Egyptian-American Muslim Girl Gets Grilled on Polygamy By Hispanic Woman

“Hey, are you Egyptian?”  I was standing at a table on the side of the post office, filling out a shipping label, when a Hispanic woman walked up and asked the girl next to me that question.  I glanced over at the girl and saw she had Middle Eastern features and she was wearing a hijab (the head scarf, if you’re not familiar with the word).  Oddly enough, the woman had guessed right.  The girl replied that she was half Egyptian and was born in the US.

“You’re a Muslim right?”  At this point, I was considering moving to another part of the post office, because I was expecting this Hispanic woman to go nuts and start haranguing this girl for being a Muslim, which she obviously was, since she was wearing a hijab.  New York City has a reputation for being filled with lunatics and you really never know if you’re talking to one until it’s too late.  The girl looked a little hesitant, but again she answered yes.

‘Here it comes,’ I thought.  But, instead of what I was expecting, the Hispanic woman asked, “What do you think about marrying more than one woman?  If you were married to a man, would you be ok with him marrying a woman in another country?”

“No, I wouldn’t be ok with that.”

“Ok, because I know Muslims believe in marrying more than one wife.”

“Well, not all Muslims do that,” the girl replied.  “That’s mostly something that happened a long time ago, because it’s too hard to handle more than one wife, since the guy has to take care of them equally.  It’s a lot of trouble, but I wouldn’t do it myself.”

“Oh, well you’re mostly American since you were born here, but do you know if Egyptians do that?”  I imagine she was trying to fish for another answer, perhaps to justify the problem she was about to lay out to this girl.

“Well, yes, but I just don’t think it’s ok and I don’t think many people would do that.”

“My husband was here, and he married me, but then he went back to Egypt and he married another woman.  If you were the other woman and you knew the man was married, would you do that?  Would you marry a man that was already married?  What kind of woman does such a thing?”

The above conversation is paraphrased, of course.  I don’t remember exactly what they said to each other, but it went along those lines.  At that point, I stopped following the conversation completely because I was just about done with filling out my shipping label and sealing the envelope, but the Hispanic woman kept pressing this girl about why her husband, who had been deported, would find a new wife in Egypt instead of being faithful to her.  The girl told her it sounds like a personal problem.  She was probably trying to separate the issue from religion, before it devolved into something ugly.  She told the woman that if she wasn’t satisfied with the situation she should divorce her husband, but the Hispanic woman told her something about losing benefits.

Then I walked away to get my postage for my envelope.

I wonder if that happens often?  I doubt that girl expected to have a conversation quite as bizarre as that when she put on her hijab that morning and left her house.

Broadway Street Fair, 14th Street to 8th Street

A street fair on Broadway near Union Square Park.

Today, Broadway was closed down from 14th Street, where Union Square is, down to 8th Street for a street fair.  The road was lined on both sides with stalls selling everything from costume jewelry to barbecue pulled pork.  There were even stalls set up by The New York Times, trying to get people to buy subscriptions, and a booth promoting Islam.  This is a story best told with pictures:

Costume jewelry for sale at a street fair in New York City.

This costume jewelry was laid out in a huge pile across a few tables.  It was on sale.  A closeout sale in fact.  Only $3.00 apiece.  Doesn’t seem like much of a sale to me.  I’m sure if you looked hard enough you could find this stuff for a dollar apiece.  It’s pretty to look at though, especially when it’s laid out together like it was.

Kettle Corn NYC.

Some $9.00 bags of kettle corn.  If you’ve never had kettle corn, it’s sweet.  It tastes awesome and smells great.

Shirts for sale at a street fair on Broadway in New York City.

Japanese balls.  Yum!

I stopped by this booth to look at what they had to offer.  The sign on the front of the table says that everything on the table is free.  The guy in the blue jacket on the right spoke fluent English and Spanish, and the Korans he’s putting down are translated into Spanish.  The Lower East Side has a lot of Hispanic families, so maybe that’s the demographic they were mostly prepared for.  I took a few of the flyers.  I’m sure they’ll make great reading material for the train.  The guy in the blue jacket seemed encouraged by my interest in the flyers and asked me what I know about Islam, so I started talking about dates, like Mohammad’s birth, death, the first revelation, etc.  I know these things, since I just learned about it in an Art History course and I’m taking a test over it tomorrow.  He asked me if I wanted to spend a few minutes learning about the basics of the Islamic faith.  I thanked him, but said no.  It’s not that it wouldn’t be interesting, but given recent events, I don’t want to hang around anything promoting Islam.  Some nutball might show up and do something violent.  Besides, I have a feeling he was going to tell me about the 5 pillars of the Islamic faith: Attestation (“There is no god but God, and Mohammad is his prophet.”), Alms, Prayer (5 times a day), the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and fasting during Ramadan.

Marrakesh: Moroccan Bazaar and Decor booth at a street fair on Broadway.

There were even Moroccan rugs!

Funnel cake stand.

And funnel cakes!  I love funnel cakes.  I didn’t get one though, because I was on my way to meet my mom for lunch.  It was Mother’s Day, and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite.

I saw a LOT more than just this street fair today, including some Asian cultural festivities, but I’ll save that for a post tomorrow, or the day after.  I hope you enjoyed the photos!

Banning the Burqa: Good or Bad?

Women wearing the niqab.

No, these are not female ninjas.  (Image from: MuslimVoices.org)

It seems like I’ve been hearing more and more about Islam over the last few weeks.  The 28th of March through the 3rd of April was Islamic Awareness Week.  There were posters set up in various parts of the CCNY campus with quotes from the Koran on them.  During the same week in an art history class, we happened to cover Islamic art and did a brief overview of the beginnings and major points of Islam.  Then the French law banning the burqa came into effect and wound up as a point of discussion in an introductory anthropology course I’m taking.  Islam is a fascinating religion that, due to American media, and media in general, it’s generally painted in a bad light.  I don’t want to go into that here, but I will say that news media is all about ratings, so, just like your favorite TV show, the goal is to be as sensational as possible to retain repeat viewers.  After seeing some of the news reports on the law passed in France, I had a few questions that came to mind, and after thinking about it for a while, I realized that there was a better solution than what the French legislature came up with.

The first thing that came to my mind is how politically correct we all are, here in the Western world.  Would things play out differently, I wonder, if groups of Western women immigrated to Saudi Arabia and were protesting the proscribed manner of dress (niqab)?  Isn’t respecting the laws and culture of the country you go to a basic courtesy, even when simply visiting?  What more, for an immigrant that has been granted the right to live in another country?  To me, it simply feels arrogant to expect a country to realign its culture and values to suit the sensitivities of an immigrant population.  Within the sovereign borders of the country of France, why should the native citizens strive to protect any culture, any heritage, but their own?  If the culture and society don’t align with that of the immigrant’s, then wouldn’t it be easier for the immigrant to have not immigrated there in the first place?  Or to re-immigrate? I also wondered why this problem is being argued as both one of religion and one of culture.  There are people who say the wearing of the niqab is a cultural development in certain Arabic cultures, and that Islam has been twisted and used as a weapon to enforce this method of

I also wondered why this problem is being argued as both one of religion and one of culture.  There are people who say the wearing of the niqab is a cultural development in certain Arabic cultures, and that Islam has been twisted and used as a weapon to enforce this method of dress on women.  A Pakistani Muslim woman I go to class with here in New York affirmed that the niqab is a cultural development.  She wears a head scarf, but no face covering, and I doubt she would ever put on a niqab.  I’ve met plenty of Muslims while traveling and living in Southeast Asia, and they don’t wear niqabs.  Does that mean they’re all ‘bad’ Muslims?  Of course not, because the niqab isn’t a religious requirement for Muslims any more than wearing an ankle-length dress is a Christian requirement for Western women.  Wearing the niqab is a choice, based on cultural traditions.  That being the case, the French ban on niqabs is not an attack on the Islamic religion.  It’s an attack on the cultural practices of a segment of the Arab immigrant population.

I also couldn’t help but wonder how these women immigrated to France in the first place.  At some point, they would have had to have provided travel documents and immigration documents with photos, and to verify that they are in fact the person in the photo.  If they were willing to remove the niqab for immigration, why are they not willing to keep it off, or transition to a head scarf (like the majority of Muslim women wear) to better assimilate into their new society?  I’m not saying they should, I’m just asking why there’s a contradiction.  Also, how can a person expect to get a driver’s license without having their photo on it, and without verifying their face on request by a police officer?

From an American perspective, I think these women have a right to dress however they want to, so long as it does not create a safety hazard for themselves or others.  So, where is a good middle ground?  Perhaps the better course of action would have been to require the removal of the niqab only upon entrance to public buildings (schools, hospitals, courts, welfare offices, etc.), while entering public transportation that requires photo identification, while driving since it limits the field of vision, and the upon the reasonable request of a police officer or other official when required for identification purposes.  Isn’t that the main problem here?  That wearing the niqab prevents proper identification?  Take it a step further.  When proper identification requires removal of the niqab, remove the woman to a private room and have her identity verified by a single female officer/official.  Simple right?  I understand that this can cause some logistical problems in providing female employees at all of these locations, but this is just a suggestion that I’m sure would be better received than a blanket ban.

The blanket ban, whether people consider the niqab religious or simply a cultural development, seems like an extreme measure that suppresses a person’s right to self-expression.  Like any immigrant, a Muslim immigrant will import their culture along with themselves, and while it’s important to define what isn’t acceptable, like outlawing shariah law in a secular nation, it’s also important to allow people to express themselves since it is a foundational value of any Western democratic nation.  I’m all for passing laws to protect people, but only when those laws are reasonable, and this French burqa ban, to me, seems like overkill.

The Problem With The 72 Virgins Theory

I was thinking about this theory of Islamic martyrs receiving 72 virgins and it doesn’t seem to add up.  This doesn’t really have anything to do with Singapore, but I’m an American who previously served in the Army and spent time in the Middle East, so it’s an issue that I have some interest in.  Extremists are constantly attacking Americans both in the US and abroad using suicide bombing tactics, presumably with this concept of martyrdom and rewards in mind.

So, I did some research and this is what I found:

The theory itself  has no basis in the Koran.  It is instead based on a supposed saying of Muhammad, but Muslim scholars have agreed that the chain of referrers for the supposed saying is fairly weak and that one of the people in the chain is known to have produced unauthentic ‘sayings’ before.  That’s from Wikipedia, so it may not be 100% spot on, but the information is usually pretty reliable.

What Muhammad supposedly said was:

‘The smallest reward for the people of Heaven is an abode where there are eighty thousand servants and seventy-two houri, over which stands a dome decorated with pearls, aquamarine and ruby, as wide as the distance from al-Jabiyyah to San’a.’

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=talovecof-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1931930252&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrThere is also some debate that if this were in fact said, the current translation is a misinterpretation and that what was meant was white raisins, rather than 72 virgin maidens.  White raisins were considered a delicacy at the time.  Also, Margaret Nydell, who wrote Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Modern Times, stated that many mainstream Muslims view the 72 virgin theory the way many Christians view the idea of getting wings and a harp and walking on clouds in Heaven.  It’s just a bit of myth and fluff, not really what you experience.  Unfortunately, the idea is being twisted and used by extremists to turn young men to a path of violence.

From the perspective of people who are far more knowledgeable in the subject, the idea of getting 72 virgins after martyrdom is a fantasy, rather than a reality.  I have to agree.  I tried to rationalize the whole thing, if it were true, but I couldn’t see how it would work.

Let’s just say that there are indeed 72 virgins waiting for martyrs in Heaven.  Where do they come from? That’s the question that I couldn’t get past.

At first, I thought that perhaps these 72 virgins are unbelievers or sinners who are serving in this position for eternity as some sort of punishment for their Earthly deeds.  However, that doesn’t stand to reason.  How many virgins do you know who’ve committed sins grave enough to be sentenced to an eternity of bodily servitude?  Besides that, how could they be serving their sentence in Heaven?  If these 72 virgins are waiting in Heaven, then they too have to be believers, or how else could they be admitted to Heaven in the first place?  And if they were believers and they were admitted to Heaven then wouldn’t they be in a position of reward?  How many women out there believe a reward in Heaven to be spending an eternity servicing a man you’ve never met along with 71 other women?  And of you who say this might be appealing to you, how many are virgins?  It could be possible that these women would be created out of thin air for this very purpose, but what just creator would construct sentient life and then sentence it to an eternity of servitude?

Perhaps I’m mixing my beliefs into this but I just don’t see it as feasible.  If these 72 virgins are live souls then there’s no way they could find themselves in that position.  If they’re created for the purpose of slavery then it’s unjust, and that doesn’t fit the description of anyone’s higher power that I’m aware of.

Keep in mind that this post isn’t meant to tear down Islam as a religion.  How could it?  I don’t understand Islam well enough to launch that kind of argument against it.  This is just my attempt to tackle a theory with common sense, and the series of thoughts I had regarding it.  Perhaps there’s a way to rationalize the existence of these virgins, but I don’t see it.

Having reached the conclusion I did, I wonder how it is that people allow themselves to be tricked into throwing their lives away?

Malaysia’s Church Bombings A Disappointment

“I think Singaporeans must have a care not to bring problems like this to themselves,” said DPM Wong at a community event in Singapore on Sunday.

“We live in an inter—connected world, we cannot be divorced from what happens in other countries. But at the same time we must be rational, and examine: when we bring such problems to our shores, what are we trying to do? Are we trying to express sympathy only, or will doing so result in more problems for our own community?”

Race and religion have always been seen as a potential minefield in Singapore.

via Yahoo! News

I’ve been following the news about the church bombings in Malaysia off and on and I think this guy’s message is pretty important.  It’s good to understand what’s going on in the world around us, as long as we don’t let it affect us so deeply that we begin to act on other people’s problems.  For all its ethnic and religious diversity, Singapore is probably the most peaceful country in the world.  It should stay that way.

This issue in Malaysia is one that boggles my mind.  Who knew that some people could be so deeply offended by such a small thing?  The universe is large, and God, or Allah, created all of it.  Do we really think that he would be so concerned over such a petty thing as non-believers using the name typically reserved for himself (in Malaysia)?  And even if Allah’s anger was piqued by non-believers using his name to refer to another idealization of God, isn’t it up to him to mete out Justice?

From my limited understanding of the use of Allah, it is typically used by Muslims when they reference God.  However, “Allah” is not a Muslim word.  It is an Arabic word, and as such is not subject to a monopoly by any certain group of people just as “God” isn’t subject to monopoly by Christians.

“The Allah ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.”

via cnews WorldWatch

I also read that one argument against allowing the Catholic publication to use the word Allah is that it may confuse Muslims and lead to unwitting conversions.  That seems really weak to me though.  Do they have so little faith in people’s intelligence?  Or in their convictions?

The most disappointing part of this incident is that it has led to violent reactions allegedly on the part of Muslims.  Violence isn’t an answer.  It’s not going to make anyone change their mind.  Not in this day and age and especially not with petty acts of arson.  If anything, these actions have galvanized public opinion against extremist Muslims and painted Christians as the victims, lending public and international  favor to the court’s ruling to allow them the use of the word Allah.

On the other hand, this does is cast Malay Muslims in a poor light, even to other Muslims, since Islam as a religion is struggling to overcome international bias as a religion of war, terror and extremism.  There have been statements from the Malaysian government stressing that these actions are not condoned by the majority of Muslims in Malaysia.  There are also many Malay Muslims who have made contributions to have fire-bombed churches repaired, in a show of national solidarity against extremist attacks.

The controversy has pushed locals to turn to the Web in a bid to rally support for the affected buildings. A blogger who started an Internet fundraising campaign for the Metro Tabernacle Church, which was attacked by arsonists, raised 8,467 ringgit (US$2,493) in four days.

Mohamed Rafick Khan Abdul Rahman, 45, started the donation drive on his blog after learning about the attack in Kuala Lumpur. He said donations poured in nationwide, and from the U.K. and Europe.

via ZDNet Asia

I don’t pretend to understand Islam, since I’m not Muslim myself, but what I do know is that we as human beings should be able to settle our differences peacefully.  Any religion that purports itself to be a religion of peace can not, by definition, support violence as a mean’s to an end so committing violent acts in the name of Islam or Allah is contradictory.  People shouldn’t be so offended on religious grounds by a practice that’s already widely accepted by Muslims around the world.

In closing, it’s nice to see that while Singaporeans have taken in the news of religious strife in Malaysia, they’ve simply consumed the information for what it is and not let it affect the peaceful prosperity that Singapore is currently enjoying.