Trigger thoughts about Islam and human rights


Just wanted to share piece taken from the document ‘State Religious Exclusivity and Human Rights’ by Jonathan Fox

‘..the Islamic world never experienced the Enlightenment or had its own Reformation out of which the Islamic equivalent of Western concepts of democracy, human rights, and civil liberties could have developed’ (An-Na’im, 2002, p. 31)

Other common themes include: there is a tension betweenWestern and Muslim values on the issue of human rights; sharia (Islamic religious) law, de facto, results in discrimination against members of other religions; Muslim states, especially those in the Middle East, have a poor human rights record; and rather than recognizing the contradictions between Islam and human rights, Muslim fundamentalists tend to question the validity of Western human rights norms (An-Na’im, 2002; Boyle and Sheet, 1997; Halliday, 2000; Lewis, 1993, pp. 96–8; Van der Vyver, 1996).

However,many argue that Islam is compatible with human rights and democracy. Principles within Islam including consultation, consensus, the equality of all men, the rule of law and independent reasoning all provide a basis for an Islamic democracy (Esposito and Piscatori, 1991; Esposito andVoll, 2001; Feldman, 2003; Fuller, 2002). While it is true that there are no democracies within the Middle East, about half of all Muslims live in democratic and semi-democratic states (Stepan, 2000, pp. 48–9). Islamic parties have successfully participated in elections and even pushed for democratic reforms (Esposito and Piscatori, 1991). Also, while there are elements of Islamic doctrine that can inhibit democracy, in practice these aspects of doctrine are rarely fully enforced by governments (Haynes, 1998, pp. 128–9; Hefner, 2001, p. 494). That said, this type of argument has been characterized by some scholars and prominent Muslim clerics as inaccurate and even deceptive apologetics to appease Westerners (Appleby, 2000, p. 256).

Others argue that, like most religions, Islam has a complex set of doctrines and traditions which lead to divergent interpretations. Essentially there is internal pluralism within Islam and the role of human rights in Muslim societies is a subject for debate among Muslims (Appleby, 2000, pp. 256–66; Asfour, 2002; Hefner, 2001, pp. 495–501). This view has considerable merit, as the interpretation of sharia prevalent in countries like Saudi Arabia is clearly not compatible with liberal democracy and human rights, but many sharia scholars elsewhere have doctrines more compatible with tolerance. This is particularly true of Islam in some African states like Gambia and Sierra Leone which have particularly strong records for protecting the religious rights of religious minorities.”


And we’re back…

um.. yeah.

So this is our 248932345th attempt at ‘coming alive” 🙂 … please forgive the hiatus. And no we shall not make any promises this time. Merely to ‘go with the flo’  will be what this attempt is. The 4 of us Sumeruh, Hayah, Zaded and Radiance (and plus one other member of our gang who doesn’t blog) have been talking (skyping rather) of the need to “document our experiences” of the 4/5 different countries we are currently in. We’re thinking of making this attempt more of a write less and show more images typa one too.

So yeah… umm… stay.. posted 😀


First Impressions of Poland

By Sumeruh

Crossposted from Sumeruh blog 

It was by the end of the August 2010 I flew to Poland. The long hours of flight ended into the exotic land in Central Europe. It was chilling and I was shaking because of lack to adaption to this exotic weather. It was 30 degrees back home and suddenly I was experiencing weather of 8-9 degrees. The temperature was cold but the hospitability of the University of Warsaw’s faculty and the staffs was really warm. They did not let us feel alone rather they were trying every time to help us cope with the surrounding and new environment organizing different interaction programs. Then I realized they are professional and this is how the works in Poland is carried on.

The food for the first time was really hard for me to adopt with but I must say that there are varieties of Polish cuisine which is extremely delicious. The first time I saw “Pierogi”, I remembered similar dish called “momo” back in my country. I started bridging Poland and Nepal to some context then. I tried comparing the dressing pattern of people here, especially of ladies. The people wear the dresses they prefer and they are not stared on. If I were suppose to wear skirts and socks back in my home country then people would embarrass me now and then by staring at me. I enjoyed the people’s positive attitude towards other people in this regard too.

I had imagined Warsaw as a concrete jungle but I was surprised to see the place is still environmentally and culturally protected. University building, Vistula River, parks and artistic palaces in Old town gave specific examples of this fact. When I heard the Polish language for the first time then I felt they are singing some kind of song to me. Also, to my surprise Polish have particular name for every objects and kinds in their own language which depicted their linguistic richness.

The most noticeable thing for me also was the people here love to read a lot. I could see most of the people reading in the tram and metro even standing or just leaning to pole. This too fascinated me a lot as I have never seen people reading stuffs even when they are travelling for the distance of few minutes. The respect for the elderly citizen was well demonstrated where the young people often offered seat to them in the public transportation. This demonstrated the strong cultural and moral values of the Polish people.

There are many things yet to explore but these were the first impressions of Poland and Poles on me. I must confess that the initial cultural shocks are not shocks any more. I am getting used to it and enjoying. I know the memories spent here will be preferred and treasured throughout my life time.

Questions around religion and patriarchy

I’m sure all of us are acquainted to some degree or the other about gender based violence and violence against women issues. The immediate ones that come to mind of course are the most visible – physical and sexual abuse/harassment/ violence against women and girls. The other more subtle but equally harmful forms being verbal, psychological and economic abuse and violence to name a few. Many of us may or may not be aware of the root causes of gender based violence. It is assumed given context, situation and scenario to be different reasons, ranging from – 1) the perspective of the perpetrator-: alcoholism, lack of poverty, lack of education, a perverted mindset etc and 2) the perspective of the victim-survivor –: her behavior, her dress, her actions which may have led to/causes violence etc. In reality these are excuses, alibis, myths and assumptions. The root of it all is power relations and inequality – the underlying notion that males of a society have more power than females. This premise sets tone for gender roles to be designated to men and women and has for centuries spurned the practices of society through its best friend – the patriarchal ideology which together with power inequality has resulting impacts ranging from control and discriminations to violence and abuse against women and girls.

The patriarchal ideology deeply embedded in centuries of human life, has inturn some key ingredients that make it strong and compounded, again these differ from context, country and community, but one of its strongest is religion. Religion has for centuries been the perfect disguise under which to serve the masses certain principles, norms and values not necessarily derived from the belief in a Creator/process of creation, or the founders of that particular religion. Its come down to us as non-negotiables, unquestionable, no-answerables, when infact that particular religion whichever it may be, may encourage exploration, self understanding, questioning, debates and discussions. In certain context, particularly when it comes to women, the machinery of patriarchal ideology uses religion as ‘the’ tool to enforce norms and behavior to the extent that religion is altered and converted to suit a particular sex/gender of a particular community.

In my opinion there are two major issues/points of contention (among others) when it comes to religion and women 1) the raw religion and its stance on its female constituency and gender roles between its members and 2) how religion has been taken, changed and altered to suit the patriarchal ideology. While the former point of contention requires indepth study, research and a good knowledge of theology and religion, the latter is more easily detectable, obvious and glaring in daily life situations and it is on this point of contention that I want to raise some questions. Being a Muslim woman my questions are obviously targeted towards the practice of Islamic customs within a conservative, traditionalist Muslim community of Sri Lanka. There are many questions but let’s begin with some basic ones around practices of marriage, because those have the most obvious examples.


I would like to know, for one why in the world we cannot sign our own marriage forms in this country? Or worse we cannot sign it because we belong to a certain madhab (school of thought) and not the other? If God has given me right to consent and stresses it over and over in His ‘revelations’, who is man to deny it of me in the very document that symbolizes consent? And please don’t give me a ‘because she can’t come to the mosque during the nikah (marriage)’ tosh when other Muslim countries/countries with Muslim populations have it as a prerequisite. Could this be an indication of the deeper underpinnings to the way marriages are done here? An indication of the lack of gravity, seriousness and value given to Muslim bridal consent in this country? An indication of the reigns of control imposed on women and girls by the male members of her family? That the marriage of a woman and man is not a relationship of equals?

I would also like to know, why is it that a large percentage of the Muslim community in Sri Lanka practice dowry when it is forbidden by the religion under which we say we belong to? How come women and their families are these days expected to come ready made with cash and houses and gold? When there is no doubt that religion states that Muslim women’s families do not need to bare any cost in the act of marriage.  Please tell me why many mosque and community leaders haven’t been able intervene in this issue? And many claim its not their area to intervene when marriages cannot even occur without a religious leader? On a related note, please also tell me how come we have a clause for and a space to write ‘kaikuli’ (a very clever disguise for ‘moveable assets *cough*dowry*cough*’) given by bride party in the marriage registration forms and the law that governs us Muslims? So if it benefits the men of the community, its in practice even if it’s dishonored in religion, but God given rights to women are taken away? Excuse me O.o

These are some basic tenets on which families and communities are founded in Muslim society and their consequences fall on women as individuals and as members of a Muslim population. While we do not have clear records/statistics of the number of women who may have been affected by practices of non-consent, pressured/forced marriages, dowry issues, ask any Muslim and we’ll probably be able to tell you more than one such case that we know of. Ask someone who works on Muslim community issues and she/he will be able to tell you hundreds. I am merely taking two such examples of the way religion has been altered to dance to the tune of discriminatory ideology, there are many many more. The answers to these questions are slow and difficult in coming, but we as members of a particular religious community that we say we belong to better figure these out. Religion is equally striving towards a good and better hereafter as it is towards a good and better today here and now.

Moor, Malay and the Sri Lankan state

Crossposted from the blog 1985 Mosquito Bites.

I attended a presentation recently on perspectives of state, one of the presentations was on the Muslim perspective. The presenter who is researching into this subject had indiscriminately  lumped the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka as one entity and made distinctions in ‘perspectives’ primarily on the basis of geography. Which got me a bit annoyed. He/she also brought out the link between Muslims and their linguistic skills/divide, mostly being Tamil speaking but largely bilingual, and how they perceive as being “caught in the middle” of the ethnic conflict, but with inclinations in support of the Tamil community. Here are some of my notes on what I think:

It is IMPERATIVE when analyzing perspectives of ‘Muslims” in Sri Lanka in particular relation to state and nationality to recognize that diverse minorities exist within the broader Muslim minority – in that we have minorities within minorities (and here I write primarily about the Moor and Malay minorities)

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Gold Digg entry 2: Taking a stance

This post is a journal entry from Hayah’s diary dated 13th April 2006. It was an entry written during the civil uprising against the Nepalese monarchy in 2006.


I asked and asked and asked…”what can we do?” …”what should be done?” …”what is the youth role in all this?”. Its damn frustrating for all of us to watch the country we love crumbling down. Thing is, going down to the streets and throwing stones are not an option for me. I am binded within the state, family and within my own principles to do that. The people on the streets are apparently fighting for the 7 party (alliance between Maoist and parties opposing the King’s regime) – to gain emacipation for Nepal in the name of the 7 party. To bring democracy for Nepal in the name of the 7 party – and so when the 3rd generation kids of Nepal are studying history this is gonna be a 7 party victory, even though not one, not one high level leader from the freaking 7 party has come down to the street or gotten a baton shot. Many people in the streets done even know what or who they are fighting for. 7 party?? What 7 party??? Where are the 7 party leaders??? Why can’t they come and get a baton shot, or a stone on there cheek – what would it hurt??? They are willing to bring democracy whatever the cost right?? What about at the cost of their lives then??? Get them down to the streets willing to sacrifice life and limb and then we know they CARE –. We need leaders that CARE and LOVE Nepal. And we shall not compromise with anything less. Period.

Tell me one leader – one leader who has the support of the population of Nepal – or even half the population. We dont have leaders to elect when democracy comes – NONE of them – NONE of them have a clean history. We need leaders with clean histories and vision. When the 7 party comes to power, they are gonna abuse it, because we dont have a system that corrects law and order, we dont have a system that roots out evil, we dont have a self correcting system. At least if our system was in order – then our leaders will do the job we elected them to do. Do you think we will have any say in the constitution? U think we shall have any say in the system?? You think our votes will count amidst all that rigging?? No!!! because we are the youth – and youth dont have experience, Heck – experience comes with opportunity and if we have not been given the opportunity then from where the hell will experience come from??? Leaning from bajaays (old men) mistakes is a whole lot of experience enough – thank you. I am speaking like I am a Nepali – dont mind – right now I am thinking like I am one – if this were my country what would I do – thats how I am thinking. I am thinking as a global citizen.

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