pamela k taylor :position papers
Updated Feb 8, 2006
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Copyright 2005 Pamela K. Taylor
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As an American Muslim woman, I am on an almost daily basis asked about my position on various aspects of American politics, American culture, Muslim politics, Muslim culture, women's rights, and so on. This page is a beginning for people who want to know where I stand on a variety of issues. I hope to flesh this page out over the first few months of 2005, but until then this will have to suffice.
American foreign policy: American foreign policy since WWII has more often than not been an exersize in shortsightedness and arrogance. The intense desire to thwart communism, and now Islamism, has resulted in a series of misadventures around the world -- Central America, Cambodia, Vietnam, The Phillipines, the Congo, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Israel. How one can promote democracy by supporting every tyrant in the neighborhood and helping to overthrow democratic governments is beyond me. One could only wish that there were more examples of our good works than of our misdeeds.
The Environment: I am gravely concerned with the direction humanity is taking with regards the environment. Every country wants to be the exception to having to live in an environmentally sound manner. Greed seems to win out over protecting the environment at every turn, and I worry immensely that by the time we find the will to do something, it will be too late.
Freedom of Speech: Absolutely essential. Including the right to be offensive, satirical, ironic, humorous, blasphemous, and to sing in public if one is a woman. That doesn't mean I think everything that crosses an editor's desk should be published -- libel and hate speech are two obvious examples, but I'd err on the side of freedom rather than restraint in most cases. As for the Danish cartoons -- most of them are fine, a couple are libelous characterizations of the Prophet that pander to the basest of stereotyping. I wouldn't have published those two or three, as they are clearly provocative and defamatory, but death threats and arson are not an appropriate response. Blogging, letters to the editor, even peaceable demonstrations are. For more on the issue see my column on the subject here and my blog entry here.
Hijab: It is up to the individual woman to make her choice; it is between her and Allah, period, just as whether to pray or not, whether to fast or not, whether to steal or not, whether to tell a lie or not, is a personal choice. It should not be banned, as it is under certain circumstances in France or Turkey, nor should it be required as it is in Iran or Saudi Arabia. How one chooses to dress is a private matter. Furthermore, the incredible hysteria surrounding 40 square inches of cloth diverts attention from vital issues such as widespread poverty affecting women and children, the impact of war on women, rape, domestic violence, inequalities in pay and economic opportunity, the devastating effects of the beauty industry, etc, etc, etc. More on hijab from my blog here
Intelligent Design: While I probably subscribe to beliefs that could be described as intelligent design, I firmly believe that it has no place in science classrooms. Science class should be about science, and what is empirically observable and able to be studied via the scientific method. Intelligent design perhaps has a place in social studies, current events, or religion classes, although it is clearly a new phenomenon when it comes to religious discussion, and designed to slip creationism into secular classrooms.
Profiling: Profiling doesn't work, whether it's of African Americans, Arabs, immigrant Muslims, or whatever group. Prosecutors know it. We aren't any safer flying simply because every man with dark hair and a beard, every woman with a scarf, and anyone with an odd last name has to take off her or his shoes and be wanded. Terrorists are a whole lot smarter than that!
Religion in the Public Sphere -- I'm pleased by a recent ruling by an Indiana judge that restricts prayers at government functions to ones that are truly non-denominational. No "in Jesus's Name," and not Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, what have you. Personally, I'd have government functions open with a minute of silence rather than prayers at all. That way people can do what they please, reflect on what they are about to undertake and so on, in a way meaningful to themselves, theistic or non-theistic. At the same time, I find the move by some governmental officials to take Christian celebrations, rename them something "inoffensive and non-exclusive" to be wrong-headed. A christmas tree by any other name still smells as piny... Full essays on these two topics can be found here and here.
Shari'ah Arbitration in Canada: I am gravely concerned about the concept of Shari'ah arbitration tribunals in Canada. For one, I worry about who is going to be an arbiter, and who gets to define what Shari'ah is.There are many visions for what the shari'ah might be, and I am very afraid that the people who will be assigned as arbiters will be akin to those who have implemented their vision of the shari'ah in Saudi Arabia, Taliban Afghanistan, or the Iran of the Ayatollahs. Second, I do not believe that establishing separate laws for groups within a society is a good idea. I believe firmly in equality of opportunity and that we should all have to abide by the same laws. If Canada has decided that polygamy is unacceptable, then it should be for all Canadians, without exception; if, on the other hand, it has determined that polygamy is acceptable for some Canadians, then it should be for all Canadians. Third, I take an expansive view of the Qur'anic injunction that there be no compulsion in religion. I believe that laws based upon religion will inherently result in compulsion in religion -- either upon those who do not believe in that religion, or those who have a different vision of that religion, or those who choose only to follow part of the religion. The legal system may take direction from religious, moral precepts, but it should not believe itself or present itself as a manifestation of Divine will.
Slavery: I oppose all forms of slavery as it exists in today's world, whether it be the wage slave of the sweatshop factory, the chocolate plantation, or the child bride slave who is married off to a much older man and quickly divorced once he has his fun, or the buying and selling of men, women, and child in slave markets in various nations. I believe that Islam seeks to abolish slavery to all but Allah, and instituted various practices that would result in the practical elimination of slavery.
Support for Muslim writers facing censorship: As a writer, both for MWU and other publications, I was appalled by the attack on MWU and on Mohja Kahf who is one of the dons of American Muslim poetry. Full position paper: click here. See also, Takfiring, below.
Terrorism: I deplore all forms of terrorism, whether carried out by individuals, organizations, or states. Murder, torture, and other forms of violence, particularly against children, the elderly, non-combatants, and infrastructure, are not acceptable means to attain political or religious ends. This is my point of view and it is the Islamic point of view. Check out the not-in-my-name petition with some 800,000 signatures from Muslims agreeing with me. (www.cair-net.org)
Takfiring (Deeming that a Muslim is no longer a Muslim): Calling a Muslim a kafir or murtad is clearly not acceptable Islamically. We may say they have done something wrong, they have committed a grave sin, they are off the path, but declaring a person to be non-Muslim is not permissible. This is particularly true of writers, and especially writers of fiction and poetry. I believe it is the duty of the community of writers to tackle controversial subjects and problematic issues, to expose the dark underbelly of humanity. There are many ways to do this, from polemical pieces to shocking exposes, and it cannot always be determined from an author's work what his or her personal stand on an issue is. Labelling a writer as kafir or murtad based purely upon the content of their writing (unless that writing is an unequivocal declaration that the author has renounced Islam) is simply wrong.
Women and Islam (or, how could you convert to a religion that is so bad for women?): I couldn't. While there are currently many severe problems with regards to the legal, economic, moral, social, and political positions of women in most predominantly Muslim countries, I believe that this has little basis in the Qur'an, and even in the hadith. Centuries of rulings made by men who had grave misunderstanding of human nature and the nature of women, who had a vested interest in maintaining patriarchy and the power of the ruling elite, have resulted in a code of law called the shari'ah, but not accurately reflecting the letter or spirit of the law of Muhammad. It is my belief that Islam is inherently egalitarian in terms of gender, race, nationality, ethnicity, etc.
Women leading Prayers: Why the heck not? Especially since the Qur'an makes it pretty darn clear that wome and men are equal partners in this world. And there is evidence that Prophet Muhammad had Umm Waraqa lead congregational prayers in her locality. It's about time! Thank God for reasonable clerics like the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Ali Guma' who concur. For more of my thoughts on the hysteria the Juma' prayer led by Amina Wadud has stirred up, click here.