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My Experience at ProgressiveIslam.org

November 15, 2006
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Please make sure to read Call to Action as the issues discussed there are more important than my being offended.

“This morning, I decided to test a new Friday routine. Since the guest preacher from Egypt doesn’t deliver his sermons in English, I figured there was little point in listening to him. While I can understand the words in Arabic, sermons in my native language delivered by native speakers have a far greater rhetorical impact on me. The subjects of sermons, too, are just as important. Preachers who have experience in the kind of lives we lead can use metaphors that strike us like lightening and instill in us an immediate understanding. I remember fondly some of the sermons in my home city by a Blackamerican preacher who had converted in the 1950’s, Imam Mansour. Because of his colorful metaphors, I would see rows of heads nodding with grins, because we all had been there and knew the exact nuances of what he was telling us. I don’t experience that in this city, but for one memorable episode when a Blackamerican imam form a different city stood on the pulpit and spoke plainly, telling us in a fairly good fashion that he knew “what the game is, and I’ll tell you, you young Muslims, the gig is up!” Only a few heads nodded in knowing agreement, while perhaps the majority immigrant audience was struggling to understand what a “gig” was (and no, its not short for Gigabyte in this case).”

A great article by OmarG that tackles a major problem within the Muslim community.  The article is posted at ProgressiveIslam.org and I have to admit that I was so excited to see a site called “ProgressiveIslam.org” and let me fill you in on how they describe themselves.

“Welcome to ProgressiveIslam.Org, an online community and a super blog for Muslims of all theological orientations and any one else with an interest in issues relating to Islam, empowerment, freedom, equality and authenticity, to gather and engage in creative, thoughtful and intelligent discussion and debate.

ProgressiveIslam.Org is an online town commons created for individuals to gather and engage each other through sharing news, insights, opinions, stories, art, and scholarship. Just like at an old town commons, ProgressiveIslam.Org offers its resources to the community to build practical connections by providing space for social networking, education, activism, and forums for debate. It is our sincere hope that through this space and others like it we can avoid the tragedy of the commons by working with each other toward a unified community of diverse Muslims.”

I asked myself, so what makes it progressive and found the answer to that as well:

“We are not an organization, at least not in the typical sense of the word. We are a team of progressive Muslims, working together in a deliberate absence of formal structure. So, rather than having a mission statement or by-laws or boards of directors and advisers or a specific goal in mind, what we have is a ‘niyya’, an intent.”

So, why did this comment (my first comment on this site) spark one contributor of this site and another commentor to accuse me of discrimination?

I liked this post. I have read some articles of Abu El-Fadl (who dawood has informed me is recovering, inshallah, from a brain tumor) and see great hope in his views. I hope to read more of his books in the future.

If you think attending a khutba in a foreign language is bad, try attending a parent teacher conference where the Arabic teacher doesn’t speak English. So, there I am with 3 teachers all speaking between each other in Arabic and me wondering if they are actually going to inform me of my daughters’ progress. Mahsallah, the youngest is so pretty was about all I was able to get out of them. Not to mention that when I cracked a joke about I should start talking to myself in Bosnian I got the evil eye by the interpreter and she growled “well, it is the language of the Quran, you know.”

I gotta open my own school, I can’t take this anymore!

Now, I was offended and I tried to remain calm at the first accusation:

Samaha- My mother was Bosnian, my dad Egyptian. sadly, she never
thought her language/culture passing on. The predominance of Arabic
and English in our household came not so much from my father’s
chauvinism as from my mother’s lack of interest in passing on her own
heritage.

Incidentally, our love of Arabic had nothing to do with a Muslim
supremacist stance. My parents were both largely indifferent to
religion. It was part of being educated and being able to read a
rich literary tradition that preceded Islam, to say nothing of
of the rich local variants that enable us as humanists to enter worlds
created by cultural agents with much to contribute in a globalized
world. Reducing such a rich varied language to ethnic politics
in American mosques seems provinicial, to say nothing of the persistent
anti-Arab chauvinism it reveals.

whether my defensiveness came accross in the following comments, I can not say for sure.  I did try to remain civil.  Hell, I was not only condemning some of the “arab chauvenism” but also condemning “bosnian lack of religion”.  I tried making light of the situation, but to no avail.  I tried bringing the subject back on track but to no avail.  I’ll let you judge for yourselves.

The truth of the matter is that I am deeply hurt by being accused of discrimination.  Sure, I have “issues” with Arab foreign policy.  I have “issues” with certain groups that have come to Bosnia to “spread their one and only version of Islam”, but NEVER have I concluded that these types are “Arabs” and clumped ALL Arabs into a whole.  My children have multi-cultural dolls for heavens sake.  Their best friends are Arabs, Pakistanis, Palestinians, etc.  My best friends are the same.

But, somehow because I feel that an Islamic school in America should have English speaking teachers and Friday sermons should be held in English, somehow I have turned into a bigot.   Somehow, because I found it rude of three teachers (2 of whom speak perfect English) to speak Arabic and have a jolly time laughing while I sat there oblivious to what they were saying, somehow I am a bigot.  God help us all.

Somehow, I thought I’d get an apology or more “contributors” of Progressive Islam would show up and voice their disagreement, but none of that happened.  Needless to say, I won’t be going back.

Really ashame as I rather liked Omar’s writting (and will continue to read his blog) – who by the way I discovered at another thread at Eteraz in regards to “convert/revert” discrimination. 

24 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2006 5:12 pm

    Oh darling Samaha! This must have upset you and hurt your heart! I really wonder why we, Muslims, are so damn paranoid?! We really are; everything is taken as personal attack/criticism.

    I personally found nothing wrong with your comment and its not like I’ve known you for ages that I may be biased in my opinions of you.

    You know how someone pounced on me too? I was disgusted. Well, I’m so happy that you stood your ground.

    And yes, it was very rude of the teachers to exclude you from their monolingual conversation.

  2. dawood permalink
    November 15, 2006 8:57 pm

    I can relate to Omar’s post, it is a very interesting experience to say the least. I always say that it does not bother me if the khutba is in Arabic or not – the other options around here are Turkish, Somali or Urdu, and none of them are beneficial for me in any way!

    What bothers me more is the 15 second summary of the 20 minute speech that some people give in English at the end. Sure, it is a start, and I applaud it, but still – in this multicultural (Muslim) community, how is the khutba going to benefit the most people if it is confined to one ethnic language? Especially the young people like us, not the old guys who nod their heads and know all the stuff anyway.

    I can relate to you as well Samaha. Try attendng a family event where your in-laws and extended in-laws (maybe 50-100 people) only speak Arabic. Well, Lebanese.😉 I am not talking about just the old folks and 1st generation migrants here, I am talking about people my age and younger than me, who all talk Lebanese around me without even acknowledging me or attempting to include me in to the conversation. Not that I would have much in common with them anyway, but still.

    I hate this type of attitude, especially the plain egosim and rudeness involved, but do sympathise with the fact that it is the “home” (house) language that most grew up with and so on. Of course, this is not just one specific ethnic group of people, it happens everywhere. But talking from our own experience necessitates that we will probably focus on those we deal with.

    I don’t see why your comment came across as they suggest at all. I personally hate the “well, it is the language of the Qur’an” response – it really irks me – specifically because those I have dealt with who say it can generally either only read the Arabic letters (I can read faster) or understand only the most general/basic of words in the Qur’an, as they only know their dialectical form of Arabic, not classical/formal. Yet they still look down their nose at me and make silly comments like that. lol.

  3. November 15, 2006 11:20 pm

    Thank you Suroor and David.

    Maybe it was a wrong place wrong time situation, even I can get rather bitchy when on the defense too much.

    I still won’t go back though, as even if that were the case, I would have expected an apology, at least a half-assed one.

    For the record, I try to make a conscious effort to not speak Bosnian when there are non-Bosnians in my midst. I try to practice what I preach.

  4. saqi namah permalink
    November 16, 2006 4:42 am

    I think one of the biggest problem with the PI crowd is that many of them represent the wors excesses of Postmodernism. In trying to deconstruct all overarching haegomoic narrations regarding the world they contruct one for themselves and anyone who disagrees with them is condemned to be on the other side of the fence.

  5. November 17, 2006 3:04 am

    The Eid khutbah at our Mississauga mosque in Canada was in Urdu, Arabic and English (repeated in full each time) and yet took only 30 minutes (10 minutes each language).

    I thought, even though I spoke 2 of the 3 so it was a repetition, it was a great way of making sure everyone got something out of the khutbah.

  6. November 17, 2006 3:05 am

    I have to add… usually the khutbahs are only in English.

    Its a speech dammit not a religious chant so it should be given in the language most people there speak – so they can benefit from it.

  7. dawood permalink
    November 17, 2006 7:41 pm

    That sounds like a great idea haleem! One thing that some places here have thought about doing, is doing the main khutbah in x language, and then having the english either before or after.

  8. November 17, 2006 8:02 pm

    Saqi, So this is not unusual behaviour of ProgressiveIslam.org? Or are you saying that it is typical behaviour of progressive muslims?

    Haleem and Dawood, our khutbas at the Islamic Cultural Center in Northbrook were always done in English, Bosnian and Arabic (during larger occasions) and I agree it should be understood by everyone. Up until I read Omar’s article I hadn’t realized that this was an issue. Even at the more conservative Mosque where my children attend school now, the khutba is done in English.

  9. dawood permalink
    November 18, 2006 7:47 am

    Things are progressing slowly, I guess. Is this “progressive Islam”?🙂

  10. saqi permalink
    November 18, 2006 11:22 am

    I would not generalize it to all PMs but many of them do seem to be adopt the aforementioned stance.

  11. November 19, 2006 7:51 pm

    Dawood, ha ha.

    Saqi, I guess I will have to see. I know that a lot of groups tend to think that their way is the right way.

  12. November 21, 2006 9:06 pm

    Salam Samaha, I’m really sorry how you were treated. The one comment above about being post-modern is one I readily agree with. Its difficult to come up with prescriptions when people believe there is no right or wrong way to do things. The one person, ‘center’ is not a contributor; Ginan Rauf is good people though. I think sometimes she comments as a way to expose the moral hazard of my positions and to let me know when I’m descending too far towards bigotry. But, I stand by my demand for khutbas to be in the language of the land and for converts to be accepted as equal members, whether we choose to convert to thier culture or retain the halal from our own.

    To be fair, the khutbas in this mosque ARE usually in English nowadays. From what I understand, it is a post-Sept 11 development (I’v only been in this city for a year and a quarter!)…I wonder why? But, this is a guest preacher imported form Egypt for Ramadan…who is still here…long after Ramadan.

  13. November 22, 2006 12:02 am

    Salam Omar,

    You don’t need to apologize, you and buzzkill stood up for me and I appreciate it.

    As far as Ginan goes, I’m done with the subject, I’ve vented my frustration. I won’t be going back out of principal, but I encourage anyone who reads this that has something good to say about PI to go ahead and post it here as I am not trying to turn readers away.

    Yes, we agree in terms of Khutbas, it only makes sense. Isn’t it funny though how those guests tend to stay awhile?

  14. dawood permalink
    November 22, 2006 11:12 am

    Well, our “mufti” was initially here for a short period of time as an Imam, then somehow got offered this “special” position due to his “unique qualifications to act on behalf of the Muslim community” here in Australia.

    It is interesting what a mixture of mosque politics and actual sneeky politics (to gain votes) can do eh?

  15. November 22, 2006 11:35 pm

    I’m sorry to hear about your experience there. That was a particularly hot-tempered thread. It inspired a new rule about the use of vulgarity. We never had to delete posts or asterisk words before. I hope we can go back to a totally self-moderated site soon. The site tends to be a bit more cool, but your post feeds into the nativism discussion. It is very hard to have with a cool head. I would also ask that you cut Ginan some slack since she is presently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and is not in the best of moods.

    PI is not an organization or even a group of people. Ilan and I facilitate other’s voices. We would provide space to anyone who asked, the point is free speech, free religion. This means that there will be speech we do not like. But it also means we will learn from one another how to be an umma, all of us, wherever we are coming from.

    Godwilling, we’ll see you again. Free speech and free religion are not free, they cost patience.

  16. November 23, 2006 12:10 am

    I think nativism, especially mine would not exist were it not for the racism from some, okay alot of Muslim immigrants who participate in the mosque scenes. I can readily tell you mine is 100% a reaction in an attempt to halt the chauvenism by pulling in the opposite direction. I went along for many years until the alienting chauvenism just go to be to much after 9-11. Sadly, when I’m soft and polite about it, no one listens. Harsh rhetoric that flies in the face of everythin I learn in anthropology seems to do the trick though. humans suck.

  17. November 23, 2006 3:36 am

    I made comments about Bosnians drinking beer and playing poker in the basement of the mosque as a form of self criticism.

    I pointed out the possible good that could happen from this teacher not speaking English.

    I’m sorry, I found Ginan to be completely off base in regards to my having anti-arab chauvenism. Honestly, I was like wtf? where is this all comming from. Now, I know. I will cut Ginan slack as I can’t begin to imagine what she must be going through. Certainly, I have come to the realization today that thanskgiving proposes challenges for me and the next few weeks, as my dad’s birthday is also Dec. 1 and he passed away last year. I am backing off of all debate, no need to step on everyone elses toes while I try to heal my own pain, so I can understand that Ginan may not be herself and all is forgiven.

    As for free speech, Laury, there is no free speech that is free of consequences. That’s my rule. I haven’t yet deleted a comment from my blog (can’t say that that will never happen, but I will try to keep it that way). The whole point of this post was to vent my frustration with what happened, never did I say or expect that Ginan’s comments should be deleted or that Ginan should have to face any consequences by the site or the team. My post was to make a point that free speech has consequences and that my principals would not allow me to go back for any more abuse. I even went so far as to say that I wasn’t trying to turn readers away from your site and even encouraged in the comments section for positive comments in regards to the site.

    Anyway – that’s really it now, the one last vent – all is forgiven. I will stop by when I am in better spirits.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  18. November 23, 2006 3:36 am

    Oh shit – sorry – no I never drank beer and played poker in the basement of our mosque. It’s memories I have from my father’s generation and older.

  19. dawood permalink
    November 23, 2006 5:59 am

    Happy Thanksgiving… though I have never celebrated it! (being that you guys sailed away from us in the first place!)🙂

  20. November 23, 2006 6:01 am

    LOL, samaha. I’m just glad the Yemenis didn’t bust down the door and do it Shariah-style like I heard happened in Dearborn…

  21. November 23, 2006 11:12 pm

    Thanks Dawood – sorry we sailed away – hah – not!

    Omar – Do tell! Haven’t heard about it

  22. dawood permalink
    November 24, 2006 11:40 am

    Well me too, I have moved from my homeland to the place where we originally sent all our convicts.🙂

  23. November 24, 2006 5:56 pm

    Samaha, as a teenager, I used to go on “ijtima’s” with the Tablighi. One of these gatherings was in Dearborn in a huge mosque that used to be an elementary school. So, while the shaikhs were doing thier du’as in Urdu (thanks guys!), I and a Yemeni guy started talking and he told me about a local mosque where they used to have parties with dancing and drinking in a mosque basement. So, he told me that some of the Yemeni guys got some guns and busted down the door and took over the mosque and kicked them out. I don’t know if such a thing could happn in real life or if they already owned it, thus forestalling the big legal bruhaha that would result, so I don’t know. But, it made for one heck of a story!

  24. November 24, 2006 7:26 pm

    Dawood – I was under the impression you used to live in the states, the US.

    Omar – Dayum! We used to have parties in our mosque (no liquor), but we used to have live music (harmonica, synth, and singer) and dancing (kolo). Occasionally a youth group would sponsor a dance for teens where we would play the music of our generation – (ugh, I think we even played some Billy Squire – lol, god, that makes me feel old.) It was originally meant to serve the function of a Mosque and a Bosnian cultural center. Although, even I as at the age of 8 didn’t think that a lot of the events were appropriate for a place where we would pray in congregation. Eventually, as other ethnicities joined our mosque our mosque evolved. No guns were needed – well, not that I know of anyway.

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