Muslim Women in Current Literature

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I recent­ly decid­ed to research and write a post about pos­i­tive diverse Mus­lim female char­ac­ters in fic­tion.  That’s a mouth­ful and appar­ent­ly a lot to ask because there are few.  Very few.

Rienn Lar­bray by The Artist

My daugh­ter, also known as The Artist, as her moniker indi­cates, is an artist.  I remind her every chance I can to rep­re­sent us in her art.  Rep­re­sent means not just Mus­lims, but women and POC as well.  I always say, “If not you (us), then who?  Who bet­ter to tell our sto­ries?”  She didn’t always get it.  When she was younger, she thought I was over­ly con­scious, too mil­i­tant, too polit­i­cal, trou­ble mak­ing.

Maj­nun by The Artist

As a young adult, she is far more aware than she used to be. Now she ques­tions why ani­me and man­ga char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­lar­ly the women, seem to be cut from the same artis­tic fab­ric, long-legged, thin, fair-skinned.  She ques­tions the mind­less flesh bar­ing women in movies today.  She can’t under­stand why the default char­ac­ters in most games are white males.  She wants to know why no one in the games, and books, and movies, and ani­ma­tion she enjoys resem­bles her.  (I know that these exam­ples aren’t set in stone, but we are talk­ing about the major­i­ty here.)  I have the same ques­tions.

Now she under­stands what I’ve been say­ing.  I wish I was wrong.

BATINA THE HIDDEN
• Bati­na can blend into any back­ground and become near­ly invis­i­ble.
• She is very qui­et, and can only be detect­ed by super-sen­si­tive hear­ing like Sami’s.

A few months ago, Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the cre­ator of The 99 comics, agreed to an inter­view with me.  Along with vet­er­ans from Mar­vel and DC Comics Dr. Al-Mutawa cre­at­ed a cast of super heroes and hero­ines whose reli­gious back­grounds, while not clear­ly expressed, it’s under­stood that many of them are Mus­lim.  They’re all from dif­fer­ent cul­tures and coun­tries and have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics.  Not one of them is cook­ie cut­ter mold­ed.  But is it real­ly enough to have a few com­ic char­ac­ters?

Not to me.

MUJIBA THE RESPONDER
• Mujiba’s mind is a liv­ing library, able to read the Noor Stones and access all the knowl­edge of the books of the Dar Al-Hik­ma. She knows the square root of 363 and the engi­neer­ing prin­ci­ples behind the Pyra­mids of Giza.

Rough­ly 25% of the 7 bil­lion peo­ple in the the world are Mus­lim, yet when we fea­ture in any medi­um, more often than not, we are either the bad guys, the vic­tims, or the mod­er­ate con­formist.  (For many prac­ti­tion­ers of Islam the term “mod­er­ate” is redun­dant and some­what insult­ing.  It is redun­dant in that many of us believe that mod­er­a­tion is already an embed­ded and essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic of Islam.  For many, the term “mod­er­ate” is insult­ing in that, by the stan­dards of the media, this is in ref­er­ence to the Mus­lim who is will­ing to com­pro­mise their faith in order to con­form.)  Our women are oppressed, une­d­u­cat­ed and require sav­ing by the benef­i­cent West­ern­er from men who force them to__(fill in the blank)__.

To be com­plete­ly hon­est, this view of us isn’t com­plete­ly with­out fuel, espe­cial­ly if you are pay­ing atten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing over­seas but since Arab is still the erro­neous default def­i­n­i­tion for Mus­lim and few peo­ple are pub­licly speak­ing out to dis­pel stereo­types, few (Mus­lims includ­ed some­times) know the dif­fer­ence between region­al cul­ture and the real­i­ties of the faith itself.  There is a dif­fer­ence, but that too is a dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion alto­geth­er.

When the real­i­ty tele­vi­sion show All Amer­i­can Mus­lim first aired, a co-work­er of mine came to tell me how pleased she was about this show.  She talked about how one of the show’s par­tic­i­pants, I believe her name is Sha­dia, pur­chased a west­ern style wed­ding dress.  My co-work­er waxed elo­quent for sev­er­al min­utes about how “they’re not that dif­fer­ent from us”.  Sad­ly to me, for my co-work­er, Sha­dia was val­i­dat­ed by the fact that she dressed in a west­ern way and of course for all of the trap­pings attached to being west­ern.  This can mean many things, I sup­pose, but to me meant, West­ern, Chris­t­ian, and per­haps to a less­er degree, white. What about those of us who don’t “appear” west­ern?  I am an all Amer­i­can Mus­lim.  I was born to Amer­i­can par­ents who, if they could trace their lin­eage, have been in this coun­try as long as any oth­er set­tler.  (Unless Native Amer­i­can, we’re all set­tlers, aren’t we?)

Nev­er mind the fact that my co-work­er has been work­ing direct­ly with me for four years.  Has she all along believed cer­tain untruths about me and my faith but nev­er both­ered to ask?  Did I give the impres­sion that she could/should not ask?  Did my hijab make me seem too “oth­er”?  What?

I would have loved to see my co-work­er express that she’d real­ized that “they’re not that dif­fer­ent than us” because they too want to cre­ate lov­ing last­ing fam­i­lies, or because they too wor­ry about finances and find­ing a good job and edu­cat­ing their chil­dren.  I would have loved for my co-work­er to express how she was enlight­ened by the pro­gram or how inter­est­ing the cultural/religious dif­fer­ences are and how despite them we still have much more in com­mon.  But yet again, the super­fi­cial won the day.

Whether Mus­lim or not Mus­lim, I am des­per­ate for female char­ac­ters that I can relate to.  Women who don’t dis­solve into tears at every dif­fi­cul­ty and who don’t need a man or the West to save her.  Women who are more than their bod­ies and hot new clothes and their pret­ty made-up faces.  Women who unwit­ting­ly and often unknow­ing­ly stand against social con­ven­tion, not because they’re try­ing to buck the sys­tem but because they are what they are and for them that is good enough.  Women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to say it aloud.  Women who are brains over beau­ty.  Women who are women.  Diverse.  Real­is­tic.

Let’s be clear here, these women don’t need to be angry misan­drists.  They just need to have more depth.

There are exam­ples out there…I know it, but they are so dif­fi­cult to find.

*****

I thought this movie, Arranged was quite inter­est­ing and bal­anced.

Rochel is an Ortho­dox Jew, and Nasira a Mus­lim of Syr­i­an ori­gin. They are both young teach­ers at a pub­lic school in Brook­lyn. They also have some­thing else in common–they are going though the process of arranged mar­riages through their respec­tive reli­gions and tra­di­tion­al cus­toms. With both fam­i­ly pres­sure on the one hand, and the rejec­tion of tra­di­tion­al val­ues by the out­side world on the oth­er, Rochel and Nasira will have to rely on each oth­er and their friend­ship to pull through this dif­fi­cult time of their lives, striv­ing to be strong women in charge of their own hap­pi­ness, while keep­ing their deep reli­gious and cul­tur­al con­vic­tions.

Check out these awe­some and inter­est­ing web­sites, posts, and videos online:

Which Label Are You?

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۞ رمضــان كريـم

A♥ via Comp­fight

While research­ing for anoth­er post, I came upon a term I’d nev­er heard before and that gave me pause.

Islam­ic Fic­tion.  What is that?

Accord­ing to Wikipedia:
Islam­ic Fic­tion refers to cre­ative, imag­i­na­tive, non-preachy fic­tion books writ­ten by Mus­lims and mar­ket­ed pri­mar­i­ly to Mus­lims. Islam­ic Fic­tion may be mar­ket­ed to main­stream mar­kets, too. The con­tent of these books may incor­po­rate some reli­gious con­tent and themes, and may include non-fic­tion­al­ized his­tor­i­cal or fac­tu­al Islam­ic con­tent with or with­out direct ref­er­ence to the Qur’an or the Sun­nah of Mohammed. The sto­ries may also include mod­ern, real life sit­u­a­tions and moral dilem­mas.
Authors of Islam­ic Fic­tion intend for read­ers to learn some­thing pos­i­tive about Islam when they read Islam­ic fic­tion sto­ries.
Islam­ic Fic­tion does not include Harm­ful Con­tent: vul­gar lan­guage, sex­u­al­ly explic­it con­tent, unIs­lam­ic prac­tices that are not iden­ti­fied as unIs­lam­ic, or con­tent that por­trays Islam in a neg­a­tive way.[2]

So, I began to ques­tion.  Is this what I write?

My sto­ries do con­tain moral dilem­mas and real life sit­u­a­tions because, well…I write about peo­ple in a way that I hope seems real­is­tic.

There is cer­tain­ly the occa­sion­al ref­er­ence to reli­gion, but in all hon­esty, as most of my main char­ac­ters hap­pen to be Mus­lim this is bound to occur.

Nope, not preachy, I don’t think.

No vul­gar lan­guage.

Hmm.  UnIs­lam­ic prac­tices?  That’s dif­fi­cult to say.  I mean, not all of my char­ac­ters are Mus­lim, and some of them may do things a Mus­lim isn’t sup­posed to.  Also, as my Mus­lim char­ac­ters are real­is­tic and hence not per­fect, they may on occa­sion do some­thing they are not sup­posed to.  So, maybe.…  If, by unIs­lam­ic prac­tices, we’re talk­ing specif­i­cal­ly about reli­gious prac­tices, the answer is not yet.  Again, not every sin­gle one of my char­ac­ters will be Mus­lim because that’s not the real world, nei­ther is it the state of the imag­i­nary worlds I write.  Whether or not the read­er under­stands said prac­tices, reli­gious or oth­er­wise, as being unIs­lam­ic is, I believe more depen­dent on them than on me.  When writ­ing fic­tion, I try to relay the tale in an objec­tive way, allow­ing myself to be the con­duit through which the sto­ry arrives into this world.  I try to use a light hand, but I sup­pose the ones to judge that are my read­ers.

I wouldn’t write any­thing that por­trays Islam in a neg­a­tive way.

Sounds like I write Islam­ic Fic­tion, doesn’t it?

I want to say this, “I reject all labels.  I refuse to be pigeon­holed.  I am NOT A LABEL!”  But the fact is, I am, or at least my nov­el is.  I have to be, or else how or where will my read­ers find me.  My book isn’t exact­ly fea­tured promi­nent­ly on a table by the front door of your local chain book­store.

The poten­tial con­no­ta­tion relat­ed to the term Islam­ic Fic­tion, much like the term Chris­t­ian Fic­tion, is bound to be neg­a­tive unless that is specif­i­cal­ly what you are look­ing for.  I hate to admit that, but it is true.  Reli­gion is a touchy sub­ject for so many peo­ple.  By assign­ing cer­tain labels, the author could lose poten­tial read­ers.  That can’t be good for the author, who wants their sto­ries read, or the sto­ry, which deserves the ben­e­fit of the doubt, or the read­er who, in want of inter­est­ing and mov­ing fic­tion, may have inad­ver­tent­ly passed up a gem.

I’m not sug­gest­ing that we dupe folks into read­ing sto­ries they would be patent­ly against read­ing, but I think we should be very care­ful about how we label fic­tion.  For exam­ple, I only just learned that The Lord of the Rings is labeled, among oth­er things, a Chris­t­ian nov­el.  Had I known that pri­or to read­ing it, I may have passed it up.  I absolute­ly love LoTR as a nov­el and movie.  That would have been my loss, for cer­tain.

While I am a Mus­lim and while I strive to write char­ac­ters who are Mus­lim, I do not want this to be the only thing I am known for.  I think it’s unfair and lim­it­ing.

I hope to reach a broad spec­trum of read­ers with my words.  I believe in my nov­el and it’s deep­er mes­sages and I am cer­tain that peo­ple from all walks of life can glean some­thing mean­ing­ful from the tale.  I want my words to res­onate with peo­ple because they can sym­pa­thize with a char­ac­ter or a sit­u­a­tion, because they want to see the char­ac­ter beat the odds and over­come obsta­cles.  The faith of my char­ac­ters only makes them deep­er, more lay­ered, more relat­able, and more real.

Mo’ bet­ter.

*****

An Unpro­duc­tive Woman tells the sto­ry of fam­i­ly, faith, and mar­riage, and above all else, hope.

Get A Copy For Your Kin­dle

Adam is des­per­ate for a son, but after ten years of mar­riage he and his wife Asabe remain child­less.  Despite the obvi­ous heart­break this caus­es Asabe, Adam mar­ries a sec­ond wife, the very young and beau­ti­ful Fati­ma.  Dou­ble tragedy pre­vents the real­iza­tion of Adam’s hope and Asabe stands firm with her hus­band to gath­er the bro­ken pieces of their life.

But, Adam isn’t pre­pared to count his los­es.  He com­pounds their dif­fi­cul­ties by mar­ry­ing the cun­ning and decep­tive divorcee, Sau­da.  This choice yields anguish and con­fu­sion, and Adam los­es more than hope, but a piece of his spir­it.
Neglect­ed and liv­ing in the shad­ow of Adam’s desires, Asabe yet again proves her worth as the true bedrock in his life.  Asabe becomes the cat­a­lyst that brings Adam’s life full cir­cle.
Read An Unpro­duc­tive Woman to learn what secrets Adam has with­held that would explain his unrea­son­able long­ing and pur­suit of a son at all costs.

 

23 days, 8 hours, 3 minutes, and 5 seconds

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Ranoush. / Fot­er

Ramadan is in full swing now, which means no food or drink from sun up (0548) to sun down (2017).  For Mus­lims, the fast means more than no food and no drink (no, not even water), which to the dis­be­lief of those who do not fast, isn’t as much of a hard­ship as it seems.  For the first three days, I was dev­as­tat­ing­ly tired, but only a tad hun­gry.  Now the fatigue has passed and the hunger is a dis­tant mem­o­ry.  I sup­posed that God intend­ed it to be this way though, that soon the hunger and the con­stant think­ing about what morsel of food or drink will come next in our overeat­ing, over-processed, over-indulged life so that we might use that extra time to con­sid­er how and why we wor­ship.

I work full-time and most of my co-work­ers are not Mus­lim.  It seems as if the moment Ramadan swings around, every­one has some yum­my new food they’d like you to try, or that could just be me being hyper­sen­si­tive.

moham­madali / Fot­er

 And as usu­al, when I decline by stat­ing that, “No thanks.  I’m fast­ing,” the same peo­ple that I’ve worked with for the last five years are aston­ished anew.  I’m no nar­cis­sist but I’m pleased as punch to answer the many ques­tions about myself and my faith.  There are enough erro­neous and neg­a­tive images of peo­ple of my faith cir­cu­lat­ing that I would like to be able to dis­man­tle a stereo­type or two.  Before con­vert­ing to Islam more than twen­ty years ago, I had some of the same ques­tions, all valid in their right, but I am struck by what appears to me to be and broad mis­un­der­stand­ing or unwill­ing­ness of com­mit­ment.

  1. I know it’s hot, but today it’s only 102°.  (laugh, wink, laugh)  This is south­ern Texas.  It is hot every sum­mer, and none but the most unfor­tu­nate of us is with­out an air con­di­tion­er in our cars, homes, busi­ness­es, cov­ered walk­ways that take us to the park­ing lots, pub­lic library, gro­cery stores, and so on.  I’m not real­ly suf­fer­ing in that regard and if I were, I wouldn’t be oblig­at­ed to fast.
  2. I know that the day is long, albout fif­teen hours, but what about peo­ple so poor they go longer than that with­out food?  I think of them instead of my tum­my.
  3. I know that thir­ty days is an entire month, but I still have the oth­er eleven to eat like I’m los­ing my mind, which quite frankly so many of us do with­out regard to the fact that we don’t need all of that food.
  4. As soon as the sun starts to set, food goes into the mouth and we are allowed to eat as much of what­ev­er we like until the sun comes up.  Here’s the kick­er though, after about three or four days of fast­ing, the stom­ach shrinks and every­thing you think you want to eat, you sim­ply can­not.  No room at the inn.
  5. Sure, I lose a lit­tle weight dur­ing Ramadan, but a lot of peo­ple actu­al­ly gain.  Remem­ber the part about the incred­i­bly shrink­ing stom­ach?  Well so many of us gorge even when our stom­achs are split­ting at the seams and we indulge in foods that are far rich­er than we’d eat nor­mal­ly.  In fact I recent­ly read an insight­ful arti­cle about how in Egypt the sale of food dur­ing Ramadan increas­es by 60–100% (whoa!), and food wastage increas­es by about 60% (dou­ble whoa!), and the sale of antacids also increas­es expo­nen­tial­ly (triple whoa!).  No kid­ding though, right?  Not quite the spir­it of the fast, I think.
  6. The spir­it of the fast.  It is easy for those of us who live in rel­a­tive com­fort to for­get what a priv­i­lege our lives are.  Cer­tain­ly we all have our own life dif­fi­cul­ties, but for most of the peo­ple that I know, it could be a mil­lion times worse.  The most basic con­cerns aren’t usu­al­ly ours in that we eat and drink what we want, when we want.  We take all of the basics for grant­ed.  The fast is our time to remem­ber those who can’t take any­thing, not even a sin­gle morsel of food, for grant­ed, and to thank the God respon­si­ble for giv­ing it to us.
Mrs Mag­ic / Fot­er

So… it’s okay.  No need to apol­o­gize.  I’ve made a com­mit­ment to myself and God and I swear, I’m not suf­fer­ing for it.  Real­ly, I’m doing fine.  We can chat over cof­fee and a dou­ble dark choco­late chip cook­ie in 23 days, 8 hours, 3 min­utes, and 5 sec­onds.  I’m not count­ing, are you?  For now, let’s just chat.  Your com­pa­ny will more than suf­fice, and my com­mit­ment will sus­tain me.

(This is a reprint from http://khaalidah.blogspot.com 2011)