A large portion of global current events coverage in the last year has been directed towards Arab revolutions and their subsequent political transformations–and rightfully so. But Arab Middle Eastern countries aren’t the only places where significant protests have arisen; from Moscow to Malé, Lhasa to Quito, Athens to Delhi, people have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to distribution inequality, ethnic/religious persecution, and corruption. One story that slipped largely under the radar earlier this year is notable for its multifaceted issues as well as some of its parallels to Egypt. Nigeria was the location. Like most of the Arab revolutions of the past year and a half, it was the local Nigerian population, not international actors, that catalyzed the opposition movement and was the source of the protest’s relative success.
On March 11th, Amina Filali, a 16-year-old Moroccan girl who had been raped, committed suicide by swallowing rat poison. Filali killed herself after she was forced to marry the rapist. This was in accordance with a controversial section of the Moroccan penal code called Article 475, which states that a “kidnapper” of a minor can marry the victim to escape persecution. The article has been extended to include rape victims. Many Moroccans are outraged by Filali’s suicide and have begun Facebook petitions to change the article. Twitter has also been used to get Filali’s story out. Continue reading
Among the millions of slaves brought to North America through the transatlantic slave trade, several million were Muslims. Some of these people were literate and left behind manuscripts that attest to their experience of slavery, their continued commitment to Islam, and their ability to negotiate a space to express their identities. In the next Inside Islam radio show on November 7th, Jean will talk with Ala Alryyes, the author of the book A Muslim American Slave: The Arabic ‘Life’ of Omar Ibn Said. In his work, Alryyes examines Omar Ibn Said‘s autobiography, which he maintains is “the only extant Arabic autobiography written by a slave in the United States.” Continue reading
When most people think of Brazil, images of Carnival, soccer, and beaches likely come to mind. All three are alive and well, and recent changes to Brazilian culture may add new visual associations with “the land of happiness.” While still not widespread, Muslim women wearing headscarves and men dressed in long djellaba robes are becoming an increasingly more common sight among the vast array of peoples and cultures that make up Brazilian society. Islam, predominately concentrated in São Paulo, is growing throughout Brazil, but it is anything but new to the eastern shores of South America.
Sharia, an Arabic word translated as “way” or “path,” is the code of conduct or religious law in Islam, and has been the subject of a number of recent hate rallies and growing prejudice against Muslims in the U.S. and around the world. A few countries with significant Muslim minority populations have experimented with various ways of integrating sharia into their legal systems, often using it in civil law situations involving divorce, inheritance, etc. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 156 million people, is a good example of the diverse forms of sharia implementation.
Perhaps the most significant world event since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been broadcast around the world: the Egyptian people have overthrown now ex-President Hosni Mubarak through 18 days of peaceful protests. Much of mainstream western media has been in a frenzy over what will come next in Egypt and how the Muslim-majority country will “fair” in “dealing with democracy.” Countless journalists, news articles, and pundits have painted a frightening picture of the Muslim Brotherhood as a violent, Islamic extremist organization on the brink of an Iranian Revolution style takeover of Egypt, imposing Shariah law, and going to war with Israel. In contrast, Howard Schweber, Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin termed these characterizations “hysterical fear mongering” and called the possibility of Egypt going to war with Israel “wildly implausible.”
Alexander Hanna is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He studies social movements in the Middle East and political uses of social media. He is currently in Cairo.
Mainstream news outlets have been making a lot of noise about the Muslim Brotherhood and the possible Islamist threat coming from the impending downfall of President Mubarak’s 30 year-old regime. This point is generally overstressed — although the Muslim Brotherhood is a large opposition group and has been supporting the protests in the past few days, they were not the progenitors of the uprising and are not the current leaders of it.
Video: Alexander Hanna
Since the international media started following the situation in Egypt closely, a number of inaccurate, ignorant, and occasionally racist commentary from otherwise reputable new sources have been passed over without a thought. Since we write about Islam and Muslims, and Egypt is 90% Muslim, we thought it was relevant. And funny. The blogger Sarthanapalos has received a great deal of attention for this response:
Mona Mogahed is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lived in Cairo between 2008-2009. She is a native of Madison, Wisconsin and currently resides in Washington, DC.
When a wave of self-immolation attempts began sweeping the Arab world following the now historic actions of Tunisian citizen Mohamed Bouazizi, Muslim clerics scrambled to issue statements condemning suicide in Islam. Al-Azhar, the world’s most respected institution of Sunni learning, released a statement declaring that “Islam categorically forbids suicide for any reason,” while a Saudi scholar called self-immolation a “great sin” and asserted that Islam “bans suicide even if living conditions are hard.” Of course, few Muslims would argue that suicide is not forbidden in Islam, but both the timing and nature of these statements left little doubt that the dictums were government directives – urging citizens to refrain from the extreme forms of protest that led to the eventual ousting of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. One Azhar sheikh even went so far as to claim that protesting was forbidden in Islam (other Azhar scholars did the responsible thing by disagreeing with him, even calling Ben Ali’s removal a pious act).
It has long been a strategy of dictatorial governments like Mubarak’s 30-year old regime to try using Islam as an effective means to control citizens, appealing to a common currency that few would muster enough sacrilege to object to (with Azhar-sanctioned legitimacy, the regime has God on its side after all). And Egyptians are indeed a deeply religious people – arguably the most religious in the world. A recent Gallup poll found that a whopping 99% of Egyptians answered “Yes” to the question “Is religion an important part of your daily life?”
It comes as a surprise to some, therefore, that the country’s current popular uprising has not taken on an explicitly Islamic bent. Protesters’ demands are quite simple: get Mubarak out. The role Islam has played thus far has been mostly organic and far from political. Until today, the most successful demonstrations took place on Friday, January 28th. These protests were scheduled immediately following the Friday prayers, benefiting from the already-critical masses which regularly turn out to attend these services. Committed protesters paused their chants in order to line up and perform daily prayers, bowing and prostrating beneath riot police and military tanks, gestures extensively documented in a slew of powerful images and videos.
But these were not political acts. These were merely practicing Muslims taking a few moments to perform prayer as they would on any other occasion, whether they were battling Egyptian security forces over control of a major bridge, or just experiencing a regular day in the office.
What does this mean for the revolution? Regardless of who takes rule after Mubarak, be it explicitly religious leadership such as the Muslim Brotherhood or a more secular figure like Mohamed El-Baradei, the powerful place religion occupies in the hearts and minds of Egyptians is unlikely to be affected. Contrary to an unfortunate misunderstanding espoused by government-puppet Muslim clerics and anti-Muslim zealots seeking to pit religion against freedom, lived Islam cannot be boiled down to a mere instrument of control or a series of punitive measures. In fact, as in the Egyptian uprising, the faith there is so much a part of Egyptian life that it seems to transcend such politics. It is there, simply as a matter of course, motivating people, enriching their lives, informing their decisions (both political and, more often, just everyday), but may ultimately go unaffected by the outcome of this historic moment.
What role does religion play in the current Egyptian protests and elsewhere? The majority of these protesters are Muslim. How does that change the perception of Islam?