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Women and Islam: Women & Religion II
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Holmes, Cecile S.. Women and Islam: Women & Religion II. November 30, 1999. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. July 10, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/51.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Holmes, Cecile S.. (November 30, 1999). Women and Islam: Women & Religion II. University of Houston Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Recordings. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/51

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Holmes, Cecile S., Women and Islam: Women & Religion II, November 30, 1999, University of Houston Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Recordings, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed July 10, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/51.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Women and Islam: Women & Religion II
Creator (LCNAF)
  • Holmes, Cecile S.
Creator (Local)
  • Drooby, Nabila
  • Noorbaksh, Sarah
  • Farooq, Sabah
Publisher Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program; The Friends of Women's Studies
Place of Creation (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Date November 30, 1999
Description A panel discussion moderated by Cecile Holmes, in which Nabila Drooby, Sabah Farooq and Sarah Noorbaksh discuss Islam and women. They open by discussing common misconceptions about Islam. Then they talk about what it means to be a Muslim woman.
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas
  • Islam
Subject.Name (LCNAF)
  • Holmes, Cecile S.
Subject.Name (Local)
  • Drooby, Nabila
  • Noorbaksh, Sarah
  • Farooq, Sabah
Genre (AAT)
  • interviews
Language English
Type (DCMI)
  • Moving Image
Format (IMT)
  • video/mp4
Original Item URL http://library.uh.edu/record=b4555844~S11
Digital Collection University of Houston Barbara Karkabi Living Archives Recordings
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name 2011_17_018.m4v
Access File Run Time 1:27:49
Transcript University of Houston Friends of Women’s Studies Presents The Living Archives 1999 – 2000 Women and Religion II: Women and Islam Panel Discussion Moderator Cecile Holmes Religion Editor/Houston Chronicle Panelists Nabila Drooby Former Executive Director of the Rothko Chapel Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh Physician and Baylor Professor Sabah Farooq Businesswoman November 30, 1999 / Menil Collection, Houston, Texas Women and Religion II Women and Islam Moderator Cecile Holmes I want to welcome you and I’d like to give you an idea of why I think we’re here. I see these panels, especially the ones on religion, which is my area of expertise as a journalist, as times that should be devoted to understanding, exploring issues, building cross cultural bridges. I hope that I, with the help of the panel, can facilitate a discussion that too often turns into a debate. I’d like for it to be an educational and informational program. That’s why I think we’re here and that’s what I think The Living Archives series is about. And that’s the “pitch”, if I was an ad person rather than an editorial journalist, I’d put it that way. That’s the “pitch’ that I made to the three ladies who joined us this evening – and why I asked them to come. So, I just wanted to give you an idea of how we see what we’re about. And thank you very much for joining us. I’d like to begin by asking each of the panelists a specific question that comes up a lot in my work and in conversations in the larger community. What do you see as being the most serious misconception that Americans have about Islam in general and especially about what it means to be a woman and a Muslim? And if it’s okay, we’ll begin here since you’ve lived – since you’ve had to deal with that longer. Nabila Drooby Well, I think that Islam in general is perceived as foreign. And what is foreign and unknown is generally puts you on the defensive. The second thing that we have had to deal with is that there are many misconceptions that have been promoted by maybe historians, maybe people, maybe ourselves as Muslims that have created misunderstandings between the different communities. And this needs to be really dealt with because we are becoming one world and we really need to know more about each other and find out that, after all, we’re not different. We belong to one humanity, we have one God, for those who believe in a God, we have a common aim, for those who do not believe in God, to improve the situation of people on this planet. And it is important that we collaborate that we try to understand each other. Moderator Cecile Holmes I’m gonna go to you next Sarah and then I’m gonna go to Sabah because I want to read the passage. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh I agree with you completely that it’s a stereotype. There’s a fear of the unknown. There’s also a problem with language, with different words. We’ve all become accustomed to Jewish words and are used to what they mean, but when it comes to Islamic words, just the word Allah, for example, can bring on a stereotype of who Muslims pray to. I grew up here and most Americans ask me, “Are you praying to Allah?” And they don’t really have an image of who were talking about. The words don’t fit. The language isn’t there and I think one of our big problems is teaching that language. It��s partly the fault of Muslims who haven’t had the ability, or the skills, or communication to produce material that is in the same language that speaks to Americans. Even children growing up in Muslim families here don’t know what their religion is about because of that posit of communication and English language material. So, I think when we get past some of those words and terminology and we get to what they mean, for example, Allah just means – the one –we’re talking about the Creator – the one Creator – get past that, we can start talking about the faith and bring about more understanding. But, I agree with you, we need to get to a higher order, thought about religion. And not stay at these linguistic levels that create the stereotypes. Moderator Cecile Holmes Sabah? Sabah Farooq I was at this program recently and I’m so glad that this event is happening at the Menil, of the “Why I Had To”, the story of Dominique Menil formalizing the Rothko Chapel. And she talks about the compulsion for people to come together on a spiritual basis instead of a formalized clerical basis of religions. They just came together because of religion. And I thought, how wonderful that somebody – it was just basically grass roots feelings on people’s end that they have a spiritual need. And they saw this in the late 60’s and the 70’s. And we are here in this world that is globalizing. I was sitting on the flight coming back from New York this past Sunday, and there happened to be a New Yorker setting next to me who’s working in Houston. And he noticed that I was reading a book about Islam. It was “Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality”. It’s by John Espossito. And he said, “So you’re a Muslim.” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Aren’t you the religion that has the women walk ten paces behind the men?” “And you, you people wear Hijabs and you really – democracy and Islam do not really go together. It’s a big paradox.” I said, “On the contrary.” I said, “Feminism – the Prophet was one of the people that was actually openly declaring his preference for women”, not to offend any men here. But, I felt that this one person represented, to me, the misconceptions that people in this society have about Islam. And I’m constantly dealing with that. Moderator Cecile Holmes Would you, because you were kind enough to bring this up in our conversations prior to this evening, there was a passage from the Qur’an that you felt like might help facilitate our discussions – would you read that for us now? Do we have everything? Do we still have it in front of you? (Speaking to Sabah Farooq.) Sabah Farooq Yes. Thank you Cecile for offering for us to do this. This is from Surah 3, verse 35. And I think this represents the spirit, the essence of what men and women – their roles are within Islam. And you can judge for yourself the democracy part of it. For Muslim men and women, For believing men and women, For devout men and women, For true men and women, For men and women who are patient, For men and women who humble themselves, For men and women who give in charity, For men and women who fast, For men and women who guard their chastity, And for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise, For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and reward. Moderator Cecile Holmes Nabila, how do you feel that passage may perhaps challenge the misconceptions that the three of you have just articulated? Nabila Drooby Well, I think because of the Hijab because of the various discussions that are in the media of the Talibans and what they are doing in Afghanistan and the Jihad, the way that it is interpreted in the media that they are terrorists and things like that. We need to talk more about it. I think we should encourage people to read the Qur’an, because we brought it. I brought mine tonight because I’m not telling you I wouldn’t want anybody to feel that I was expressing things they way I would like them. I brought my book because if I need to read a passage to you, to express it the way it came and what it means to me as a woman. And this reading that we, both of us have lived very much, shows you that after all there is as much responsibility on women, as on men to provide a better world and to be acceptable to God. And now I think it’s very important, especially for people like you in the media, to try and give people the right information, because they’re all so contradictory things. We’re going to take up questions afterward and I’m sure we’ll have questions that raise the issue, like passages in the Qur’an where women are not dealt with the way the modern world sees it. But we have also to see these passages in the light of when they came and how they were said. And also to see them – how they would effect the community. I think we’re coming to probably the next question, -- How do we want to be Muslim women in an American community? Moderator Cecile Holmes Sarah did? You just made one point I’d like to, I want to come to that in just a second, if that’s Okay? Either Sarah or Sabah. Nabila just mentioned that it’s important when we look at the Qur’an and we look at Islam, as a way of life and as a religion, to remember the people and the era. People to whom the book was addressed and the era in which it was written. Can you, can you shed a little light on that for those of us who maybe could use more information? Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh Well, yeah. One of the doctors that we work with is a good colleague of mine. He’s Jewish, and a very devout practitioner. We talk a lot about religion. And one of the things he mentioned when he talks about Jewish law. (I work in a Jewish nursing home and I like to know what the traditions are and what the parameters are.) Is that revelation and religious edicts came in the setting in which those things were being practiced. So, in Judaic law, things that would come, as prohibitions would have had to be prevalent at the time and not the reverse. If no one were doing those things they wouldn’t have had to have a prohibition about doing those things. Similarly, in Islam, if you look at prohibitions against alcohol, it’s not that all people in that time were not drinking. Or, if you look at prohibitions against treating your wives badly or burying your female children, it was because these were prevalent. It was a society where a lot of things that we would consider wrong in modern times, (Moderator: ”Inhumane.”) were prevalent. And revelation is given to meet those needs. So we have to look at the time. Absolutely we have to look at the time in which they occurred. But one of the things that I find in the Qur’an, is that you can apply so much more of it to what’s going on in everyday life. If you look at it more microscopically, in terms of relationships, you can apply it to present time, to your own life. I teach a Sunday school class to teenage girls (15 to 20-year-old girls) and what I’ve tried to do is start problem solving. I teach integrated problem solving at Baylor, and so I brought a method to the Sunday school class. Well, let’s just talk about these problems and you solve them yourself, you figure it out. It’s amazing what twelve girls that are growing up in Islamic families, what kind of misconceptions they have about their own religion. And how hard they find it to even figure out what they believe or what they don’t believe or what’s in there. None of them even knew where to start to read the Qur’an. All of them had misconceptions that they were just brought up with. Misconceptions from the guy next to them at school who said, “I’m gonna have four wives when I grow up.�� And, you know all that. So, you’re talking about high school kids who still have a lot of stereotypes themselves. And what I try to teach them to do is to look at evidence critically. To find which evidence they feel is valid evidence and to criticize that evidence. Even the Qur’an, the interpretations of the Qur’an, the English translations are so different. I found English translations of the Bible, back in the early days when Dad had started the Islamic Society of Greater Houston. Back in the 60’s when we first moved to Houston. I would teach Sunday school. I went back to the Aramaic Bible and there are variations in translation there as well. So if you want to really get into studying you need to know what your evidence is. And in order to do that, you have to look at who translated it and what the translation is. And it’s amazing to me that when women begin to study Arabic enough that they can make their own translations, how different the interpretations of the same Arabic verse is. It’s very freeing for me to know that there are people who see it completely differently from the standard way that I was taught or that I heard or that we hear in the West. So, that’s the key I think. To look at any issue whatever, religion, politics whatever. Look at your evidence critically and learn how to analyze it yourself. And that even the Qur’an, is, you know, the Arabic is what’s still valid and has not changed. But the English, you know you have to look carefully at what you’re reading. Moderator Cecile Holmes And there are things that are lost in the translation from one language to another. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh Absolutely. Absolutely. Moderator Cecile Holmes Sabah was there…? You were nodding your head a couple of times, pretty emphatically. Is there something you want to add to what Sarah said before we move on? Sabah Farooq Except for the fact that I’m really confirming what she has said, yes. Mainly I’m just agreeing with her because it hits home, what she is talking about. The daily application of the Qur’an in principals is something that I find so useful because it deals with internal control. It’s a religion that teaches you that, what your relationship is with God is the most important. And as a woman that is a very empowering feeling. I’m sure you must know what I’m speaking of. That nobody can come between me and my Maker. And that is to me the most feminist, if you like to call it that, or, you know, free, or democratic idea. And I don’t have to go to a priest or, ah, clergy or some male intervening person to access the person that gives me the power as a human being. But to get back to what Sarah was saying about the interpretations of the Qur’an. Going a little bit beyond that. We have the idea of Ijtehad, and the Prophet Muhammad himself spoke, I mean the revelations were done in the context of the time. And, of course, we as Muslim women in different parts of the geography, you know in Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon, we question this whole idea of four wives. We internally struggle with it. And if you try to see it within the context of Arabia of the 7th century which is, you know, is hard to actually try to put yourself in that century. But even in that context it made a lot of sense. In that context, it was an incredibly revolutionary idea at that time to just have four wives. And your talking about a people that had a history of having 400 wives and 700 wives like in the Judaic tradition. But the Ijtehad which, which should not be confused with Jihad by the way. Moderator Cecile Holmes You might want to distinguish (gesturing to Sabah) between those two terms for the audience and for posterity, if you would. Sabah Farooq Yes. Ijtehad, basically, means innovative thinking based and steeped in the logic of the Qur’an. So that you with the Qur’anic principles, but you innovate according to the time that you are living in so that you are allowed to innovate and to critically question and to come up with new solutions for the day that you’re living in. And I know it sounds a bit like Jihad but it’s a totally different thing. So it’s Ijtehad. Nabila Drooby I would like to add two things to what…. Moderator Cecile Holmes That’s great, go ahead. Nabila Drooby First of all, our interpretation of the Qur’an is limited to what are the practicalities of life. The religious part does not lend itself to any interpretation. The belief in one God is not something we discuss. The belief in the Prophet and the Prophet is not something we discuss. We might discuss polygamy, but even now, since you’ve opened the subject, when you think that so many issues very often are raised by people living out of wedlock, with all sorts of relationships left, right and center. And having children that are not protected and not taken care of. The concept of marrying more that one wife was created and is still valid in some places. Where there are more men than women, there are children out, ah…. (Audience murmurs.) More women than men. I’m sorry. (Audience laughs.) I haven’t found that society yet. And there are also children who also need to be protected one way or the other. And this is, after all, even here in this new country that this practice is done in, in certain communities. And it has been considered welfare for the, the children and for the family. It is a way of protecting them. Now, if he, who is sitting here, decides to marry another woman, that would be a problem. (Audience laughs.) But, on the other hand, it is important to know that these issues have solved lot of problems during the ages. And the legalization of marriage has solved problems for women and for children. Especially when you think at that time many men died at war and the women remained without protection and without a provider. Moderator Cecile Holmes Let’s move, if we could to the question that you spoke about earlier. And that was the role of women in the Islamic community in the United States or in American culture. How you perceive that. Nabila Drooby Well, I think our problems, as Muslim women are not different from any other woman of faith in the United States. The three of us have been rather liberated women. We are, we feel that we have been fortunate enough to have good parents and good husband – I’m not sure, I’m sorry… (Audience laughter.) She has a good, (Gesturing to Sarah.) She has a good husband and I have a very good one. But, it’s very important for us to, to deal with the issues that relate to the faith and the moral upbringing of our children. I think these are the major issues that we have as Muslim women here. I am, naturally being older and more traditionalist, find it difficult to deal with the interpretation of women’s liberation in the United States. I think that in many ways, and I’m not being critical for what is happening, I’m saying how I feel. I feel that liberation of women has been associated very much with sexual liberation and the freedom to dispose like and behave like men. I don’t think this is women’s liberation. (Audience laughter. – Moderator: “There are people who would agree with you.”) And this is why I said there are many women who I have the same problem as the problems of many women of faith whom I have known. And who I have lived with in the United States. Now there are different other issues for us. How do we bring up our children as believers, first of all and second, as moral human beings. And I’m not talking of sexual freedom. I’m talking moral human beings. People who know how to deal decently with each other without harming the others. Who can be critical of the situation where what we’re doing is bad for the community. Muslims have, first of all, loyalty to God, second, loyalty to their family and third, loyalty to the community. Not only the Muslim community. They have a loyalty to the community. What are we doing, as Muslims, for our community? That’s very important. And I find that Muslims here are not well organized to deal with that issue. They’re beginning, as Sarah was saying, but we still have a long way to go. And we are faced by a media that’s overwhelming. We have neither the means nor the access. And besides this, we are also being faced with ignorance. What is being taught to students in schools? Has it been taught anywhere? I’m not saying to teach them Islam. I’m talking comparative religion. What is Islam? How do you react once you’re faced with such an issue? How do you tell them the truth? What truth do you tell? Moderator Cecile Holmes There is discussion at the national level about the need to teach religion in a cultural context not one in which one proselytizes for one faith or another. And there are several model programs that do the three monotheistic faiths and significant world religions including Hinduism and Buddhism. So, the point you’re making is very well taken and shared by many educators. Nabila Drooby I’m not raising the point only as Muslims. I’m raising the point as Americans. How are we teaching our children, not only their rights, but also their responsibilities? And how are we teaching them to behave in the community and in building a better community for all of us? The older ones, the parents and the children. I mean when you see programs on television, how children deal with their parents, it really shocks me. We are dealing with the seniors as, alright you put them away. In Islam you don’t put them away. You owe your mother and your father your respect and your loyalty and your affection forever. And it’s also the same thing in Japan. You worship your ancestors. Now that we know our genes are coming from our ancestors we should be recognizing that. Moderator Cecile Holmes So, in part, the problems that we’re talking about and the issues that a woman who’s a Muslim would face in the United States are universal. Could the two of you speak a little to that point? How you see it? Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh The universal problems for women stem from the real problems; oppression, abuse, and poverty. No matter what country you go to, if the men are oppressed they oppress the women and the women oppress the children and the children oppress the pets. (Audience laughter.) It goes on and on. But oppression and poverty are where the conflicts arise. If you look at a society like Afghanistan where women are being oppressed. And every Muslim woman within and without Afghanistan would agree, with a very few exceptions inside of Afghanistan I think, that it stems from what is happening in their country economically and politically and has nothing to do with the faith. In Iran, they have situations that deal with their personal economic problems with poverty. But, basically it’s poverty and oppression. It’s mostly financial economic issues. And I think that for the next millenium a major issue, despite the rising stock markets, will be the poverty that faces most of the world. And women are going to bear the brunt of it. And no matter what religion you believe in, that’s going to be a problem. As far as here in this country, I grew up in a situation where there were no Mosques and my Dad used to make me go to Sunday school. I’d go to Braeswood Assembly of God before it became the Hebrew Academy. I went to the Synagogue with my friends. I’ve been to every denomination’s church for services with my friends, until 1967 when the ISGH started, at the Institute of Religion. I’m adding some history for you. The Institute of Religion was there in the Medical Center and a few Muslim families formed a small group and some early Sunday school classes. I’ve never had the benefit of formal religious education within Islam. You were talking about the Hadith and the Masona. I’ve never had that and yet I can teach Sunday school and I’ve taught it since I was nineteen. Because I felt that having that spiritual root is very important. Not just for it to be Islam. Personally it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s Islam, Christianity or Judaism if my child was to want to convert. I think it’s very important for people to have a spirituality that’s based in the faith of the family that they are in. This may be a controversial thing but I really think it’s important not to run out with missionary zeal and change people’s linguistics about their spirituality and isolate them from their families. So, I think it’s important to give our children that are raised in the Islamic tradition a feeling that they’ve got some roots. That they are not apologetic about their beliefs, that they don’t have to be embarrassed, like I was, to say that they were Muslim. Or to say where they were from. So much of what they believe is the same as what everyone else believes. And that if you get to know someone, no matter who they are, the more you get to know them the more you get to realize you have more in common than you have differences. So, the linguistics doesn’t matter to me as a Muslim woman growing up here. It’s just that sense of belonging, that sense of not feeling like you’re rootless, that you don’t have a place or that you’ve got to change your name or change the way you dress to fit in with your classmates. That low sense of self-esteem that is so important for mothers to prevent children from having, because that’s a real problem. For any parent is worried about their child’s self-esteem and for Muslim parents in particular this can be a huge problem. That’s why even in this city we have Muslim parents who are having to deal with the same kind of drug problems and sexual problems, issues and turmoil that rises from a large measure from that self-esteem problem. They don’t respect their own religion because the stereotypes in the media are so overwhelming that even with the small things that you do it’s very difficult to fight the stereotypes. Eunice, whose father was one of the people who started the ISGH group in Houston, moved to California and started an MSA group, with other second generation Muslims, that actually gives Academy Award type things to people in the movie industry that create positive images of Muslims. For example, in the movie Aladdin, when they first marched out with the soldiers with the big noses talking about cutting off your hands and things like that, they forced Disney to change that first part of the movie that had such a negative stereotype. There were a lot of Muslims who were opposed to The Lion King because of the way the bad guy had a little beard and a little goatee and the nice lion was the whiter looking lion. There are a lot of stereotypes out there that are very subtle but it’s very damaging to the development of children in this society that are growing up in Muslim families. That’s my main concern. Moderator Cecile Holmes What can you do? And I think this a question that maybe we can start down here and then come back. What do you feel you can do, or have you tried to do. as an individual to counteract the stereotypes and perhaps make the world and the United States a better place for people who are Muslims? Now, how are you dealing with that issue yourself? Sabah Farooq I think it was interesting that Sarah was talking about the media. I think we have issues within the Muslim community also. What I’ve found, on a personal level, is that if I just even follow the principals that I have as a manual for life, just being a good citizen, as Mrs. Drooby had said, serving your community, doing charity work, and being involved in the community regardless of the person on a totally human level. To the point where people ask you, “Who are you? What is your belief?” They take interest in you not because you told them you’re a Muslim but because of your actions. We are taught in Islam that it is not the profession of your creed that makes you who you are, it is your righteous deeds. That is what the bottom line is, the righteous deeds that you do. I feel that, on a personal level, my behavior and my actions are foremost in deciding and telling who I am. And then on a community level, I think we have to be working more. You know we can blame the media as much as we want to, but we also have to admit that in Islam, because we do not believe in imagery, there is this whole thing about not having images in Mosques and filmmaking and imagery have a certain taboo. And we are about to change that because there’s now a lot of young people who are going in to the filmmaking industry, journalism, and photography. We also have a responsibility to bring that to the Western front. We will, hopefully, in the next generation be in the forefront. We will have some filmmakers in Hollywood, Buddha of Suburbia, New Koershe and all that will be things of the past. And maybe Salman Rushdie will be things of the past. And we will have more positive Muslim high profile media types coming in. And I think that my personally running for president of the Pakistan Association, was a very, very brave and maybe in parenthesis I could put foolish thing for me to do. (Moderator: “In retrospect anyway.”) (Audience laughs.) In retrospect. But I felt that I owed it to being a single woman, a Muslim-American Pakistani woman. I thought, let me set a role model for young people. I know it’s going to be rough going because I used to come home and sit in front of the TV for four hours and I had no idea what I was looking at. I was so numbed from the harassment and dealing with a male chauvinist society, basically. But, I felt that this was a challenge. This was something that would make me better and I, and somebody has to do it. So nobody was there to stop me. My father wasn’t there to stop me, so might as well go ahead and do it. Moderator Cecile Holmes Do you regret that choice? Sabah Farooq Not at all. I think it was a great character builder. At the time a lot of things hurt me as a woman, as a person, but people have come to me and said, “You know that was a pretty good term you had. We miss the days that you were president.” And that’s pretty gratifying. Moderator Cecile Holmes Yeah, it should be. What has been most important, and we haven’t really addressed this question directly and I want to make sure we get to it for each of you if possible, what has been most important in your personal experience of Islam? What is it about the faith, the tradition, the way of life – you touched on it a little bit – that sustains you and sort of underlines who you are and how you live? Your turn. (Indicating to Nabila Drooby.) Nabila Drooby My turn? Okay. I think what has sustained me as a believer, well now they’re discovering prayer in this country. As a believer and a woman who prays, Islam offers me comfort and a guideline. Following Shunnah and Islamic practice as much as I do, because I’m not really a practicing Muslim, offers me a framework, also guidelines on how to live. It also permits me to a lot more with other people than just my own community. Moderator Cecile Holmes So it spurs you to interact beyond…? Nabila Drooby It spurs me to interact beyond. Islam started in the Arab world but has spread all over the East and a good part of Africa. It has also reached Spain and the south of Europe. It has adapted itself to the different countries. You see Indian women wearing their saris, they are Muslims but they are wearing their saris. They’re not veiled like the other day I saw on television a Taliban woman teaching class and all that was free were her eyes and her hands. Well, that’s wonderful. This woman is teaching class. Islam has adjusted to the different environments and the different cultures. Moderator Cecile Holmes Are you saying it’s wonderful that she was in that leadership role? Nabila Drooby Yes, oh definitely. Oh, definitely. And in spite of all the controls that she is suffering. And that shows you that women are resourceful in spite of everything. But, I feel that we have been able to adjust to the different cultures. We are adjusting to this culture too. Even me, at my age, and I won’t tell you how old I am. (Laughter from the audience.) (Moderator: “I won’t ask. I didn’t give you that question before so I won’t ask.”) We are adjusting to this culture. We are hoping to take from it the best it has to offer. It’s vitality, it’s creativity, and it’s readiness to bring in change. The technology, the wonderful spirit of discovery. But we also would like to offer this country, or this community, some of the good things that we have learned through the years and also through our tradition and our culture. There is a verse in the Qur’an that says, we have created you a people of the middle. That means a people who can bring in a balance between different things. And I think this is an important role of Muslims in this country. Americans are still young, they swing from one place to another, but Muslims have learned through experience that it is better to remain within the middle. Now everybody talks about the politics. The Republicans are moving to the middle, the Democrats are moving to the middle, thank God, because they are looking at the interests of the country. They are not thinking about their interests. And I think we can contribute tremendously to our society. The problem is that we’re new. We have to fend for ourselves to begin with and we have to deal with ignorance and a situation of defensive attitude from the people in the country because of the political issues. (Moderator – “And because you are different.”) I don’t think we are very different from anyone who is sitting here. But, on the other hand, we are professional women, we are educated women, we are traveled women, there are lots of factors where we are very similar to everyone who is here. I have affinities with certain people in this room, much more than I would have with people of my own tradition. That is something personal and different. But, on the other hand we have to look at how we can contribute as a community. Moderator Cecile Holmes It sounds like the balance quotient has been very important. Did you find that was important for you? Or is there another piece of the tradition that has very much shaped you personally? Sarah? Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh Well, I grew up doubting. I’m a doubter. I made my father have heart attacks all along the way. I’d ask questions like why do people have to get married? I grew up reading MS Magazine and when Sissy Farenthold was running I wanted to vote for her and that sort of thing. I was very pro-feminism and still am in the context that I perceive feminism. I think after studying, I would say just about all religions, and actually being with people of all religions and finally deciding for myself that this context fit my ability to go from this third order to a first order plan of a value that we all share and get beyond. You can spend your whole life trying to pick and choose which first order religion, bottom line religion, you want to be in. We need to get past that and get up to - what about the values? What works for me with Islam is that it allows me to argue the point. To debate, to think to analyze. It’s just me and the Qur’an. I don’t need to go through any third parties. It’s dynamic. It’s intellectual for me. So, that works for me, the intellectual part. I think there’s also a part of it that Nabila symbolizes for me. That spiritual, ethereality of religion. Islam, I was telling my children this the other day, because of what one of the other doctors at Seven Acres had told me about things happening in the context of when they happened. And why Judaic tradition is so steeped in the ethics and the law and so much of Islamic law is also based on a lot of that. And why Christian tradition has far more than even, sometimes, Islam about love and love thy neighbor and the real human interactions that are important in spirituality that have nothing to do with rules. And then Islam comes in a context of trying to put that together. Here there are rules and there is a need to focus on human interactions. And there are also very important third dimensions. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re responsible for your choices. You alone, not your husband, not your family, not your husband’s brother, you’re responsible for your actions and what you believe. You’re responsible for what you do to the extent that you know what you’ve… (Moderator –“ Sounds like that’s shaped who you are.”) For me that ability to be more intellectual about it and to be more in control works for me in terms of Islam. Moderator Cecile Holmes What about you Sabah? What are your reflections about the balance? Intellectual freedom? As a businesswoman you may have a particular perspective that we haven’t touched on. And speak personally or professionally from whatever perspective. Sabah Farooq Okay. I’ll give you my personal example. I grew up in the 70���s. In my introduction they mentioned that I had a multi-national upbringing. I went to school in Germany. That was my first language that I spoke. By the time I was twelve years old we had been to 48 countries already. So, I probably would have been a mess if it hadn’t been for Islam. That is the conclusion. But, you know, growing up in the 70’s in the United States, those of you who remember how it was, it was a time of great discord. And, at a tender age in teenage years, to go school to deal with peer pressure, the drug scene, I easily could have been one of those statistics. When you are already transplanted in a new nation, which was Pakistan that was my family’s background, then to come transplanted again into the United States. And having been through all those countries, this constant upheaval and being uprooted. If you don’t have a central core that constantly grounds you like Islam grounded me, and, of course, I give credit to my parents because while other people were going on summer vacations we had to sit three hours and study Islam and Urdu, which is our language. And also by the way typing which came in handy later. (Audience laughs.) I agree with Sarah. When you read the Qur’an the amazing thing is that it constantly challenges you. It says, will you not think? Will you not reason? It challenges you to question. And I say, what happened to that? This is something that is totally contrary to what everybody perceives us as Muslims to be, anything but reasoning. We are perceived as a monolithic religion that shoots from the hip. We all react in unison to somebody who says even the slightest things against our religion, i.e. Salman Rushdie, etc., etc. But really the ideal Islam was achieved in the 14th century in Spain where there was extreme tolerance. It was a religion of progress, change, reason and science. It was a religion very much steeped in what we call in American the consummate work ethic. That is what Islam is. And I say wow it’s so amazing that this is so parallel to the American way of life. And I’m able to practice this because I’m here. So, I feel that we come back again and again to this balance. And I hope that this sense of balance will achieve that era again because that was the Golden Age where Jews and Muslims and Christians lived together. (Moderator – “All in Spain?”) All in Spain, yes. That was before the Inquisition. (Audience laughter.) Moderator Cecile Holmes Very definitely. I want us to have plenty of time for questions from those of us who’ve joined this. But I’d like to do two things…. All three of you have talked at great length about your responsibilities as women in Islam, the need to prepare the way for the next generation while honoring the tradition and fighting the stereotypes. If I asked you, and I frequently do this with people in an interview, to summarize what the legacy that you would like to pass on, whether it be passed directly to your children or to your community, in a sentence or a paragraph -–what would you say? What is it that you don’t want to not make sure you leave as a Muslim and as a woman? Sabah Farooq I guess I’ll start first since Mrs. Drooby said something about husbands. (Audience laughs.) I am the only Muslim divorcee on the panel here. And I think that for awhile that was a painful thing. And I was married to a Muslim man. But I think I consider it a blessing now to have successfully functioned in this community, in this country, as a Muslim and not only find it something that is doable but also finding it something of an ideal combination. And I think that is my role of what I would like to pass on. I would like younger women to see that it is something that is…. Constantly going back to what guides me, the Qur’an. Moderator Cecile Holmes Sarah? Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh I agree with you and I think that we focus a lot and I’ve always focused on women and how we need to get our needs met and our control and our power over our lives. As a mother of two sons and a daughter (who, you know, God help the man she marries) I’m more concerned now, at this phase in my life, with what’s happening to men in this society. Women are stronger than they’ve ever been and more in control than they’ve ever been. And if you look at strong women, like Oprah, they’re the kind of role models we have for our spirituality, just as a society not talking about specific religions, we’ve become a lot more in tune with creating that for ourselves. I’m really worried about my sons and what kind of sons we’re raising because I don’t think we’re focusing on what is the man’s role and what kind of issues do men have and what kind of esteem problems are men having. And I see that when we stop thinking about that and we focus so much on let’s get our rights. We need to step back and say – if we don’t raise men who feel confident in their own selves to be able to let women alone and to do their thing – we’re gonna have problems. We���re gonna have the divorce problems and the relationship problems that are gonna just tear this country apart I think in terms of creating safe families for children to be raised in. So, that’s my focus I think for the future. I really want to, when I teach the teenage classes that I do, focus on getting women, young girls to understand what’s going on with men as well. And the same for teenage boys, to start thinking about their responsibilities and the way they perceive women. Because it’s still very negative what men perceive. You talk to teenage boys and it’s still a very negative image that they have and it effects the esteem of teenage girls. For example, one of the things that one of the students told me, was that one of our graduates, who’s gone on to become very religious, very orthodox, came back. She was fasting in high school one day and she didn’t have her hijab and he says, “but you can’t be fasting, if you don’t wear your hijab.” And they all define themselves to a person, all of my entire class, that they weren’t really Muslims, they weren’t true Muslims. Islam just means submission to the will of God. It’s up to you to interpret whether you’re doing that. You know, if I was submitting to the will of God I wouldn’t eat so much chocolate. (Laughter from audience.) That doesn’t mean I’m not trying. Our perceptions of ourselves are based on what other people are telling us, and this whole issue of hijabs… You know I teach my students, there’s this one little verse that says - cover your bosoms with the veils that are on your head – well, like Dr. Klein was telling me, people in Arab society must have been walking around with their boobs hanging out. Prohibitions came to places where things were happening that shouldn’t be. (Nabila Drooby –“ I wish it came now.”) I’m with you on that. But that’s the only verse. For a Muslim woman trying to deal with other Muslim communities in this society our biggest problem is that we��re always back to, why aren’t you wearing a hijab? You must not be a Muslim if you’re not wearing a hijab. Even women that I really respect say it’s a big jigsaw puzzle and that one piece, if it���s missing then you don’t get the whole picture. Well I disagree with that. And I feel like I have a right to disagree with that interpretation. But we are always, even as Muslims having to fight. We’re stuck in the middle of the American society as a whole that is putting us down for being Muslim in the first place. And Muslim men who tell us we’re not being Muslim enough. So, it’s a difficult scenario in this country and I think that we have some very strong female role models in American society now. There is a speaker from Tennessee, an Islamic studies expert, that’s been doing her own interpretation of the Arabic and the Qur’an. There are other physicians, like Dr. Tozani in Dallas who’ve done some very good interpretive work of the Qur’an. And I think those role models are gonna be good for women. The freedom that we have in this country to be able to do that shouldn’t be neglected. We all in our religious backgrounds have so much more freedom to do that soul searching on our own than if we were in any other country, no matter what religion. We should take advantage of it and be at the forefront of this process. Nabila Drooby I feel that one of the objectives that I have tried to do and maybe help in some way is establishing better contacts between the different traditions. I am forever grateful to Dominique Menil for establishing the Rothko Chapel and giving me, amongst others, the opportunity to do that type of work. It is very appropriate to my beliefs. It is appropriate to my aspirations and I think it’s a necessity for this community. The other thing that I would like to raise is, the point that this coming millenium, as we are talking about it, there is a swing back to the need of having a spiritual life. I’m not saying a religious life but a spiritual life. Our spiritual dimension has not died. It has always lived. It will live in spite of all the science, all the money, all of everything. Whenever we are faced with a crisis we look for something to help us. And this something or someone or whatever it is, is part of our being. Some call it our soul, some call it our faith, some call it unity with our creator but that’s a very important factor. And I think that there will be more and more men and women who will be seeking that dimension and there will be more and more men and women who will help in that direction. It does not negate science, it does not negate theology, and it does not negate technology. It is a necessity for the human being to have something else. We all reach an age when we say – Okay, we’ve made it. So what? What’s next? – And I think it’s important to give our young people the feeling that there is something they should search and look for and try to discover for themselves. In a beautiful sunset, as you were saying, a few minutes ago, in a gesture of friendship or in an understanding of somebody else who is different, who’s in trouble. Then we have achieved something. I’d like to read something. May I? I’d like to read this verse because people always think that we are just Muhammedans. The Apostle and the believers with him believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on High by his sustainer. They all believe in God and His angels and His revelations and His apostles. Making no distinctions between any of his apostles. And they say: We have heard and we pay heed. Grant us thy forgiveness oh, our sustainer for with thee is all journeys end. God does not burden any human being with more than he is well able to bear. In his favor shall be whatever good he does and against him whatever evil he does. Oh our sustainer, take us not task if we forget to unwittingly do wrong. Oh our sustainer lay not upon us a burden such as thou didst lay upon those who lived before us. Oh our sustainer, make us not bear burdens which we have no strength to bear. And deface thou our sins and grant us forgiveness and bestow thy mercy upon us. Thou art our Lord supreme. Secure us against people who deny the truth. This is why I feel we can all share. It doesn’t matter who is my prophet or your prophet we are here to share in our humanity. And I felt this verse was important for tonight. Moderator Cecile Holmes I’d like to thank our panelists. (Applause.) I think that cards have been passed out if we have some questions. Audience? What I’m going to do is read the questions and then let whichever of the three of you would like to try to answer. The first question is: “Is there one Islam? If not how and why does Islam differ?” Sabah Farooq Yes, there is one Islam. It is something so natural to me that I say – but of course. But you will see different manifestations of it in different cultures. Moderator Cecile Holmes Do you want to elaborate on that a little? (Indicating to Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh.) Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh You want to compare it to the sects of Christianity. There is one Christianity but there are hundreds of, I don’t know the exact count, sects. The two main groups being Catholicism and Protestantism. In Islam there are two main groups that people talk about. It’s the Shiah and the Soni and they vary more in history than in basic belief. It’s the history of how they developed. But there are actually 72 different sects in Islam. They all believe the things that Nabila said about one God and Muhammad was his Prophet. And from there things differ based on traditions and nationality and local leaders and charismatic leaders. Just like you see in Christianity with the Methodist movement and the Lutheran movement, etc. You are going to see the same kind of variability as we as humans are able to embellish and change things to fit what we need. And that’s fine. Everybody needs to have a faith that fits their personal needs or else it’s not going to do them any good. My needs are not going to be the same as someone else. I think it’s fine. I think the more diversity there is…. It’s sort of like a political system with many parties rather than just one. If you just have one it’s not going to serve everyone. Its not as divided though, I think, in Islam because it doesn’t have that structural clerical hierarchy that Christianity does. So you don’t have the institutionalized images that you do with Christianity. But there are differences of opinion. And there are even differences of opinion within Shiahism. Even in Iran there are so many different Oman that people follow and everyone has different beliefs even within that small microcosm of Islam. Moderator Cecile Holmes I want to interject this question here because I thought about it earlier but I didn’t want to interrupt the train of thought of whichever one of you was speaking at the time. Someone in the audience asked: “What is ISGH?” Would one of you like to address that question because I think that’s important to our discussion? We’re talking about Islamic Society of Greater Houston. I think you have a good bit on the history. Could you give just a little capsule perhaps? Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh We moved here in 1967 and several families from different Shielisondi started off, actually, in my mother’s kitchen and moved on to take the wall out between the den and the living room. And it got to be too small for us so we moved from there to the Institute of Religion. It eventually moved to a building on Richmond. I don’t know if any of you remember the old building on Richmond? Some time during or after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 the land on Eastside was purchased and the main center is there. Now it’s just grown by leaps and bounds. I’m not actively involved any longer, but there’s local Majits throughout Houston and all the different areas. Sabah Farooq We have one in the northeast, northwest, there’s a central… Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh Within ISGH? There are 52 mosques of all different groups now. As far as the history…that’s it. Moderator Cecile Holmes There’s a second piece here that I think is important. And, again, a lot of times I find that the basics are what I need to know and what other people… The person, who asked the question, asks – “I’m confused. Are Islam, Moslem and Muslim the same?” Nabila Drooby Islam is the religion and the faith. Islam means surrendering to God. Muslim is the man, or the person, who has embraced Islam. And Moslem is a transliteration of Muslim. Sabah Farooq Mrs. Drooby maybe you could explain the Arabic word roots? If you notice Islam, Muslim and Moslem is S, L and M. This is the way the Arabic language is. Just the slightest differentiation in the vowel part of it defines the word or the meaning of it. But it has a related meaning. Moderator Cecile Holmes It’s a complicated language. I think that again we are on basics – and I’m going to go to a couple of other questions in just a minute. Would one of you explain, in abbreviated form, the background and history of the founding of Islam? When? Where? Etc… (Panel: Mrs. Drooby – “Oh, my!” The other two panelists murmur.) I do this to people all the time. It just sends them into spasms. Somebody make a stab at it. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh You want my perception of it? Moderator Cecile Holmes That’s fine. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh I think when Adam was created… (Audience laughs.) (Moderator – “We asked for that. Sorry.”) I see it as a continuum of when evolution, if you want to believe in evolution and I do, got to the point where man was given the freedom of choice. The choice to submit to the laws of nature and the Creator or the choice not to. And whether those are the laws of physics or geometry or gravity or whatever, these are the laws of nature and the laws of our Creator thereby. So that’s, to me, where Islam started. As far as the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, that’s a complicated history and you asked for this to be abbreviated. We believe that the angel Gabriel brought the revelation to the prophet Muhammad. He was meditating in a cave when the first revelation came to him. And the first revelation was Hitra. Am I correct? My Islamic… my education as far as this, I learned this at Rice. I took a course in Western Religions. So he says Hitra to a man. Read. To a man who is illiterate. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon you, was illiterate. It started with that and the verses came over time directly to Muhammad. And he in turn had scribes write these verses. And so we believe them to be direct revelation from God. We believe they have been separated from the teachings of Muhammad himself, which are the Hadith and the Sunnah, things that Muhammad would have been asked. To compare it to things that are in the Gospels for example, that the Apostles would have written relating what Jesus said. Those are in Hadith and Sunnah. But what is in the Qur’an is what we believe was directly revealed, so it’s God’s word. It’s Him or it’s Her in the first person speaking to Muhammad. Moderator Cecile Holmes You did a great job. Much better than I could have done. I want to turn to a slightly difficult question. We’ve talked about misconceptions that people have about Islam and I think that there is a perception that institutions like polygamy and the general process of inheritance may be weighted against women. The question as it came in is: “Aren’t many of Islam’s institutions like polygamy and inheritance more easily turned against women?” I suspect you may have come across that question in your life. Would one of you like…? Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh My blood pressure is going up already. (Audience laughter.) Moderator Cecile Holmes I have a rescue team. (Audience laughter.) Sabah Farooq I want to defer that to Mrs. Drooby because I…. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh I’ll go for it. I’ll go for it. (Sabah Farooq – “Well, go for it.”) I think anytime people are in a situation where they want to oppress someone else, they are going to use any means they have to do it. The verse about polygamy let me just get to that one and just get that one out of the way. There’s a few things in the Qur’an of which I’m always perplexed and I try to avoid them because so much of the Qur’an talks about charity and righteousness and so many of the most important things. And these things seem so miniscule to me, but they anger me. It’s like – why does it say this? It’s got to be wrong. And my feeling is, if I’m submitting to the will of God, and God’s telling me that this isn’t right, it’s probably not right. Sort of like the cat that sniffs at the food and just knows it’s not good. There’s something wrong with this and someday I’ll figure out what’s wrong. Dr. Tozani had an interpretation where she was looking at that verse on polygamy. And it not only says marry one, two, three or four. It says marry them by ones and twos and threes and fours. But this is a responsibility. It’s a plural one and two and three. It’s a responsibility in a situation where women are widowed, they have children, they need the support. That you not just help them financially, give them some money, but in a society where inheritance is going to be important, to give the children that social support you must marry them. You can’t just take them on as concubines and not let their children inherit equally to your own children. You must marry them. You must marry them by the one and the twos and the threes and the fours. But, you must treat them all equally if you do. And God knows that you can’t. And that’s what the verse says. God knows that this is something that is very hard to do. So this is something for the person who has got this amazing fortitude to be able to treat other people equally. But it’s a responsibility not a privilege and that’s where the misinterpretation has come about. And that’s what angers me about the way Muslim men will interpret this. In Iran they are really taking advantage of it. You hear about older men going out and marrying a few more wives. If there’s lots of men around who don’t have wives, they are not supposed to be doing this. According to the verse in the Qur’an. They way I read it. That’s one verse. And what was the other one that they had asked about? Inheritance laws? You’re talking about inheritance laws in the ideal society that you said only occurred in the 14th century, in a society where women are not responsible. And Islamic women are not responsible for the care of anyone else. Men are financially responsible. And if the men are financially responsible then they have to inherit more to be able to support their sisters that may be unmarried and other unmarried women in the family. It’s because of that responsibility, again, if men would look at it as a responsibility and not a privilege and take those responsibilities seriously that’s fine. If they take the money and run and don'’ take care of their female family, then that’s against Islam. Sabah Farooq Let me interject here one more thing. One of the most beautiful things I find, in relation to inheritance and the man’s role as a provider, is that in Islam a woman has a right to work. The Prophet married a woman that was 15 years older than he was and she was a very successful businesswoman. And that’s why he openly declared his preference for women over men. Which was very irritating to his companions a lot of times especially (…Omar the third … and all that.) A woman is allowed to work, however, the man has no right to what the woman earns. It is up to her if she wants to give it and it’s still his job to be the provider. And I find that is an extremely emancipating principle. Moderator Cecile Holmes Let me chime in with another question because I want as much of the voices of those who are with us to be part of this. And I think it’s appropriate here. The question was: “How or why do issues of poverty and economic oppression seem to attach themselves to issues of faith? In Islam, Christianity or other religions.” I think it’s a very interesting question. This is probably in your ballpark. (Gesturing to Mrs. Drooby.) If you’re comfortable. Nabila Drooby It’s a command in every religion to take care of the oppressed and the poor. (Searches for a passage.) Moderator Cecile Holmes From the front row comes – “Any religion is an answer to providing hope. Religion provides people who are poor and needy with some hope.” So issues of oppression and injustice piggyback upon issues of despair and uncertainty? “Yes.” Nabila Drooby (Reading from the passage.) And how could you refuse to fight in the cause of God? And of the utterly helpless men and women and children who are crying? Oh our Sustainer, lead us forth to freedom out of this land. Those people are oppressors. And raise for us out of thy grace a Protector. And raise for us out of thy grace one who will bring us Succour. I think every religion thinks of the oppressed and the poor. And we don’t do enough. Moderator Cecile Holmes It’s a theological question in other words. Nabila Drooby Yes. Sabah Farooq I think one of the things that the Qur’an tells you over and over again is that this life is basically a test. That we are here whether you are rich or you are poor. As a poor person you might find solace in religion but if as a rich person you forget God then God is the supreme justice. He’s going to make sure that, sooner or later; there is justice for the poor. And he is most beneficent and most merciful. And I think there is this equalization. There’s this ability for a poor person and a rich person to find solace and hope. And the rich person is warned that they should act like the true trees that bear fruit. The heavier and the riper the fruit get the more they should humble themselves. That is a direct phrase from the Qur’an. Instead of being arrogant, there’s constant admonishment against being arrogant and to walk with your chin up on this earth and all that. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh I see another side to that question. If I may? I don’t know if that’s what the writer intended but the question – how does oppression and poverty always get intermingled with religion? That’s because religion is the ultimate power when dealing with a group of people that you want to control. “Well God said it.” (Audience laughs.) So, how can you argue? If you look at any society where religion is used to control the people and continue the oppression, whether it’s the Sahud family in Saudi Arabia or the Taliban or the issues that go on in Northern Ireland. Any society where people are oppressing others, the easiest way to do it is through the ultimate power, unfortunately. Moderator Cecile Holmes I have the unpleasant task of having more questions than we have time to ask. I am going to try to put out a couple of them. We will have a social time afterwards and I would invite you. I did ask our panel to stay. Please feel comfortable to put your questions to them. If I have not gotten to your question, I apologize. We just never have enough time. This is important because it deals with misconception again: “Can you answer the question of – does divorce legally exist within Islam as a religion? Can a woman initiate divorce proceedings or only a man? Can a man prevent a woman from obtaining a divorce as in ultra-Orthodox Judaism?” (That’s according to the question.) Sabah Farooq Everybody is looking at me. (Audience laughter.) Moderator Cecile Holmes I don’t think it’s fair for Sabah to have to answer this, unless you want to. You don’t have to. Dr. Sarah Noorbaksh There’s a verse in the Qur’an about divorce. Sabah Farooq There’s a very simple and wonderful way that God explains divorce. Yes, as a Muslim woman you have the right to divorce. And this started in the 7th century. If you really think about what the condition of women was all around, not just in Pre-Islamic Arabia but in Europe also. Women didn’t even have a right to exist as human beings. But, yes a woman has a right to divorce. God says that one of the things that he dislikes the most, but allows, is divorce. So divorce has been in existence since the very inception of Islam. In fact many of the women that the Prophet married were either widows or divorcees, victims of war, women who had been previously married with children. There are certain rules that you may have heard about, where the man just declares three times – I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you. – And the woman has been divorced. And I think all of you have been watching that movie “Not Without My Daughter” or something like that. (Audience laughter.) Moderator Cecile Holmes Let me move on to another question quickly. And then I’m going to ask Nabila to help us close. This question came in early. And it’s actually a three parter, so I think I’m just going to lay it out and then ask you to try to tackle a piece of it at least. The question is: “How do you define family? Who is your community? And is there a difference between religion and faith?” And since we can’t stay here until the third volume, even though it’s a little over a month away. (Audience laughs.) Perhaps – how do you define family and who is your community? - I think that question is being asked within the context of this law. And I think that’s important. That’s a piece we haven’t touched on in great depth. Nabila Drooby There is a difference between the concept of family here and the concept of family in Islam. The extended family is very important in Islamic tradition. I think that this is an issue that also needs to be looked at even from our American society. The need for maintaining the relationship between the parents, the grandparents, the children and the grandchildren. The concept of family is more extended. The concept of community; first of all you owe yourselves to your Oman, the community of Muslims. All Muslims have also lived in different communities and they owe themselves the respect and collaboration with all the community in which they are living. Their neighbor, the farer – the person who’s traveling in front of you – you owe him or her the same obligations you owe to your own community. So it’s much more extended. Moderator Cecile Holmes Nabila, when we started, said that she had a lighter note that she would like to help us close on. And I find often that religion is not all dull or always serious because it is in fact the stuff of life. So I thoroughly encouraged her to please help us end the formal part of our discussion. Nabila Drooby I want to read about a woman who is the great-granddaughter of the Prophet, who was born in AD 671. Her name is (Sukana?) Sukana was a strong woman. Like in all societies and all communities there are some strong women. There are many here. (Audience laughs.) And she refused the (Hijab?) Nevertheless some of them did try to resist, some of them rejected the Hijab about Muslim women. They claimed the right to go out Barzah, unveiled. A word which they added to the Islamic dictionary. A Barzah woman is one who does not hide her face and does not lower her head. And the dictionary adds that the Barzah woman is one who is seen by people and who receives visitors at home. A Barzah woman is also a woman who has sound judgment. A Barzah man or woman is someone known for their reasoning. Who are they these Muslim women who have resisted the Hijab? The most famous was Sukana. Sukana was born in year 49 of the Hijirah. She was celebrated for her beauty. For what the Arabs call beauty, an explosive mixture of physical attractiveness, critical intelligence and caustic wit. The most powerful men debated with her. Kailifs and princes proposed marriage to her, which she disdained for political reasons. Nevertheless, she ended up marrying five, some say six, husbands. She quarreled with some of them, made passionate declarations of love to others, brought one to court for infidelity, and never pledged obedience to any one of them. In her marriage contracts she stipulated that she would not obey her husband but would do as she pleased. And that she did not acknowledge that her husband had the right to practice polygamy. All this was the result of her interest in political affairs and poetry. She continued to receive visits from poets and, despite her several marriages, to attend the meetings of Yokrashi Tribal Council, the equivalent of today’s democratic municipal councils. Her personality has fascinated historians who have devoted pages and pages sometimes biographies to her. This is a free woman in 671. And I think I would like to comment about the divorce. Marriage is a civil contract in Islam and you can put in it whatever you want. The problem with women and the protectors of women is that women don’t know that they have that right. And their protectors don’t tell them that they have that right. (Audience laughs.) So, I think that is a very big issue. I think it’s very important to educate Muslim women about their rights as well as their responsibilities. Moderator Cecile Holmes And definitely about the woman in the book. Right? (Audience laughter.) She sounds like a good role model. Thank you so much for being with us this evening. And please join me in thanking our panelists. (Audience applauds.) 29