong (fitrah in Arabic, like your conscience) and we have brains as well to use for proper reasoning to conclude something is truthful. Naturally, it makes sense that Allah would want us to use the tools we’re given at our disposal.

        My issue with Islam as a religion is that critical discussion and questioning of the Quran and of the Prophet is forbidden.

        This couldn’t be further from the truth! I engage in discussions like these on a regular basis, and Muslims thrive off these discussions (we consider it a religious obligation). The issue is that there’s a difference between reasonable academic dialogue and hate speech/fear-mongering, that’s all.

        Follow my reasoning here, if you believe in an All-Powerful, Merciful, Loving and Just Creator, it naturally makes sense to believe in the Day of Judgement, a day when we will all be taken into account for our deeds and have to answer for our choices based on our circumstances/intentions/situations etc – perfect justice. This perfect justice obviously does not exist in this life (which is a common argument against religion, when it is really for Islam). What is the most justice that can be done to a mass murderer, can anything really be “fair”?

        So with this perspective that this life is simply a test and the true existence is in the afterlife, it breaks down the arguments for “accidents,tsunamis,earthquakes,life is unfair, religions are not real”. Also, it clarifies that a person should judge a religion based on the message, and not the failures some of its adherents may have.

        The obvious fact is that Allah does not care what religion we are. If this were so, He would be clear about which religion He favoured including whether Sunni or Shia etc.

        From the Islamic perspective, religion has always been very simple, easy and straightforward, and the differences arise from human-induced tampering. If you do believe in a Day of Judgement, it makes a lot of sense to believe Allah sent us Prophets (Noah, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, peace be upon them) with straightforward guidance. And really, if someone makes an effort to think about it, the common-themes and the foundations for Islamic theology exist clearly in previous scripture and make a lot of sense. Turn your worship/love/submission towards Allah alone, remain righteous in actions/character/behaviour and know that we’ll be taken into account for our deeds. It’s very simple, but it’s compounded in other faiths by addition/deletion from revelation with things like idolatry, ideas like the divinity of Jesus / salvation, and other post-revelation additions. People who divide into sects are themselves responsible for deviating from the straightforward mainstream and introducing new concepts into religion (80% Sunni, btw, and that’s after historical forced conversions).

        Finally, when treating a social illness you have to make sure you don’t amputate the wrong limb. Islamically, problems arise not from adherence to scripture, but from deviating from it (isn’t that something one would expect from Divine guidance?). It’s not the same as with other religions where “reinterpreting” is necessary (isn’t that something one would expect from man-made ideas?), and you can look for yourself at all the common-issues tackled:
        http://www.whyislam.org
        http://www.load-islam.com/artical_det.php?artical_id=414&subsection=Misconceptions

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    • Fulan

      You obviously don’t understand the point of Hijab. As for your support for banning the veil, what do you have to say to FREE women who PREFER wearing niqab? Will you deny them that freedom because of other families that demand it from their women? Besides, from my experience, the vast majority of women who do wear the veil in the west do so BY CHOICE and not because of family pressure.

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  17. Sabour Al-Kandari

    Salaamualaikum,

    As can be figured out from my kunya, I am an Afghan hailing from Kandahar. I’ve also been to Kandahar in the summer of ’09, so here’s my two-cents:

    This is a start, but writing a paper that completely goes along the status quo is just too easy, you have to push yourself well beyond that . Even in science, the difference between being crazy and a genius is simply being right. So I would have much more appreciated something different from what all the other kids are doing (and adding your own perspectives / refuting others’) but defended well with air-tight logic and evidence.

    I understand there’s a lack of academic sources out there, but this is where the void needs to be filled. The current Afghan-women-taliban-view is simply war-time propaganda, nothing else. Extremely simplistic and aimed at justifying ongoing wars – but is it really a surprise? With war comes propaganda, period. Any research into Hollywood’s role during WW2 and the ridiculous change in portrayal of Stalin is just one source of proof of that.

    It is very possible (if not already the case) that the invasion of Afghanistan set Afghan-women back for a very, very long time. Every Afghan living in the West who starts practicing Islam more knows very well the degree of difference between their paradigm and that of their parents. And it’s not just a conservative vs. liberal thing, that too is over-simplistic. A young Afghan might find themselves challenging their culture for being unIslamically harsh/strict for certain issues and at the same time unIslamically too liberal for others. Muslims of any nationality can testify this, but for the case of Afghan women culture plays a more dominant role than Islam. To put it simply, the majority of problems Afghan women face are due to ideas deeply entrenched in pre-Islamic ignorance and culture (i.e. a woman must marry whoever her father chooses, a woman is the property of the entire family she is married into etc). To simply dump all these things on the Taliban is ridiculous, as religious legitimacy is probably the only thing strong enough to challenge firmly rooted cultural norms.

    Take for example what happened in Saudi Arabia during King Faisal’s time (an eerily similar analogy with the culture). Upon the introduction of television, there was really harsh opposition to the “kafir technology” being presented (just like right now the khutbas in Kandahar are attacking television). But King Faisal convinced his people using the Qur’an and Sunnah that this was not actually the most Islamically correct approach if the programming presented was Islamic, and using the ‘ulema and a broadcast of a child reciting Qur’an, he was able to challenge the status-quo in the culture and change it.

    As for the issue with Afghan girls’ schooling, that too is also war-time propaganda. The other comments provide adequate proof of how that simply wasn’t the case. From first-hand experience, I can tell you quite clearly that Afghans (especially Kandaris) are very polarized in how they view education in general (for girls AND boys). Many of my parents generation are illiterate and were never educated, despite the Taliban having zero influence and the country having a thriving system and Universities (pre-Soviet invasion). My mom herself was educated but she was faced with opposition from cultural norms that my grandfather had to refute using Islam.

    And the situation today? When I was there in ’09, out of the 25+ children (boys and girls) I personally met, about 90% of them didn’t go to school. There was a stigma in the family against the idea of formal education that had nothing to do with gender roles. The one family who’s kids were actually educated included boys and girls (girls up to a certain age for safety reasons), and it was simply because the father saw education as important – and they too were at the mercy of fierce opposition for the rest (they actually sent them to school without telling the others for a while). I have a male cousin who is going to University in India who is being shunned by his uncle simply because he chose to go to University.

    The whole situation isn’t as simple as everyone would like to make themselves believe. Wishful thinking may make a person sleep better at night, but it won’t solve the problems. Now they have a government plagued with the ultimate scum Afghan culture can produce: drug-dealers, criminals, warlords and thugs and the deeply rooted cultural norms are only challenged by what are perceived by the hardcore as “kafir-western-infidel-influence” which will only lead to more polarization.

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    • Safia Farole

      Thank you br. Sabour Al-Kandari for educating us (especially myself) deeper on this topic. I wish I had know all of this beforehand – like I wrote, its just hard to find this information when you do an internet search. As you alluded to, I think the academic research on afghanistan and women’s rights is flooded with anti-Taliban, simplistic narratives; thus sincere individuals such as myself (who want to understand these issues better) are fed only from these sources.

      As a Somali American I can relate to what you have mentioned because right now Al-Shabab is in control of almost the entire country. We frequently hear from Western souces (i.e. newspapers) that women are being refused their rights (i.e. are being treated harshly, unequally). But when I hear from Somalis who have been there recently I learn that the situation is not that bad (I’m not trying to downplay any sort of abuse towards women), and it is not as it is made out to be.

      If you want to expand on any of your ideas about Afghan culture and women (or anything else) you are free to submit an article to MM. Thanks for being constructive in your critique.

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      • ummousama

        Assalamu alaikum,

        The response from Sabour is the reason why I said that a person writing an article on a certain issue in a certain country should know that country. You cannot have a proper view of an issue without having any source from locals.

        BTW, the hate of French people towards Islam goes back to the time of the Tabi’een and Tabi-Tabi’een when they defeated them at the battle of Tours. Google it. Also, google Sarkozy and his background. That might tell you more of the present President ;)

        These are just two tips though. To understand French culture, you also have to know that “intellectuals” are at the top and this is why they are called “Intellectuals”. In history, they are probably referred as “philosophers”. These people, for the most, shun religion and are all atheists.

        There is much more to say to understand the French culture. You also have to understand the history between France and Algeria, who the harkas are and how French Algerians are viewed.

        May Allah help you.

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      • Safia Farole

        So essentially what your saying is I have to have a phd in any subject before writing anything about it. I see where your coming from, but not everyone has accesss to “locals” when they wright about a certain country – myself included. Alot of the commentators seem to have problems with the references I selected – as I mentioned, no one has time to fact-check every single sources. And I reccomend you go back to my “thesis” (i.e. the questions I’m trying to answer); you will find that the answers to those questions can be found through academic sources, not really locals. Writing about what locals think can be another article in and of itself. I invite anyone to submitt such a paper to MM if they pelase – I don’t have access to Afghanis in my community, nor do I have the luxury to travel to the country, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t start a discussion on Afghanistan and France for that matter.

        I invite you to read my article on France; you will find that I have included alot about French colonial excursions in Algeria as an explanation for their ban on hijab in schools.

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      • Ummousama

        Assalamu alaikum,

        No, I don’t ask you to have a PhD before writing. What I am expecting from a Muslim blog is to have a Muslim Perspective on things. I expect from an article by Muslims to combat some of the propangada we are subjected to. Your article comes from a point where you accept the propaganda as true and you built your piece on that. I think this is where lots of us have been frustrated.

        As for the French paper, I am just pointing out to you some of the reasons why things are as they are. Yes, I know the French culture very well as it was part of my upbringing. So I am trying to help so that you won’t say: ” I wish I knew that before writing”

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      • Amal

        “To understand French culture, you also have to know that “intellectuals” are at the top and this is why they are called “Intellectuals”. In history, they are probably referred as “philosophers”. These people, for the most, shun religion and are all atheists. ”

        Why would you ever say such a thing? Many of the intellectuals and philosophers you sneer at are/were spiritual people who actively cultivated their relationships with God. You’ve made a nasty accusation based on nothing but your personal and misguided impression of France and its people.
        Unfortunately, your reactionary, anti-intellectual, uninformed statement is becoming more and more typical of Muslims; a people who, in our history, once had the greatest respect for intellectuals and philosophers. How very sad.

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  18. Mohammed

    Mantiki,

    I actually though you were a Muslim after reading your first post, But I was in doubt after reading the later ones. My Apologies.
    You seems to have a deep love for God and to seek his pleasure. I like it.

    But I disagree that Christians are better now. They have a lot of worldly glitter and no desire to worship God. Dividing and editing the books sent by God as they please and quoting from it the parts they like and leaving aside the parts that does not please them. You would probably say it does not matter what book they say they believe as long as they love each other and live happily and all that. But for us that is not the ultimate success. Success comes in trying to please God, Not living in luxury in this world. And when we obey Gods’ commandments we would definitely find peace and harmony in this world. Look to the past if you doubt. I think I can speak for Muslims when I say;

    1. We will never dispute with nor we would discuss the legitimacy of clear commands from our Lord.
    2. We will try our best to implement his Laws and only by doing it we will succeed in this world and the next.
    3. We will never leave the Islamic laws (call that mockingly 7th century books if you want).

    But then again a Muslim and a not yet Muslim can never come in agreement since we have fundamental differences in our measuring-sticks.

    Dear Mantiki, Read the translation of Qur’an, It contains guidance to us all. Ask a knowledgeable person if you have any doubts. And ask Allah for guidance. Beseech him and only him when you are in a difficult situation and Thank him and Praise him when you are better. While you do so refrain from associating partners to the Al-mighty, He does not share his dominion with any one and he is Allah the One, he is far glorious to be begotten or to beget a son. Finally don’t measure success based on worldly things. Nations with more power and wealth on this land have been destroyed because of their disbelief.
    I pray that God may bless you and shower you with mercy from himself and that you may be be among those few who would enter in to the highest parts of heaven.

    Salaam,

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    • Mantiki

      Thank you to both Mohammed and Sabour for your kind and thoughtful responses. Much of what you have said has of course been pointed out to me by other Christians and by atheists. It is quite true that we should not trust subjective experiences. Many a serial killer has said that God told them to commit their terrible acts. Yet the proof of our beliefs is shown by the results of our actions. I would like to add also that if you check on the many articles and web-sites about near death experiences, you will see that people tend to proceed through a judgement at the point of death and many / most meet a Being of Light that seems to align with our concept of a loving God. Many meet a being that seems to them to be Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha or whoever their religion teaches them to expect!

      From all this I conclude that we are accountable for our actions and that we feel the pain and pleasure that we inflict upon others. After death, Heaven and Hell seems to be set up to meet our expectations of what is revealed to us that we deserve, and beyond that we either don’t know, or must choose to believe whatever Prophets WE decide to place or faith in. Certainly, Hell has no appeal but neither would I desire to spend an eternity of singing praises but who knows how we will feel when we have the opportunity to rejoin with our Creator?

      Obviously I have much to learn about Islam, but as with the Bible, which includes instructions of who should be stoned and put painfully to death, I find too much hatred and death dealing instructions for me to believe it is completely inspired by Allah (though parts of it seem to be). Therefore I continue to distrust any instructions that order us to behave this way or dress that way if they result in hurt or anger.

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      • Sabour Al-Kandari

        Obviously I have much to learn about Islam, but as with the Bible, which includes instructions of who should be stoned and put painfully to death, I find too much hatred and death dealing instructions for me to believe it is completely inspired by Allah (though parts of it seem to be).

        I’ve given you links to answers of those common talking points (in my previous comment),
        please check them out!

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      • Mantiki

        Thanks Sabour

        I checked out your weblinks and one had expired – leading to an advertisement instead, while the other simply listed more rules and regulations for Muslims.

        God / Allah is more than a moral policeman. Atheists are fond of arguing that there is no evidence for God. I don’t consider books like the Bible and Koran which are full of rules, and history of conflict to be persuasive – even though many of the authors may have been inspired by God or even to have “met” Him.

        I’m more convinced by the thousands of people who have had spiritual experiences through meditation or near death. They all speak of a loving presence who shows them the lessons of their life including their sins, and where they all stand at the gate to a loving re-union with deceased relatives and friends. The experience is universal and not linked to a person’s beliefs whether Christian, Muslim or atheist. The message does NOT seem to be, “I love you but unless you believe in me and cover your hair and body with lots of clothes, I will torture you for eternity”. That kind of God would be truly evil.

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      • Sabour Al-Kandari

        while the other simply listed more rules and regulations for Muslims.

        Your dismissing judgment on the whyislam website tells me you haven’t actually looked through it properly, there are a TON of explanations there to the issues you’ve brought up, and there’s also a forum where you can take your questions/discussion.

        Obviously, it makes more sense to read and study the Qur’an and Islam in more depth before passing judgment. I can tell you’re unfairly passing pre-conceived notions because your comment is again defined by superficial and straw-man arguments like the ones before, but this one is on things like salvic exclusivity, and who goes to hell and such – which is why you should be thoroughly reading the links I’ve given you and engaging openly for answers to your questions instead looking to confirm your current position.

        If you did read, you’ll see one of the themes in Islam is that it’s not simply a set of arbitrary rules. Turning religion into something heartless and mechanistic is extremism on one side, but at the same time turning religion into something purely emotional without knowledge, order and regulation is extremism on the other. The defining characteristic of Islam is balance and staying on the “middle-path”.

        An excellent example of such a fusion is the prayer of Muslims. It’s socially institutionalized – bringing every Muslim on the planet together, a personal intellectual exercise (reflecting on the Qur’an), yet at the same time extremely heart-felt and spiritual throughout the body and mind, and the beautiful nature of the recitation of the Qur’an magnifies the brilliance.

        “Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (Surah Ra’d, 28)

        PS: Here’s a new link for the other broken one, and there are more links I’ve given you in previous comments. I’ve given you lots of homework, so get cracking:
        http://www.islamic-life.com/forums/quran-hadith-prophet-muhammad/misconceptions-commonly-misquoted-verses-narrations-712

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  19. Mohammed

    Dear Mantiki, You seem to be a reasonable to talk to unlike most other people on internet. But I still don’t get what exactly you are looking for. Forgive me is I am wrong, but you seem to be looking for a religion that is all loving, caring, peaceful, with no rules, people are to do what they think is best for them; perhaps dress what ever you wish, eat and drink what ever you like. Or are we to take a vote on what is a crime and what is a good deed? And do we punish the criminals in what ever way the elite people think is best or not punish them at all?

    I mean if you don’t accept that it is up to God Al-Mighty to decree laws for his creation then what is your belief based upon? In your mind, did God create us, establish himself on his Throne and wait for us to die only to welcome us into his heaven with open arms no matter how we lived in this world? Perhaps Moses (pbuh) and Hitler received the same welcome in heaven? Is that your idea of a just God?

    If you believe in a just God, He obviously has to judge between the two. If you demand that God should not say what is right and wrong for us then based on what exactly is he supposed to judge between,for example, Jesus (pbuh) and Hitler? And how can a just God judge between them if he had not sent down his laws beforehand and showed them what is right and what is wrong?

    And you would base your belief on mere visions and death experiences? How is THAT a convincing proof when the revealed books are not proof enough for you? Are 6 billion people supposed to believe vision seen by a few which exists on their mind alone? C’mon think about it: which sane person would base his belief on visions?

    If you are looking with an open heart and mind for a logical reasoning, we can help you God willing. Just tell us what exactly is convincing proof to you. And please don’t say the Qur’an or any other book for that matter is not persuasive enough. Thats just silly to say while you haven’t read it whole.

    Hope what I wrote makes somethings clear to you.

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    • Mantiki

      Hi Mohammed

      just caught your post as I finished posting mine. I hope it explains where am coming from. I certainly believe in justice and in right and wrong, but I don’t believe God judges people harshly on the basis of social customs. I don’t believe in “infallible” books, priests and imams.

      The Universe is our home and we suffer for our selfish actions sometimes in life and certainly in death. Thus, thieves, murderers, liars all suffer at judgement when they die by feeling the suffering they inflicted on every one of their victims. The same is true of us and our minor acts of evil (and good). But the reward and suffering is not eternal but a lesson to help us evolve as people. This is the consistent lesson brought back from meditation and from those who have come close to dying. I stress that these experiences are brought back by people in their hundreds and match my own experience. To me, this is more reliable than a handful of Prophet / Leaders that frightened their supporters from straying by claiming support from God.

      Sure Hitler and suicide bombers suffer in Hell. They receive the pain they inflict in full. But they are also victims (to an extent) of their circumstances. Their hellish punishment (partially self-inflicted) will end in the appointed time. In the meantime, there is no need to frighten people into believing they must not be attracted to each other, or a host of other normal human emotions and activites.

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      • Mohammed

        Salaam,

        We are in agreement then that God punish the wrongdoers and reward the righteous. Sometimes the punishment is temporary while others deserve an eternal punishment. Yes, there are such evil acts that deserved no less than eternal hell. This is the Islamic belief. Your words have a lot of compassion and love in it, But lacks reason, logic and practicality.

        If you had a near death-like experience and want to fit everything in to that vision it will never work. It had never worked. Think about it, do you see any significant group of people living a way of life based on near-death experiences? Thats not the way guidance comes from god. Proper guidance comes from Gods’ prophets and his books, We are to follow those prophets sent to us. Not on those who have near death experiences. Human mind plays a lot of tricks. If you are determined to reject the prophets and the books revealed through them just because they contain things you do not like, then no one can help you.

        When you die and meet your Lord, is it you plan to say “It is not for you, My Lord, to decree what I should and should not do”

        And then again its funny how to argue against those books when you have not read them thoroughly. Why would you pass judgment on something you have not examined fully.

        And how casually you reject the prophets, you prefer to guide yourself based on hundreds of other who had merely the same stories? Do not realize there are hundreds of others who would have conflicting experiences than you? Are those better than many prophets sent with clear proofs and miracles? They claimed to be sent from God and they had a proof unlike you. You merely claim to have had an experience.

        Sorry, but I prefer to stand on something firm and real.

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  20. Mantiki

    Hi Sabour

    the questions at your latest link also lead to an advertisement. Possibly a hacker at work. I checked out the earlier link and at least in regard to modesty, I think the instructions are unnatural:

    “However, to Muslim women who practice hijab, it represents an act of obedience to God.”
    More likely obedience to the Imam. As I said, it makes no sense for God to have an interest in humans hiding their “beauty”.

    “It also represents a step towards freedom, i.e. freedom from being judged by their looks rather than their intellect.”
    More like freedom from attending to personal grooming and hygiene. It is true that we judge each other by appearance. In this way humans can tell who is young, old, healthy, ill, available for marriage or friendship, acting suspiciously or dishonestly. The veil prevents all of these normal and socially healthy activities.

    “Modesty – Required of both men and women”.
    Who says!!? If someone is to boastful or trashy, we can judge them accordingly of being shallow or insecure as appropriate. But men and women who are seeking partners need to be able to display their health, vigour and interest in those with whom they wish to form a relationship. False modesty and hiding interest inhibits this natural activity.

    “The Glorious Qur’an says” etc
    I have heard Qur’anic verses sung / chanted. I have to admit that they are hauntingly beautiful as is the written word. Clearly it is a clever manipulation of human emotion on a par with the beauty that some music inspires. My opinion is that there is power in music and art which is fundamental to all intelligent life. I suspect that scientists will one day discover that the harmonies and wave patterns in melodies are somehow linked to higher dimensions in a way that our brains can perceive. This does not mean it is evil in the way that some Muslims believe, but they are certainly correct to recognise its power in a way that most Westerners are blind to. It is simply a link to the hidden and eternal Consciousness of God that we are all part of.

    I think that in many respects, Islam actually inhibits meeting God. Far from being balanced, it considers the world in which we live as a “test” rather than a part of a greater reality. Its adherents live truncated lives by adhering to arbitrary rules designed for a past society. Looking to Allah, and “modestly” diverting their gazes, they hide from beauty and scourge themselves with guilt unnecessarily. Sure – the West is over-consumerised and Godless. It is the mirror image of false piety. That is the reason our teens and older people commit suicide in high numbers – the lack of belief and understanding that there is a God who loves us. Islam (identical to fundamentalist Christians) however says that God only loves us if we live a life in fear of hell and shame at our natural desires.

    We need to understand how to live naturally with a love of God.

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    • Mohammed

      Hi again, Let me summarize this the shortest way possible:

      1. More likely obedience to the Imam.
      It is obedience to God, Not the Imam
      “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear therof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty…” [Quran 24:31]


      2. The veil prevents all of these normal and socially healthy activities

      No the veil does not prevent healthy activities. If you say going around dressed, yet naked displaying your body to you family and children is healthy, yeah the veil does prevent that.

      “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” [Quran 33:59]

      3. “Modesty – Required of both men and women”.Who says!!?
      God says.
      Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. [24: 30]

      And men and women seeking partners need not see each other naked before marriage. Its not a product to “try before you buy”.

      4. Clearly it is a clever manipulation of human emotion
      You dismiss Qur’an just by saying its Music? What about its linguistic, infallibility, scientific aspects? If you think the Prophet (pbuh) wrote then you with more resources (than a man who lived 1400 years ago in the desert) could write a book like it?

      “Say: “If the whole of mankind and Jinns were to gather together to produce the like of this Qur´an, they could not produce the like thereof, even if they backed up each other with help and support.” [Quran17: 88]

      If perhaps its too big a task for mankind to write a one book?
      “Or they may say, “He forged it,” Say, “Bring ye then ten suras forged, like unto it, and call (to your aid) whomsoever ye can, other than Allah.- If ye speak the truth!” [Qur'an 11: 13]

      If 10 chapters is too much then surely they can produce one chapter like it?
      “And if ye are in doubt as to what We have revealed from time to time to Our servant, then produce a Sura like thereunto; and call your witnesses or helpers (If there are any) besides Allah, if your (doubts) are true” [Qur'an 2: 23.]

      Do you not wonder why no one in 1400 years could produce the like one chapter of Qur’an? Just mere 3 verse of it. And yet you casually say its like Music. This Qur’an is the Miracle and thats what our belief is based upon. If you have convincing proof bring, We welcome it;
      “…. Say, “Bring your convincing proof: this is the Message of those with me and the Message of those before me.” But most of them know not the Truth, and so turn away.[Qur'an 21: 24]

      Then you make it sound like it an evil thing ‘guard our modesty’ because you prefer women to be naked and stripped.
      The world is a ‘test’ nothing more. What else is it. The greater reality is the hereafter.

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  21. Mantiki

    Mohammed

    Our faith is a complex conclusion based on teaching / indoctrination, logic, measurement against observation, and how we relate emotionally to ideas. On balance, I don’t accept that any holy books are wholly God’s word. But since, based on my own experience, I believe we can know God, I don’t deny that people and Prophets may become great teachers of God’s word and that they may write these things down. Even so, they are not infallible (as I am not infallible).

    I judge the Bible harshly in perhaps 90 percent of its words. Likewise, I judge the Koran harshly because I see its adherents terrified of their own sexuality and ignoring the joys and responsibilities of living in this world by focussing on the next. Certainly this world for us as individuals is a tiny fraction of our existence. But it is an important life for us or we would not be born into it. We cannot logically be given the great gift of life and the joy of friendship, music and love and happiness only to fear these things as ‘sinful” temptations. Do the birds fear to sing? Do the fish and animals hide their bodies?

    If one thing of truth comes of the Adam and Eve myth, it is when God found them hiding in the Garden and said, “who told you that you were naked?” Thus Satan transformed their innocence into shame.

    Ultimately we all generate our own faith. I see no good coming from dressing in a tent and peering at the world through a stifling slit.

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    • Mohammed

      Salaam Mantiki and thank you for being polite and inoffensive in your replies.

      Please go through the conversation we had and reflect upon it ( I do that too.. and found a lot of grammar mistakes in my posts.. lol). If you still need any help now or in the future regarding Islam or you want to verify something about Islam, please e-mail me through muththalib10@hotmail.com I would try to help.

      We are neither animals nor are we birds. They are merely created only to serve our needs and are a blessing from our Lord. We are to follow the Prophets and not the animals.

      And I lost what exactly is the point of our discussion. I thought you wanted to know more about Islam and I was trying to explain as best as I can.

      If that is not what you are looking for and disregard our faith without giving much though, I must say with all due respect “To you be your Way, and to me mine” [Qur'an 109:6]. Regarding the guidance you seek through vision and meditation:“Are they waiting to see if the angels come to them, or thy Lord (Himself), or certain of the signs of thy Lord!….Say: “Wait ye: we too are waiting.” [Qur'an 6:158]

      So my dear brother, we part our ways here and we will both wait until we meet our Lord and he will judge as to who is on the right path and who is not. We received clear guidance from our Lord and as for me I submit wholly myself un to him. I can assure you if you follow anything, other than complete submission to Allah, his messengers and the books he has sent, it leads no where but the hellfire. As for me and other Muslims, We hope our Lord would forgive our shortcomings and enter us in to his Heaven among the righteous.

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      • Mantiki

        Thanks Mohammed

        It is always my great pleasure to communicate with those who wish to serve God as you obviously do. I likewise feel the need to serve and worship God and I honestly believe that I do so in my heart and actions though being human, I fail often.

        I know that you have been patient and that you wish to close off the discussion (noting also your kind offer for direct communication via email). I also would like to conclude with my final thoughts.

        Firstly, I sure that you will meet Allah and your Prophet in a glorious heaven created by Allah with the combined vision of his followers. In my view, it is not the only Heaven. Jesus also said that his Father’s mansion had many rooms – though that is also open to argument.

        Probably the only unnaddressed argument remaining is your statement, “They are merely created only to serve our needs and are a blessing from our Lord. We are to follow the Prophets and not the animals.”
        I think that given we know that life has existed for hundreds of millions of years, while humans have been around for only perhaps 6 million at the most, it is unlikely that they were created for our needs. Further, our observations of their rich lives indicates that although only apes approach us in terms of intelligence, dogs, cats, cetaceans, octopii and certain birds are equal to most 4 to 6 year olds at least. In addition, they certainly feel conscious of their environments and have feelings perhaps as deep as our own. For my part, I have had birds, dogs and cats as pets and they have all run or flown to me to greet me joyfully when I have come home from school or from (for too many years) work. Even small budgerigars have strong emotions. Once I had a friend many years ago who disliked a budgie that I had. On one occasion he shook his fist at it in mock anger and it flew across the room to attack his fist biting a small chunk from his knuckle – lol!

        My point here is that Biblical and Koranic notions that animals exist only for our needs leads only to environmental destruction on a large scale, and cruelty at individual levels. I am a hearty meat eater, and have no illusions that many large predators would eat me for a meal yet they would do so efficiently and out of need. I’ve been sickened by seeing how Egyptian stockhandlers blind cows with a knife into the eyeball to assist handling at the abattoir. I have also seen wanton acts of cruelty to animals in my own Australia – but my point is that in my country, this is out of selfishness or thoughless cruelty – whereas the tribal religion of our forebears sanctions it as our God given right to regard animals as souless automatons provided only for our use. As fully conscious entities, they are also part of God. The less intelligent of them may not inhabit Heaven (I’m sure there are no Heavens populated with the spirits of dinosaurs, flies or insects) but the divine spark of their consciousness returns to God ultimately as do we. Our humanly visions of Heaven may well satisfy us for a time after we die, but we are ultimately re-cycled into completeness with God. There is no joy or growth in an Eternity of choir singing in green fields.

        To end off where I started in this thread covering the veil issue, while I certainly embrace with joy, my appreciation of sexual beauty and youthful vitality, the great shame of hiding women under layers of clothing is not the lack of opportunity for a good “perve”. Rather it is the supposedly God ordered prohibition against warm human contact and equal friendship. Communication is inhibited, no possibility of a friendly public embrace or kiss on the cheek that men and women are permitted with their own sex. Instead there is the fear of wagging tongues at best or in some Islamic countries, imprisonment, public flogging or stoning at worst.

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  22. CG

    such a complex situation in afghanistan, i hope it doesn’t go back to the 60s, but i really hope it doesn’t stay as oppressive as it currently is.

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