City of Brass

City of Brass

My first day of wearing rida to school

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Example of a designer rida worn by Dawoodi Bohra women

Example of a designer rida worn by Dawoodi Bohra women

Zainab Jamali is a teenaged Muslim American girl in Los Angeles. As a member of the Dawoodi Bohra community, she recently took her misaq (an oath marking the symbolic passage to adulthood) on the hand of the community’s spiritual leader, the 53rd Dai ul-Mutlaq, His Holiness Syedna (Mola) Mufaddal Saifuddin (TUS). After misaq, it is considered obligatory for women to dress in the traditional rida, an Islamic modesty garment akin to hijab. What follows is her first hand unedited account of her first day wearing her rida to middle school.

The perfect story is that as soon as Mola TUS said to wear a rida, I had no doubts. I didn’t even have to think twice. But that story is not mine. The choice of whether or not to wear a rida was very controversial in my mind. The fact that my parents said they would support me either way made it all the more difficult. I guess they thought it would make the decision easier, but it actually made it harder. I needed to know what the right thing to do was. Every time that I brought up the topic with my mom, her reply would be something along the lines of “Wait until you actually get your misaq, your view might change after.”

Sure enough, that is exactly what happened. Throughout the misaq, I listened and said “na’am” at the appropriate times, but when Mola TUS came to the verse where I made the promise to wear rida (among other things), I tensed up. But, when I walked out of that room, I myself was surprised that I had already made a decision. After making a promise that strong, that personal, and learning the consequences, my decision was made for me. How could I possibly break it the very next day?

I had made the decision but execution is always known to be the hard part. I woke up Wednesday morning (my first day of school after the ceremony) without the prompt of an alarm, totally aware of what was happening that day. My stomach actually hurt, I felt sick. As soon as I got out of the car, I saw my friend; she looked at me twice, then started up normal conversation. Internally, I breathed a sigh of relief. As people filed into the school, questions were asked. “What are you wearing?” “What’s up with your clothes?” “Why?” “You have to wear that for the rest of your life?!” As I answered them, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. My friends were basically behaving normally around me!

That is not to say it was all sparkles and rainbows, there were a few people who became awkward around me. Those people became kind of distant, but there was no bullying, name-calling, shunning, or total ignoring. I was prepared for the worst and overall, I think I got a pretty good deal. I was satisfied, even more than that, I was really happy. My friends were all the same, and I was all the same. In fact, I think that if you don’t be awkward about it, then they won’t be awkward about it. If you show them that underneath it all you are the same person, they won’t care as much. I realized, perhaps the best way to deal with those who felt awkward was not to take off my rida, but rather to wear my rida and be awesome.

There were some people who, I think, pretended to be positive, but were really thinking “What the heck?”, and that’s okay, because not everybody is going to accept you, whether or not you wear rida. As devout Muslims, we aren’t going to be normal anyway; we are not going to drink, date, or go to parties, and that’s obviously not a bad thing. I say, if you’re already different, why not embrace it? The next day, the amount of compliments I received was definitely more than I would have expected.

I was really scared on the first day—like, really scared. I am not going to tell you there is nothing to be afraid of; there might be after all. However, my positive experience surprised me. Not everybody will choose the same path, some may decide it’s not worth the risk. But if you’re inclined to take the leap, take it from me, it’s not as bad as your imagination tells you.

Guest post by Zainab Jamali, Los Angeles

Related post: does the hijab protect women from harassment?

Muslims en masse for Modi at Madison Square

posted by Aziz Poonawalla
Dawoodi Bohra muslim Americans supporting PM Modi in New York

Dawoodi Bohra muslim Americans supporting PM Modi in New York

Newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to a huge crowd of Indian expats in New York City on Monday night, outlining his vision of India’s future and making an explicit appeal to the NRI community to support their home country – particularly with their wallets. Modi was also saavy enough to recognize that visas remain a perennial hassle for NRIs seeking to visit the homeland, and proposed a long-overdue simplification – combining OCI and PIO cards into one.

Modi did a fantastic job of making the audience feel that they weren’t ‘that thing’ called a NRI or Not Really Indian, but stakeholders in developing India.

He struck a chord by announcing plans to simplify the immigration bureaucracy for Indians living abroad. He announced life time visas for persons of Indian origin (PIO) cardholders.

And in further good news for NRIs with foreign spouses, he said that PIO and OCI cards would be rolled into one card. He also said his government was working towards giving US nationals long-term visas and a visa on arrival following electronic travel authorization.

Modi reached out to India’s US diaspora, a highly educated population of nearly 3.2 million, to invest and “Make in India.”

“India has three strengths no country in the world has: Democracy, demographic dividend, and demand,” said Modi speaking extempore in Hindi.

The official twitter account for the PM’s office also confirmed the news about PIO cards:

In a show of support that was widely noted by the media, 100 members of my own community, the Dawoodi Bohras, were in attendance to show their support for Modi and their pride in India. It may seem odd that muslims, especially a primarily Gujarati muslim community like the Bohras, would support Modi in any fashion after his role in orchestrating the 2002 anti-muslim riots in Gujrat. However, Bohras were not alone in supporting Modi – there are many legitimate reasons for Muslims to be disenchanted with the Congress Party, and as a result Modi attracted substantial Muslim support from all across India:

the BJP won 71 out of 80 seats in the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where Muslims are over a fifth of the population. This feat would have been mathematically impossible if all of the state’s Muslims voted for non-BJP candidates, even if their votes were split among several parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party, and the Congress Party. According to BJP party spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, around 14-15 percent of India’s Muslims voted for the BJP. This is a vast improvement over the 2-3 percent garnered in previous elections.

In Gujrat, the state where the riots occurred, a substantial fraction of Muslims (not just Bohras) supported the BJP and Modi, for entirely pragmatic reasons. A major driver is economic growth under Modi, with policies of economic inclusion for muslim groups and a real sense that Modi has made an effort to hear Muslim voices:

In the past, people of Gujarat always lived under the fear of communal riots but efforts and endeavours of prominent Muslims had made it possible for numerous Muslim delegations – Islamic scholars, businessmen, youth, women and even street hawkers to meet Modi. He has met them all and given an ear to their grievances. This was something the Muslims had not seen in the last 40 years of Congress rule. Muslim madarsas were supported. Madarsa students, who had never seen or gone to a school, got a chance to appear for SSC and class XIIth examinations. The famous Sarkhej Roza which was in dilapidated condition was renovated and restored. The numbers of Muslim-owned schools and hospitals in the state have increased. Economic prosperity too has visited Muslim households and as a result, the record turn-out by Muslims to vote for Narendra Modi.

Bohras in particular are apolitical and have a strong sense of civic identity; Modi was elected PM by the Indian electorate, so Bohras’ support for him is an expression of the community’s belief in India’s democracy and a genuine desire to move the country as a whole forward. The PM is also keenly aware of the optics of having widespread Muslim support, as an immunization against his human rights record – so in an odd way, supporting him also ensures that he keeps issues affecting Muslims in India on his agenda.

In an odd coincidence – this was the same night as the football game where there was a sajda in the endzone :)

Hussein Abdullah gets a penalty for doing sajda in the endzone on Monday Night Football

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

As a (very) recent convert to the joy of American Football, I am fascinated by the penalty issued to Kansas City Chiefs’ safety Hussein Abdullah for performing a sajda (prayer prostration) of thanks after an epic 39-yard pick-six on Patriots’ QB Tom Brady. Public prayers by Christian players such as Tim Tebow have been celebrated, but despite the large number of Muslim players in the NFL, there still isn’t enough awareness on the part of referees. Abdullah’s sajda was flagged as “unsportsmanlike conduct, going to the ground” and Kansas City was penalized 15 yards.

Here’s the relevant section from the NFL rules:

Section 3 Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Article 1 There shall be no unsportsmanlike conduct. This applies to any act which is contrary to the
generally understood principles of sportsmanship. Such acts specifically include, among others:
(d) Individual players involved in prolonged or excessive celebrations. Players are prohibited from
engaging in any celebrations while on the ground.

However, as former referee and rules expert Mike Pereira noted on Twitter last year, players are not penalized for going to the ground to give praise after a TD:

You can see from the video that Abdullah’s prayer was indeed a personal praise moment and not performed with intention to taunt.

Hussein and his brother Hamza Abdullah are devout Muslims who took the year off in 2012 from the NFL to perform the Hajj – and were featured in a documentary from ESPN called “outside the line” about their pilgrimage.

Abdullah himself did not take offense at being penalized –

And the NFL officials also admitted that the penalty call was an error this morning:

so, all’s well that ends well.

Overall, this issue demonstrates the need for more awareness about Islam, and is an honest case of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge. The benefit of this is that it helps to raise that awareness, and the longer term benefit of that is surely worth 15 yards. It’s not like that penalty made any difference as far as the Patriots were concerned!

UPDATE: Stephen Colbert has a hilarious take on the issue, as usual. Best line – “How can muslims even play football if they’re not allowed to touch the pigskin? We’re gonna have to switch to halal balls!” LOL

Also, this gem fwded me via chat – which i wish i could take credit for:

“after further review, it has been determined that the ball carrier was not facing Mecca at the time of his celebration, therefore the penalty stands.”

the NFL, concussions, and domestic abuse #WhyIStayed #WhyILeft

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

A lot of my friends who aren’t into football have remarked upon my newfound interest in football as being somewhat out-of-character (true, at first glance, but i’ll address that later) and also critiqued the sport for all its attendant social problems. Of those, the two main ones are domestic abuse by players and concussion injuries.

Concussion injuries are nothing to take lightly. I have not done nearly enough background research, but I suspect that the NFL players as a cohort are at the outer edge of medical knowledge, as far as understanding the limits of the human body. As such they do need to be protected more, and we can honor the sacrifices previous players who played, suffered, and even died, as heroes whose sacrifices have advanced the state of neuromedicine and sports medicine. I agree that whatever the NFL is doing, it probably isn’t enough, and the NFL has a vested interest in keephealthy players healthy. The fans of football are precisely the ones who exert that pressure on the NFL – those who boycott the sport are ultimately removing themselves from the conversation.

Domestic violence is far less addressable than concussions, and the problem here extends far beyond the NFL – in fact, the NFL is far more responsive to domestic violence issues than our society at large. The league was quick to dismiss Ray Rice after the video leaked of him knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator and dragging her unconscious down a hallway. Zero tolerance of abusers in society is far harder to enact. The Rice incident also had value in illustrating blame-the-victim mentalities among many sports and news pundits, especially on Fox News, who demanded to know how Janay Rice could return to her husband after such treatment. In response, a powerful Twitter campaign of dual hashtags, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft, emerged that gave voice to survivors of domestic abuse, telling their own stories in their own words (in 140 characters or less, but no less compelling).

There have been thousands of tweets. Here are compilations of particularly compelling ones:

And personal essays inspired by the campaign:

And a sampling of individual tweets that moved me:

This are powerful testimonials from women who demonstrate that there’s nothing ordinary about being ordinary. If not for my newfound interest in football I honestly don’t think I would have gone as far as I have in educating myself on this issue. The simple truth is that the high profile of football as a sport and American pasttime is what brought the much-needed spotlight to these women’s voices.

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