Activities & Organizations News

American Muslim author bridges stereotype gap with reality

Houston-based journalist Eesha Pandit moderates the discussion of what UH students think of when they think of Muslim women. |Photo by Sara Samora/The Cougar

Houston-based journalist Eesha Pandit moderates the discussion of what UH students think of when they hear the words “Muslim women”. | Sara Samora/The Cougar

American Muslim author Samina Ali discussed her work as a lead curator, an award-winning author and an advocate of women’s health and women’s rights and Muslim women’s experience in the United States and around the world at the Muslim Women and Digital Activism seminar.

“What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the words, ‘Muslim woman’?” Ali said.

English junior Rachel Freeman said she thought, “conservative.”

Psychology senior Nohal Hussain said Islam is her religion, thus her thought was, “beautiful.”

Accounting sophomore Tram Nguyen said she thought about men being dominant over Muslim women.

Ali said every answer she has ever heard was predictable. Muslim women were usually associated with words such as submissive and extremist.

“When people think of a Muslim women, they think she’s veiled; I don’t veil,” Ali said. “They think she’s Arab, I’m not Arab. They think she’s a victim; I can assure you I’m not a victim. Or they think she’s oppressed.”


History assistant professor Leandra Zarnow said she always felt that Muslim women were brave.

“They are in the line of attack in this moment when we focus on Islam phobia,” Zarnow said.

Zarnow mentions one of the reasons she brought in Ali was to shift the conversation and to demonstrate the range of voices and range of experiences that Muslim women in the U. S. and abroad bring to the table.

“I was always bombarded by the stereotype that they had no choice, and they were pretty much submissive,” Freeman said. “After this talk, it really opened my eyes.”

Hussain said she learned a lot about things that were new to her as a Muslim, such as walking into the mosque from behind.

“Since I was a kid, we were always supposed to go a separate way (the backside),” Hussain said. “And like (Ali) said, (Muslim women) are starting to go from the front.”

In 2004, Ali and four other Muslim women created Daughters of Hajar, an American feminist Muslim organization. In that same year, the women walked through the front door of a mosque and prayed in the main hall. Since then, many mosques had followed, allowing women to enter through the front door.

In fact, Ali often gets told that she was not what they thought a Muslim would be. She has written a novel, “Madras on Rainy Days.”

Ali also curated the International Museum of Women online exhibition, Muslima: Muslim Women’s Art & Voices. The exhibit debuted in March 2013 and features thought pieces, artwork and long form created by Muslim women.

When a person visits the Muslima site, they sees various writings, art works and photos on the home page. Each time the site visitor clicks on the Muslima Home link, the site refreshes with more featured works.

Choice is something Ali stressed in the seminar. In Ali’s debut novel, the main character, Layla, has been set up in an arrange marriage by her parents. She rebels and dates another man, then becomes pregnant. Layla cannot confide in anyone of her dilemma.

“She doesn’t know she has the right to chose,” Ali said. “She doesn’t know this, because she’s never been told. It’s easy to control women when they don’t know their rights.”

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  • If we’re looking to explore different perspectives than here is a Muslim woman – one who had her clitoris chopped off by Muslim men – with a perspective of one who has actually lived in a Muslim country…

    “Many well-meaning Dutch people have told me in all earnestness that nothing in Islamic culture incites abuse of women, that this is just a terrible misunderstanding. Men all over the world beat their women, I am constantly informed. In reality, these Westerners are the ones who misunderstand Islam. The Quaran mandates these punishments. It gives a legitimate basis for abuse, so that the perpetrators feel no shame and are not hounded by their conscience of their community. I wanted my art exhibit to make it difficult for people to look away from this problem. I wanted secular, non-Muslim people to stop kidding themselves that “Islam is peace and tolerance.”

    ― Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel

    • “Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the Prophet Muhammad decided centuries ago.”

      ― Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel

      • One could also argue that Biblical scripture can also be interpreted to allow for stoning, etc, and that in some countries, Christians still commit violent atrocities in the name of Jesus. If you want to have a pissing contest about which religion has a longer history of brutality, you might take a look at the very long and bloody history of persecution of others by Christians FIRST, centuries before Mohammed had his revelation in a cave in the 7th Century giving birth to Islam — and then make your comparison. Just in terms of chronology alone, Islam extremism is nothing compared to the extremism of Christianity. You might also want to take a look at the Millet system which existed under early Islam and what it has to say about religious tolerance and minimizing social discord in a large social order.

        • Jesus and Muhammad,
          Islam and Christianity:
          A Side-by-Side Comparison

          It is not the purpose of this site to promote any particular religion,
          including Christianity. However, we do enjoy refuting nonsense,
          such as the claim that Muhammad and Jesus preached a
          morally equivalent message or that all religion is the same.

          “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who
          disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads
          and strike off every fingertip of them.”
          “Allah”(Quran 8:12)

          “Fight everyone in the way of Allah and
          kill those who disbelieve in Allah.”
          Muhammad (Ibn Ishaq 992)

          “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
          Jesus (Matthew 5:14)

          Even though many Muslims regard terrorists who kill in the name of Allah as criminals, they cannot deny that Muhammad also killed in the name of Allah. What example of Jesus do Christians emulate which has them confused with terrorists and criminals?

          Each year, thousands of Christian homes and churches are torched or bombed by Muslim mobs, and hundreds of Christians, including dozens of priests, pastors, nuns and other church workers are murdered at the hands of Islamic extremists. The so-called justification varies, from charges ofapostasy or evangelism, to purported “blasphemy” or ” insulting” Islam. Innocent people have even been hacked to death by devout Muslims over cartoons.

          Yet, there is little if any violent retaliation from religious Christians to the discrimination,kidnapping, rape, torture, mutilation and murder that is routinely reported from nations with Muslim majorities. Neither is there any significant deadly terrorism in the name of Jesus, as there is in the stated cause of Allah each and every day. Muslim clerics in the West do not fear for their safety as do their Christian counterparts.

          The “Christian world” and the Islamic world contrast sharply in other ways as well, from the disparate condition of human rights and civil liberties to economic status. An astonishing 70% of the world’s refugees are Muslims – usually seeking to live in Christian-based countries.

          While Western societies take seriously “scandals” such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo (where no one has actually been killed), Muslims routinely turn a blind eye to their own horrible atrocities, even those committed explicitly in the name of Allah. The Muslim world has yet to offer a single apology for the hundreds of millions who were consumed by centuries of relentless Jihad and slavery.

          These sharp differences are almost certainly rooted in the underlying religions, which begin with the disparate teachings and examples set by Jesus and Muhammad…

        • One can argue that the world is flat.

          The Game:Bringing other religions down to the level of Islam is a favorite tactic of apologists confronted with the spectacle of Islamic violence. Remember Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber? How about Anders Breivik, the Norwegian killer? Why pick on Islam if other religions have the same problems?
          The Truth:Because they don’t.

          Regardless of what his birth certificate may or may not have said, Timothy McVeigh was not a religious man (in fact, he stated explicitly that he was agnostic and that “science” was his religion). At no time did he credit his deeds to religion, quote Bible verses, or claim that he killed for Jesus. His motives are very well documented through interviews and research. God is never mentioned.

          The so-called “members of other faiths” alluded to by Muslims are nearly always just nominal members who have no active involvement. They are neither inspired by, nor do they credit religion as Muslim terrorists do – and this is what makes it a very different matter.

          Islam is associated with Islamic terrorism because that is the association that the terrorists themselves choose to make.

          Muslims who compare crime committed by people who happen to be nominal members of other religions to religious terror committed explicitly in the name of Islam are comparing apples to oranges.

          Yes, some of the abortion clinic bombers were religious, but consider the scope of the problem. There have been six deadly attacks over a 36 year period in the U.S. Eight people died. This is an average of one death every 4.5 years.

          By contrast, Islamic terrorists staged nearly ten thousand deadly attacks in just the six years following September 11th, 2001. If one goes back to 1971, when Muslim armies in Bangladesh began the mass slaughter of Hindus, through the years of Jihad in the Sudan, Kashmir and Algeria, and the present-day Sunni-Shia violence in Iraq, the number of innocents killed in the name of Islam probably exceeds five million over this same period.

          Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 innocents in a lone rampage on July 22nd, 2011, was originally misidentified as a “Christian fundamentalist” by the police. In fact, the killings were later determined to be politically motivated. He also left behind a detailed 1500 page manifesto in which he stated that he is not religious, does not know if God exists, and prefers a secular state to a theocracy. Needless to say, he does not quote any Bible verses in support of his killing spree, nor did he shout “praise the Lord” as he picked people off.

          In the last ten years, there have been perhaps a dozen or so religiously-inspired killings by people of all other faiths combined. When such a small handful or loners act in isolation, it can legitimately be chalked up to mental illness or (at best) genuine misunderstanding.

          By contrast, Islamic terror is organized and methodical. Islamist groups span the globe with tens of thousands of dedicated members, despite intensely targeted counter-measures, and supporters numbering in the tens of millions. They are open about their religious goals and they kill in the name of god each and every day of the year. Verses in their holy texts arguably support them. There are none who will even debate them.

          No other religion is doing this. So while some Muslims may pretend that other religions are just as prone to “misinterpretation” as is their “perfect” one, reality says otherwise.

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