You are viewing a read-only archive of the Blogs.Harvard network. Learn more.

Women of Islam

I anticipate a continuing interest in this topic. It will no doubt be fueled by events, but I hope to provide more continuity than a department will give.

I. Women excluded from Mecca?

Friday Sept. 7, 2006

It was a pleasure arriving at work today. I was greeted by a new coworker studying for her JD with a professor I regard as progressive.* She is always handsome, but today her hijab was pink. I couldn’t help but notice. I hope Allah will not find her immodest**. The only jewelry she wears is a ring professing her faith. She speaks English as well as I do except when she wants to emphasize something. Then she speaks better than I do – quite nuanced. We talked a bit about her studies. Then I asked her about the Saudi family considering excluding women from Mecca. The tension between discipline and nuance on one hand and anger on the other was quite dramatic, but not at all like my neighborwomen in Dorchester.

I was touched by American feminism in college and graduate school followed by working and politicking in Cambridge for 17 years. I am tempted to say that I think the men of the Saudi family have stepped in something or stepped on something dear to themselves, but that would be crude. So I won’t. I don’t know if I get voice an opinion in matters Islamic, but if asked …
* The TRIM petition, which was a very limited response to the loss of rent control, was very well crafted, but Mike Turk felt that past successes [real or imagined] entitled him to operate in executive capacity. That’s just not the way to build a volunteer organization. And people remembered the gross mismanagement of the breakaway Cambridge SOCC.
** One year at Lamont I had a regular who won Islamic Woman of the Year. She always wore black from head to toe. She appeared rather serious, but when I remarked on her celebrity, she giggled – a lot like the stereotypical schoolgirl. I was surprised. Then I felt something shift within me. It was a prejudice shattering.
I cannot hold the images of the Islamic women I have met at Harvard together in my head with one young mother of a four year old I saw on TV. She had made a videotape, crossed the border into Israel, made her way into a gathering, and blown herself up. “Religion” is not an adequate explanation. There has to be more, much more, for her to “voluntarily” desert her child.

II. My friend the Sunni

She has a delightful sense of humor. Just walking into the room lightens the mood. She is another woman of Islam that challenged my prejudices. She is, of course, rather ‘Westernized’. She seemed not to mind being told that she is beautiful. She mentioned differences of opinion with her mother – at home in Pakistan. I asked her whether her mother would disapprove of my remarks. She said that being on the T with a man not her husband was already damning.

She is a Sunni Muslim. She told me that I do not understand how much the Shia hate the Sunni.* She was concerned about what will happen when the government acting in my name withdraws our young people. I don’t wish harm to the everday Sunni in the street. For that matter I don’t wish harm to the everday Shiite in the street, but the ship has sailed on that – again, and again, and again. We have made things worse rather than better – again. Staying the course is staying in blame’s way. I hope my friend will understand.
* Maybe not, but Sadam is Sunni and I have heard tell of his treatment of the Shia.

III. The Imam

I didn’t know that a woman could be an Imam. Yet another prejudice. I can’t say much more about her. She is concerned about the safety of her son.

A weakly related note: I passed the Roxbury Mosque on Saturday. It appeared to be not quite finished. I expected it to be complete by now.