American Muslim voices-Things you might not have heard from them before


Racism and Islamophobia are hideous, counterproductive, provincial inventions that afflict our society and reduce its effectiveness.  It is meant to nominalize the voices of its victims and dehumanize them and de-value  anything they have to say.  The following article written by an American Muslim expresses a view probably shared by a majority of non Muslim Americans which they might never hear coming from an American Muslim, and while it should not be a deal clincher, should emphasize the commonality that Americans have with one another.

What’s Up With Muslims and Dogs?
I’m not a big follower of reality television, but was happy to hear about TLC’s new reality show “All-American Muslim.” We know that personal contact is the best way to break down stereotypes, but with Muslims less than 2% of the U.S. population, many Americans will never get to know a Muslim. Meeting us through reality television might not be ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

After watching “All-American Muslim” for a few weeks, I now believe that the show is good for our community beyond the way it might lessen prejudice against Muslims. The additional benefit is that the show has engaged our community in discussing some of the many challenges we face making distinctions between critical religious values and flexible cultural practices. In the fourth episode, the issue of Muslims having dogs in the home came up, and this is worth further discussion.

In this episode, newlywed Arab-American Shadia tells Jeff, her Irish-American convert husband, that she does not want his dog to move with them to their new home. Shadia has allergies, and her asthma is exacerbated by the dog’s hair. This is an understandable and common dilemma. But Shadia bolsters her position with statements about the impermissibility for a Muslim to have dogs in the home. Her father will not pray in the house if the dog is there, she says, because dog hair is impure and a prayer space needs to be pure. Later, Shadia backs off from the religious argument, admitting that the main reason she doesn’t want a dog in the house is “I wasn’t raised with dogs; I’m not used to them.” I appreciated this moment of honesty. The use of a religious norm as a trump card in an argument we want to win is a temptation we all face.

So what is the Islamic position about dogs? In fact, there are a variety of opinions according to different legal schools. The majority consider the saliva of dogs to be impure, while the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs, only considering the saliva of the latter to be impure. The question for Muslims observant of other schools of law is, what are the implications of such an impurity?

These Muslims should remember that there are many other impurities present in our homes, mostly in the form of human waste, blood, and other bodily fluids. It is fairly common for such impurities to come in contact with our clothes, and we simply wash them off or change our clothes for prayer. When you have children at home, it sometimes seems you can never get away from human waste. But we manage it, often by designating a special space and clothing kept clean for prayer.

Some Muslims object to having a dog in the home because of a prophetic report that angels do not enter a home with dogs in it. If a Muslim accepts this report as authentic, it still requires an analysis of context to determine its meaning and legal application. Ordinary people are not recipients of divine revelation through angelic messengers, so it is possible that this statement, although in general form, might suggest a rule for the Prophet’s home, not all homes. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact the Qur’an states that angels are always present, protecting us and recording our good and bad actions.

Whatever the implications of this report, there is no doubt that the Qur’an is positive about dogs. The Qur’an allows the use of hunting dogs, which is one of the reasons the Maliki school makes a distinction between domestic and wild dogs – since we can eat game that has been in a retriever’s mouth. But most compelling is the Qur’anic description of a dog who kept company with righteous youths escaping religious persecution. The party finds shelter in a cave where God places them in a deep sleep; the Qur’an (18:18) says:

You would have thought them awake, but they were asleep And [God] turned them on their right sides then on their left sides And their dog stretched his forelegs across the threshold

This tender description of the dog guarding the cave makes it clear that the animal is good company for believers. Legal scholars might argue about the proper location of the dog – that he should stay on the threshold of the home, not inside – but home designs vary across cultures. In warm climates, an outdoor courtyard is a perfectly humane place for a dog – its physical and social needs can be met in the yard. This is not the case in cold climates, where people stay indoors most of the day for months at a time.

Extreme concern about the uncleanliness of dogs likely arose historically as Islam became more of an urban phenomenon. In medieval cities, as in modern cities in underdeveloped countries, crowding of people and animals leads to the rapid spread of disease and animal control is not a priority. A few run-ins with an aggressive or diseased animal can result in excessive caution, fear and negativity.

I have long felt badly that many Muslims fear dogs as a result of negative experiences and that they resort to confused religious reasoning to shun them. It is one of the reasons why I try to introduce my students and friends to my very sweet, very large dog Ziggy.

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Ziggy came into our home to be like the dog in the cave: to keep company to my child who lies in exile from the world because of a debilitating illness. He has been nothing but a blessing – guarding the house while we sleep, forcing me to exercise daily, and showing us, as he happily follows our tiny cat around the yard, that if cats and dogs can get along so well, then we people have no excuse.

There is another reason why I love having my dog around. Ziggy came from Tennessee. He was rescued by an animal control officer who uses her own resources to save dogs who would otherwise be destroyed in a few days. Tina saves as many dogs as she can by bringing them home and putting them up for adoption on the internet. When I called Tina to speak about adopting Ziggy, she had 65 dogs she had rescued out in her yard. After being disheartened by some terrible things that have come out of Tennessee lately – mosque burnings and anti-Shari`ah legislation among them – I love looking at Ziggy and thinking about the woman with the thick southern accent and big heart who saved his life.

 

All American Muslim


A lot has been said and written about the TLC channel’s new reality television show, All American Muslim.  TLC claims the show’s intent is to “look at life in Dearborn, Michigan–home to the largest mosque in the United States–through the lens of five Muslim American families….offering an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community” and in this day and age of Islamophobia and bigotry becoming so acceptable and widespread a phenomenon, such goals are noble, righteous and worth pursuing.  Being categorized as aa ‘reality television show’ has already put the show at an extreme disadvantage for such ambitious objectives.  A look at the reality shows lists that are are now or have been on television is a rather dismal look at American society….not necessarily because America is bad, but because the track record of reality television certainly is.  Reality shows are staged, scripted and heavily edited to offer to the viewing public a sleazy, seedy slice of human life.  Staged means producers and those who put such shows together encourage cast members to take on personae meant to either enforce stereotypes or appeal to as wide a segment of the population in order to keep such shows financially profitable.  In other words acts of violence, nudity, sex or simulated sex become the mainstay of such shows in order to keep viewers which in turn prompts advertisers to buy advertisement on such programs, no matter how deleterious the effects such programming may have on the public.  Already web denizens have been treated to fatuous discussions and pictures about one of the cast members’ change of hair color and other assorted body parts; this is what reality tv brings to the table, in order to quench the insatiable appetite for sex and titillation for which we in America have become accustomed.  No one should be happy that a value system, belief, faith, culture, heritage, ethnicity to which they belong has found a home in such a genre considering its track record.  Moreover, why do we need television to drive home the point that American Muslims are just like any other group of Americans; that they encompass a wide spectrum of ideals, loyalties and types of people like any other group of people who’ve inhabited our shores.

For the last decade we’ve been besieged with notions of our exceptionalism, which should include among other things our excellence in intelligence and enlightenment, but it seems we are below average in exhibiting these characteristics which are essential in building and maintaining an exceptional society.  Rather we are plagued with the Islamophobic notions expressed by politicians and pundits alike which incite Americans to ever lower depths of bigotry and fratricide, racism and depravity that encouraged a fringe group of bigots and extremists, the Florida Family Association to pressure some advertisers, notably Lowes, to withdraw advertising from All American Muslim.  FFA is practically irrelevant to 99% of Americans and that fact, along with inherent prejudice compelled it to send letters to advertisers on the program complaining about the lack of negative portrayals of Muslims on a show entitled, All American Muslim.  The name itself speaks to positive values and shared interests, something bigots and racists rarely extend to anyone or anything different from themselves, and so it is that some advertisers bought FFA’s argument and stopped advertising on the show.   The very notion that All American Muslim must show jihadists and sharia minded Muslims is as ridiculous as asserting any other reality tv show must showcase the errant behavior of members of its group in order to be more life like, especially when that group is a tiny microcosm, but this is what is expected, what must be done when talking about Muslims. ‘When did you stop beating your wife’ is the cornerstone of such an illogical argument that says in order to be socially acceptable you must show us all of your adornment in order to accept your totality, even down to your underwear.  This is an age old, biblical concept that extends to the whole body the ignominy of a few.  In today’s climate….it is simply too easy for Lowes to reject the argument and cave in.  Being headquartered in North Carolina, a state which had for 30 years Jesse Helms as its US senator, who too was  anachronistic  made it even easier.

FFA’s David Caton, the one who spearheaded this advertising ploy didn’t’ take into consideration the fact that not EVERYONE agrees with his backward values.  His track record as an author should have toned down his proclivity for social activism, since his attempts to get people to forgo his own former passions of pornography and masturbation did more harm than good, judging by reviews written about his book, Overcoming the addiction to pornography.  However, media, by design is a very powerful aphrodisiac and Caton, just like the cast members of All American Muslim is unable to see the pitfalls of being so vocal AND so wrong when thrust in front of the bright television lights.  The backlash to the Lowes announcement to stop advertising has been swift and immediate AND productive.  Now, Caton is faced with the proposition that advertising is sold out for the show which insures it will stay on the air espousing the very message he doesn’t want seen.  It has also led to a boycott by some citizens of conscience of Lowes at a time of year when retailers make most of their money in sales.  Ouch! Whether the Lowes boycott will be successful or not won’t be known, if ever, until after the Christmas season’s sales figures are released, but the effectiveness of boycotts as a means of social protest is highlighted by this  boycott and its organizers.  Lowes, caught in the middle of two opposites is a loser as long as it stays in this current position while those who are calling for a boycott of Lowes are going to have to prove it has adversely affected the company’s bottom line. The FFA has already lost the ideological fight because the show will air its scheduled 8 episodes and advertising picked up after they inserted themselves into this ideological fight, but the fact they even got this far is a side commentary on where this country is.  Two cast members had this to say about what’s happening surrounding their show and addressed their comments to the well known racist Islamophobe Pamela Gellar

Gellar’s response was equally deadly obsequious, pointing out how much she has in common with them. The fact that a predatory persecutor like Geller can find something in common with a despised, taunted, hunted persecuted religious minority is the essence of reality television.