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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Liberal Islam?

Dr. Amina Wadud apparently created quite a stir by leading a Muslim service in New York on Friday:

...a woman, Dr. Amina Wadud, led the Muslim service after another woman sounded the call to prayer wearing no headscarf. More than a hundred men and women knelt in adjacent rows, with no curtain to divide them. They were surrounded by a bustling group of newspaper reporters, photographers and television cameras. And outside the service, which was held at the Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, protesters held signs and cried out in disgust.

According to the article, Dr. Wadud first approached several mosques, all of which refused to host the event. Asara Q. Noumani, an organizer of the event, stated their intentions unequivocally: "The voices of women have been silenced by centuries of man-made traditions, and we're saying, 'No more! We're going to move from the back of the mosque to the front of the mosque."

Like the Catholic Church, and Christianity as a whole, the Muslim world struggles to deliniate the boundries between the spiritual and the cultural, and different branches of the faith have arrived at different conclusions. How much is the role of women in Islam a reflection of religion, and how much is it a reflection of culture superimposed upon religion? Can culture and religion be separated? Is it too much of a stretch to assume that many, if not most Muslims would be less dogmatic than their leadership? After all, most of my Catholic friends hold to beliefs at odds with the traditional church doctrine when it comes to many issues such as papal infallibility, birth control, capital punishment, etc...

Referring to the Koran, Andrea Elliot of the NYT reports,

Interpretations of the writings vary widely: some argue that the prophet gave permission to women to lead any kind of prayer, while others say that he meant to restrict the practice to prayer at home. The issue is complicated by the fact that men are required to attend Friday prayer whereas women are not.

Just like Christianity, I'm sure that there are plenty of religious authorities and zealots who claim to know every jot and tittle of God's will and are willing to impose their interpretation on everyone else. I've heard religious scholars, both Christian and Muslim, claim that Islam needs the equivalent of the Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation; that the power of the religious authorities needs to be challenged by individual Muslims listening to their own consciences.

Because of our fear of Islam and our tendency to listen to those who scream loudest, the general western perception of Islam is that it's a monolithic, top-down religion that asks its adherents to slavishly respond to its dictates. Based on my own experiences living in two primarily Muslim countries, I'm sure there is more diversity in Islamic belief and practice as is portrayed in our media. Of course, believing all Muslims are mindless religious zombies makes it easy to kill them and take their oil.

Read It:

News Overshadowed By The Michael Jackson Trial

On March 1, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First filed a historic lawsuit, Ali et al. v. Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense of the United States of America, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (the defendant's home state).

In all forms of media, there has been minimal coverage of the very existence of this legal action, and even less of the precisely documented charges, including the defendant's violations of American and international laws and the consequences of his continuing lawlessness.,hentoff,62266,6.html

War Contracts Probe: Refused, 191-236, to appropriate $5 million in HR 1268 for establishing a special congressional committee to probe how private contractors have spent taxpayer funds in Iraq and Afghanistan. The
$5 million was to have been transferred from Pentagon funds to the congressional budget. A yes vote was to open a congressional probe of war contracts.

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