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Book Review: Imam Shafi’i: Scholar and Saint

In Muslim Views, Review, Scholar on July 23, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Published at Muslim Views

Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafiʿi (d. 204/820) was one of Islam’s foundational legal thinkers. Drawing on the most recent scholarship on Shafi’i’s work as well as her own investigations of his life and writings, Kecia Ali explores Shafi’i’s innovative ideas about the nature of revelation and the necessary if subordinate role of human reason in extrapolating legal rules from revealed texts. This study sketches his life in his intellectual and social context, including his engagement with other early figures including Malik and Muhammad al-Shaybani.

Ali studies the life and works of Shafi’i from his early life through to his death, looking specifically at his travels and their influence on his thought, his metamorphosis from student to Shaykh to saint, the development and refinement of his legal theory and substantive law as well as his rise to sainthood posthumously, and his contemporary image as one of great popular interest and veneration.

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In the Name of Honour: The Free Aafia Siddiqui Campaign in South Africa

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review, Society on July 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Earlier this year, South African Muslim media was abuzz with the story of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, an American-educated Pakistani cognitive neuroscientist who was convicted and sentenced to 86 years in prison for assault with intent to murder her U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan. The media campaign served to raise awareness about Siddiqui’s alleged abuse at the hands of the U.S justice system, and to assert her complete innocence. Her story is a difficult one, spanning the vastness of two continents and the complexity of terrorism politics in both of these. This post is not meant to cover the Siddiqui case, or to make any judgement claims as to her innocence or guilt. I would like to add that I sincerely advocate for justice for Siddiqui, who has no doubt suffered tremendously – whatever her political inclinations.

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Book Review: Desperate in Dubai

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review, Society, Story on July 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm

Desperate in Dubai, a cheeky exposé novel based on the original blog written by Ameera al-Hakawati (a pseudonym), revolves around the lives of four women who live, love, and labour in the sparkling Gulf city of Dubai.

Cover of Desperate in Dubai.

I recently had the chance to catch up with al-Hakawati in Dubai, to chat about her book, her faith, and the politics of anonymous writing as a Muslim woman.

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South Africa’s Muslim Media: Between Conservative Space and Cyberspace.

In Review on October 19, 2010 at 11:22 am

Published in Al Qalam

To what extent have South Africa’s Muslim media shaped the way South African Muslims express their religious and national identities? How has the Muslim community approached the new and unchartered frontiers of cyberspace? Where is all this taking us a community?

These were some of the questions that Professor Muhammad Haron, associate Professor of religious studies at the University of Botswana, and attendees at a seminar held by the University of Johannesburg’s department for the Study of Islam, engaged in.

The history of Muslim media in post Apartheid South Africa is reflective of our young democracy. Within a short period, a number of community newspapers, magazines, newsletters, radio stations and even a television station sprung up and have established themselves, each scrambling for their piece of the Muslim demographic pie, and each, in some way, serving the need s and interests of the community it works within.

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Regressive Redemption in CII’s Ramadan Serial

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review on October 19, 2010 at 11:07 am

Published at Muslimah Media Watch

Channel Islam International, often considered to be the “more progressive” Muslim community radio station in Johannesburg, is broadcasting a radio drama series for the month of Ramadan. The show is titled “Redemption Road,” and aims to be a representation of South African Indian Muslim society and its idiosyncrasies while reminding listeners to their often-forgotten purpose in life.

While the show does deal with important issues like wife neglect/abuse and teen problems, it is severely stereotypical of Muslim women in a number of aspects.

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The Stoning of Soraya M.: A Review

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review on October 19, 2010 at 11:04 am

Published at Muslimah Media Watch

Before watching The Stoning of Soraya M., I had already formed an opinion of it as “objectifying” and “misrepresenting” Muslim women, as a reaction to a recent spate of “save the Muslim damsel in distress” media like that which surrounds the European burqa ban debacle. The movie, however, turned out to be powerful in its message; incredibly moving and certainly not a damsel in distress tale. Instead, it is about extraordinary womanhood and moral courage in the face of injustice.

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Pasha’s Perfection: Mother of the Believers

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review on October 19, 2010 at 11:01 am

Published at Muslimah Media Watch

During Ramadan, my bedside novel happened to be Mother of the Believers by Kamran Pasha. It’s a work of fiction about the youngest and most beloved wife of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Pasha has brought to life the story of A’isha, one of Islam’s most controversial and enigmatic characters. Only the right amount of poetic license, coupled with a lot of accuracy and consistency, can make historical fiction a success, asMother of the Believers is.


It is important to note that Muslims and non-Muslims alike dispute everything about A’isha: her age, her actions and even her intentions. I can only imagine the daunting task of putting together a story about her without offending anyone and yet remaining true to her legacy. Some have criticized Pasha for abiding too much by the book, especially with regard to A’isha’s age at the time of her marriage to the Prophet, which he depicted as the traditionally held nine years. In the preface of the novel, Pasha defends his position—one that I agree with—at length: we must face controversial issues within the Muslim community by creating dialogue about them. This is what will create real change about the image of Islam.

The book is a staggering 527 pages, and holds detailed insight into early Islamic life from the eyes of A’isha as an old woman. I particularly enjoyed the first person narrative. That Pasha gave A’isha her own voice is so refreshing in a world where the Muslim women is always spoken about, spoken to, and seldom heard. I am not sure if Pasha intended this, but by allowing A’isha to tell her own story, he has created a powerful image of an independent, fiery and outspoken woman.  I also feel he has honored the memory of A’isha by doing so (sentimental that I am).


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Veiled Voices: Inspiring Everyday Role Models

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review on October 19, 2010 at 10:59 am

Published at Muslimah Media Watch

Veiled Voices is a documentary that profiles three influential women who are religious leaders, their families, and the communities they serve: Ghina Hammoud in Lebanon, Dr. Su’ad Saleh in Egypt, and Huda al-Habash in Syria. The film is produced and directed by Brigid Maher, who is an assistant professor and head of the New Media concentration in the Film and Media Arts Division of the School of Communication at American University.

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Babes in Toyland: Stratton’s Fantastick Muhajababes

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review on October 19, 2010 at 10:52 am

Published at Muslimah Media Watch

When I first saw the book Muhajababes by Allegra Stratton in a bookshop in Beirut, I was intrigued enough to buy it. The cover boldly claims to have found, “the new Middle East–cool, sexy and devout”. I happily forked out the $14.

MuhajababesOn closer inspection however, the cover of the book is quite problematic (featured left). It features a woman with hot red lips in a black headscarf. The rest of her face has been blanked out, spelling only one thing: generalization. An alternate book cover (pictured below right) provides no respite. It’s possibly worse, with 36 multiples of the same blank face, headscarf and red lips. The end of one face’s headscarf marking the beginning of the another’s, as if all women who belong to this so-called group are extensions of each other and identical.  Whoever said, “don’t judge a book by its cover” was so wrong.




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An Enchanted Modern: Lara Deeb’s Anthropologic Study

In Muslim Women, Muslimah Media Watch, Review on October 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

Published at Muslimah Media Watch

It is very rare to find a book that deals predominantly with Muslim women that does not have the words, “women”, “Muslim”, and most significantly “veil” in the title, especially when hijab is a recurring topic in the book. An Enchanted Modern by Lara Deeb immediately gets 10 points from me, for breaking the “behind/beyond/under/inside/uncovering the veil” title cliché.

The subjects of the book (whom Deeb refers to as the “pious modern”) give the reader an insider’s perspective into their lives as Lebanese Shi’a Muslims who consider themselves at once pious and modern—contrary to popular belief, which holds that Islam and modernity are incompatible. One of the book’s aims is to dislodge that notion, and the other is to show that political Islam is not static, as it is often portrayed when Western media lumps different movements and groups together (like the Taliban in Afghanistan with the Hezbollah in Lebanon). Deeb effectively critiques these stereotypes using dialogues and narratives of the women she meets, creating an engaging and lively discussion. For example, in the book’s introduction, Deeb quotes one women affiliated with Hezbollah as saying, “I can’t believe this, what is this backwardness!” in response to live television images of the Taliban destroying the Buddha statues.

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