Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Muslim Women Speak to Hundreds in Santa Fe



The following is excerpted from The Santa Fe New Mexican:

By Anne Constable
The New Mexican

Not a single seat was empty at The Forum at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design on Sunday afternoon where 10 Muslim women on a panel were preparing to answer questions about their faith. People were leaning against the walls, perched behind the stage or sitting on the floor. A Sikh man stood guard at the door. And after the two-hour question-and-answer session was over, members of the audience lined up to talk further with the panelists.

Clearly, Santa Feans, and women especially, wanted to know more about the faith that has been linked to acts of terrorism in the U.S. and abroad.

Except that that isn’t Islam, these women said. The people setting off bombs in Paris, gunning down innocent people in San Bernardino, Calif., or stoning women for charges of adultery, are not really Muslims, they said. Despite Islam’s image in the press, their faith is one that seeks peace and empowers women rather than subjugates them, they wanted the audience to know.

The audience, which numbered in the hundreds, was sympathetic to their message...

...After (the 10 Muslim women) briefly introducing themselves, they eagerly answered a variety of questions written on index cards by members of the audience. Nobody was shy.

“How does your community monitor or deal with people you know or suspect of getting radicalized?” one person wanted to know.

Sandra Akkad said they report them to the authorities. “We are part of the American fabric,” she said, adding that many potential incidents in the U.S. had been thwarted by Muslim-Americans.

Samia Assed agreed, and suggested that recruiting in the U.S. is harder than people think. “For the most part, Muslims are happy here. It’s hard to radicalize Muslim-Americans,” she said. Fatima van Hattum, who started wearing a head scarf as a teenager in Abiquiú, added that although, “We have a good relationship [with] law enforcement, we’re also watched a lot.”

When asked whether Islam advocates killing or violence, Akkad pointed out, “It’s not the religion that is killing anyone. It’s these fringe elements.” And Sabiha Quraishi chimed in, saying the Quran holds that if one person is killed the whole of humanity is killed.

... Akkad states that there are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and the community is hugely diverse. Fewer than 20 percent are Arab, and different cultures adopt different styles of dress, she said.

... Asked whether they felt they or members of their family were in danger for denouncing the violence for which “Islamic” radicals are responsible, Assed said, “I don’t feel I have to answer for radical Islam. Of course, terror is terror, no matter what your color or race. But we shouldn’t scapegoat the whole community for the actions of some.”

She said she sees those radicals as extremists and, “We feel violated. For Islam to be taken in vain is hurtful on so many levels.”

... The terrorists are not really Muslims, said one of the panelists, pointing out that some of the 9/11 bombers were spotted drinking in a bar prior to the hijackings and some of the Paris terrorists had criminal records, both forbidden in the religion of Muhammad.

... Many people in the audience were interested in Sharia, the body of jurisprudence in Islam that is often cited in stories concerning the punishment of women. But its interpretation depends on where you come from, Quraishi, the lawyer, said, and Iran doesn’t really get it right, “which drives me insane.”

... As for whether Islam subjugates women, the panelists insisted that was one of the biggest misunderstandings about their faith. When Islam was revealed, they said, women were assured certain rights and freedoms. “Patriarchy exists,” van Hattum agreed, “but Islam does not teach the subjugation of women.”

Another panelist pointed to the treatment of women in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, calling the limits on their activities as “terrible, but that’s cultural. That has nothing to do with Islam.” Of those countries, she said, “My personal feeling is that they are afraid of women.”

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