Female imams lead prayers, a first in France

Of note:

Several French Muslim women are trying to lead prayer sessions in France. They face major opposition, but on Saturday two French women who converted to Islam led the country’s first non-segregated prayers where wearing of the veil was not compulsory.

Eva Janadin and Anne-Sophie Monsinay led prayers before a congregation of 60. Men and women kneeled, side by side, in a room in Paris hired for the occasion.

For security reasons the location remained secret: an indication that fundamentalist Muslims are still struggling with the move towards a more “inclusive” expression of Islam in France.

Un temps de prière mixte et progressiste, où le port du voile n’est pas obligatoire. «Nous apportons notre pierre à la construction d’un islam de France adapté aux acquis de la modernité», explique l’imame Eva Janadin

In a report by Le Parisien, Ann-Sophie Monsinay said they had faced opposition but that thankfully “there had been more encouragement than threats”.

Source: Female imams lead prayers, a first in France

Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Of interest:

The Campaign for Equal Citizenship led by the Foreign Spouses Support Group welcomes the recent announcement by Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the Ministry of Home Affairs to draw up a new standard operating procedure (SOP) for citizenship applications. This would presumably ensure that citizenship applications are considered more fairly and promptly.

However, this is inadequate for the thousands of Malaysian mothers who wish to confer citizenship to their children born overseas. The government must fix the law, so that Malaysian women enjoy equal citizenship rights compared to Malaysian men.

Of course, a Malaysian mother married to a foreign man who gives birth in Malaysia can confer citizenship to their children but the discrimination is stark when these mothers for various valid reasons give birth overseas.

Reasons for giving birth overseas range from holding overseas jobs, unable to afford flights, premature births or risking medical complications. There are also many reasons such as aging parents, why women choose to return to Malaysia with their families and have their children grow up here as citizens.

Whilst a Malaysian father can simply notify and register at the nearest embassy of the country where his foreign wife has given birth, whereupon Malaysian citizenship papers will be issued within a time period from 3 days two months, however the Malaysian mother has to apply for citizenship for her children

Based on experiences of these Malaysian mothers, they are often misinformed by authorities abroad and at home, given inconsistent information and experience inconsistent practices. While there have been success stories, we are looking at an average waiting time of one to seven years or more to get an approval, often after multiple rejections and re-applications. Allegedly rejections are part of the SOPS to test to see if these Malaysian mothers are truly sincere and loyal to Malaysia a test not accorded to Malaysian fathers.

So, while developing a new SOP may be a temporary solution, there is a dire need for a permanent solution.

To do so, we must address first the root of the discrimination. In principle, Malaysia does not recognise mothers as equal parents by law, as the Federal Constitution expressly provides that children born overseas to married Malaysian fathers are entitled to citizenship by operation of law (Article 14(1)(b) but is silent on children born overseas to Malaysian mothers.  Consequently, the process for registering children born overseas as Malaysian citizens is far more arduous for Malaysian women making them feel like second-class citizens.

This law is deeply rooted in patriarchy which allows for sexist attitudes that influence the applications processes. These women are expected to follow the husband’s citizenship, live overseas and not enjoy the option for their children to choose their nationality. Not to be labour a point, the children born overseas to Malaysian fathers enjoy this choice.

Malaysia is currently one of only twenty-five countries globally, and one of four countries in the Asia Pacific region, which has discriminatory citizenship laws.

Amend Schedule II of Federal Constitution to explicitly allow both men and women to confer citizenship on their children born outside of Malaysia through the same process. and make it equal and right for Malaysian women, we make up half of Malaysia and we count.

Source: Unequal citizenship rights for women and equality in law — Malaysian Campaign for Equal Citizenship

Ibbitson: At the core of the SNC-Lavalin affair, a familiar case of he said, she said

The most interesting commentary on the SNC-Lavalin affair I have seen, given its gender take:

Justin Trudeau and the Old Boys at SNC-Lavalin will never understand why so many people are so angry at them. They’ll never understand why those women over at the Justice Department fought them and defeated them.

But others do understand. They know what frustrated privilege looks like, what happens when powerful men don’t get their way.

“I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs, because that’s my job,” Mr. Trudeau repeated, defiantly, Thursday, after Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found the Prime Minister had repeatedly violated the Conflict of Interest Act in trying to prevent the criminal prosecution of the engineering firm. “I disagree with the Ethics Commissioner’s conclusions,” he declared, even though “I take full responsibility.”

Prime Minister: If you won’t apologize and you reject the report’s conclusions, you are taking no responsibility at all.

But this fits with Mr. Trudeau’s attitude and the attitude of those who surrounded him during this affair.

Consider: SNC-Lavalin had been pushing for a deferred prosecution agreement that would let it escape trial on corruption charges practically from the day the Liberals took office. It worked.

After then-chief executive officer Neil Bruce met with Finance Minister Bill Morneau at the Davos Economic Forum (of course), Mr. Morneau inserted a measure into the 2018 budget that would allow a company in SNC-Lavalin’s situation to secure a deferred prosecution agreement.

Mr. Morneau was shocked when Kathleen Roussel, Director of Public Prosecutions and the first woman to stand up against this Old Boys club, decided later that year that SNC-Lavalin did not qualify for a deferred prosecution agreement. Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau believed Jody Wilson-Raybould, as attorney-general, should intervene. Ms Wilson-Raybould, the second woman in the line of fire, backed Ms. Roussel.

The Old Boys fought back. Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, who is legal counsel to SNC-Lavalin, offered an opinion that an intervention by the attorney-general would be legitimate. Another former Supreme Court justice, John Major, weighed in on a related matter.

Meanwhile, aides to Mr. Morneau and Mr. Trudeau put pressure on Jessica Prince, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, to make her boss see the light. They failed.

Mr. Trudeau and Michael Wernick, then-clerk of the Privy Council, met in person with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, to no avail. But aides Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques kept pushing. So did Gerry Butts, Mr. Trudeau’s then-principal secretary, and, to a lesser extend, Katie Telford, Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff.

Kevin Lynch, chairman of SNC-Lavalin and a former clerk of the Privy Council, and Robert Prichard, legal counsel for SNC-Lavalin and former president of at University of Toronto (among many other things), took the matter to Scott Brison, then-president of the Treasury Board. Mr. Brison was sympathetic, but he got nowhere with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, either.

SNC-Lavalin proposed that Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, mediate a settlement. But Ms. McLachlin had her own reservations and Ms. Wilson-Raybould saw no need to consult her. So that was that.

Put it all together. On one side, a coalition that included Mr. Trudeau, two cabinet ministers, the clerk of the Privy Council, political advisers and the leadership at SNC-Lavalin. Almost every one of them a man, steeped in the Ottawa establishment and used to being obeyed.

On the other side, a group of women, led by Ms. Wilson-Raybould, that included her chief of staff, the Director of Public Prosecutions and deputy minister Nathalie Drouin. They were joined by Jane Philpott, who ultimately resigned from cabinet in solidarity with her friend.

According to the report, Mr. Trudeau’s lawyer described the Prime Minister’s relationship with Ms. Wilson-Raybould as “challenging and tense.” He alleged friction between the minister and cabinet colleagues, and described her decision-making as “infected by legal misunderstanding and political motivation.”

So which is it? Did a difficult and unqualified attorney-general resist the reasonable advice of the Prime Minister and his senior advisers, who were trying to save a valued company from an unnecessary prosecution that could put it out of business, costing thousands of jobs?

Or, did a domineering group of entitled men unsuccessfully try to bully Ms. Wilson-Raybould into interfering in a criminal prosecution, for which the Prime Minister should apologize?

We know what Mr. Trudeau thinks. What do you think?

Source: Opinion At the core of the SNC-Lavalin affair, a familiar case of he said, she said

Even A Grammar Geezer Like Me Can Get Used To Gender Neutral Pronouns

Jordan Peterson and followers to take note:

Letter-for-letter, no part of speech gets people more worked up than pronouns do. Linguistic history is dotted with eruptions of pronoun rage. Right now, the provocation is the gender-neutral pronouns that some nonbinary people have asked to be called by, so that they won’t have to be identified as “he” or “she.”

There are several of these in circulation. Some are new words, like “ze” and “co,” but some go back a ways — in fact, people have been proposing new gender-neutral pronouns for 150 years, though none has ever caught on. But the most popular choice, and probably the most controversial one, is the familiar pronoun that people describe as the singular “they.”

You can see why people would pick “they.” In everyday speech we often use that pronoun for a single person, though only when the word or phrase it substitutes for — its antecedent, as it’s called — doesn’t refer to a specific individual. So we say, “Somebody lost their wallet,” or, “If a student fails, they have to retake the course.” Or the person we’re referring to may be simply unknown. Your daughter’s cell phone rings at the dinner table; you say, “Tell them you’ll call them back.” Male or female, one caller or several? The pronoun “they” is like, “whatever.”

That singular “they” goes back hundreds of years. Jane Austen’s novels are bristling with sentences like “No one can ever be in love more than once in their life.” But that use of the pronoun fell into disrepute in the 19th century, when grammarians condemned it as incorrect and proclaimed that the so-called generic “he” should be used instead. The idea is that when you write, “Every singer has his range,” the pronoun “his” refers to both men and women — or as they sometimes put it, “the masculine embraces the feminine.”

When second-wave feminists protested in the 1970s that the generic “he” was sexist, they roused a storm of indignation. They were accused of emasculating and neutering the language. The chairman of the Harvard Linguistics Department charged that they were suffering from “pronoun envy.” William Safire warned that to accept the use of “they” in place of “he” would be to “cave in to the radic-lib forces of usage permissiveness.”

In retrospect, those reactions betrayed the obtuseness that the psychologist Cordelia Fine calls “delusions of gender.” The fact is that the pronoun “he” is never gender-neutral. If Sting had sung, “If you love somebody, set him free,” it would have brought only a male to mind. What the language required was “set them free.”

The gender-neutral singular “they” has history, English grammar and gender equity on its side, and it’s gradually been restored to the written language. Schoolroom crotchets can be hard to let go of. But we’ve largely leveled the linguistic playing field — at least, “he” no longer takes precedence over “she.”

But that didn’t make any provision for the rainbow of nonbinary and nonconforming gender identities that have risen into public awareness in recent years. The language still required us to choose between “he” and “she” to refer to a specific individual. The singular “they” initially sounded awkward here. We can say, “Somebody named Sandy was brushing their hair” where the pronoun replaces the nonspecific “somebody” — that’s been standard colloquial English for centuries. But when someone says just, “Sandy was brushing their hair,” you’re brought up short. Your first thought is that “they” must refer to some group of people whose hair Sandy was brushing.

That new use of “they” has passed muster with the AP’s style guide and the American Heritage Dictionary. In theory, anyone can adopt it, whatever their gender identity. But we’ll still be using “he” and “she” to refer to most individuals who identify as male and female. You can introduce new gender-neutral terms without driving out the gendered ones. “Sibling” has been part of the everyday language for more than 50 years, but we can still talk about brothers and sisters. When someone says, “Taylor has a lot going for them,” it’s a fair bet that that’s the pronoun that Taylor prefers to be called by.

It’s not a lot to ask — just a small courtesy and sign of respect. In fact, the accommodations we’re being asked to make to nonbinary individuals are much less far-reaching than the linguistic changes that feminists called for 50 years ago. Yet the reactions this time have been even more vehement than they were back then.

A fifth-grade teacher in Florida whose preferred pronouns are “they,” “them” and “their” was removed from the classroom when some parents complained about exposing their children to the transgender lifestyle. When the diversity and inclusion office at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville published a guide to alternative pronouns in 2015, the state legislature promptly defunded the center and barred the university from promoting the use of gender-neutral pronouns in the future. Like the classic episodes of pronoun rage in earlier eras, these aren’t about pronouns at all.

Source: Even A Grammar Geezer Like Me Can Get Used To Gender Neutral Pronouns

UK: Muslim community shuns women released from prison, says report

Of note. Likely varies within the different Muslim communities:

The Muslim community in Britain shuns women who have been to prison while forgiving convicted men, “no matter what they’ve done”, according to a report.

Female former prisoners told researchers, Muslim experts in the criminal justice system, that they suffered a “conspiracy of silence” after being released from jail, having to hide or move away in order to not bring shame on their families.

“Our situation is made that much more worse because we are women and within our community being a woman caught up in crime is one of the most unacceptable things that can happen to a family, regardless of the reasons. There is a more forgiving attitude towards Muslim men who offend,” say the former convicts in a foreword to a report by the Muslim Women in Prison rehabilitation project, which calls for a “cultural shift in the community’s approach to women’s criminality and also a fundamental shift in the institutions in their treatment of Muslim women”.

The Muslim Women in Prison project worked with 55 women on their release from HMP New Hall and Askham Grange, two Yorkshire jails, helping them reconnect with their families – or to start a new life if that was impossible.

One woman, speaking at the launch of the report in Bradford on Monday, described how her family would make her hide upstairs if they had visitors, following her release from prison five years ago after serving seven and a half years of an indeterminate public protection sentence.

In a film made to accompany the report, the mother of one jailed woman said that Muslim men could be convicted of “10 crimes – they could even kill someone” and they would be accepted back into the community, while her daughter and others were ostracised.

The report describes how women of Islamic faith serve an “unfair community sentence” upon release, when they are shunned by their community – “in contrast to the liberal and sympathetic treatment that Muslim men are often given”.

The authors, Sofia Buncy and Ishtiaq Ahmed, say that “izzat” (honour) plays a disproportionate role in British Muslim life: “Defamation of the family name, particularly by a female going to prison, can be the ultimate calamity on the good name, status and the social standing of the family.

“This can potentially result in marginalisation of the family by others – people no longer wanting to associate with them. Worse still, people may not wish to sustain existing or new marriages ties into the family, thus ruining family aspirations.”

One father told them: “What would people say if we took her back? I have other daughters of marriageable age. Who would want to ask for their hand knowing she lives in the house?”

One client at Bradford’s Khidmat Centre, where Muslim Women in Prison runs its resettlement programme, said: “People are usually very unforgiving if you’re a Muslim woman coming out of prison. A lot of the time we are cut off by family and community so no one else wants to bother with us either. Men are just able to come back out and fit in no matter what they have done.”

Other women told researchers that the Islamic faith was “sometimes unjustifiably used to maintain family norms and traditions which are based more on cultural and patriarchal constructs”.

Imran Hussain, a Bradford Labour MP who is the shadow justice minister, hailed the report as “groundbreaking”.

“It’s fine civil servants in London writing their reports about different communities … but this is a report where communities themselves take ownership of some very difficult and complex situations,” he said.

But Julie Siddiqi, a veteran campaigner, said the “elephant in the room” was that Muslim community leadership was still very male-dominated. She said: “If we are talking about community-led solutions, if we think that one-third of mosques don’t even have a space for women to pray, we have a long way to go … Unless we change the leaders in our communities, this work isn’t really going to get embedded properly.”

The proportion of prisoners in England and Wales who are Muslim has increased from 8% in 2002 to 15% in 2018, despite Muslims making up 5% of the general population. The proportion of Muslim women in jail increased from 5.2% in March 2014 to 6.3% in March 2017, when there were 251 incarcerated, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Source: Muslim community shuns women released from prison, says report

The Gender Gap in Computer Science Research Won’t Close for 100 Years

Interesting study, with some comparisons with different fields of study:

Women will not reach parity with men in writing published computer science research in this century if current trends hold, according to a study released on Friday.

The enduring gender gap is most likely a reflection of the low number of women now in computer science, said researchers at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a research lab in Seattle that produced the study. It could also reflect, in part, a male bias in the community of editors who manage scientific journals and conferences.

Big technology companies are facing increasing pressure to address workplace issues like sexual harassment and a lack of representation by women as well as minorities among technical employees.

The increasing reliance on computer algorithms in areas as varied as hiring and artificial intelligence has also led to concerns that the tech industry’s dominantly white and male work forces are building biases into the technology underlying those systems.

Maxime Bernier présente ses candidats québécois

Four women out of 31 (13 percent). Haven’t had time to look at immigrant and visible minority numbers:

Maxime Bernier a présenté vendredi à Montréal 31 candidats qui brigueront les suffrages pour le Parti populaire du Canada au Québec. Parmi eux, aucune figure connue, peu d’expérience politique et seulement quatre femmes.

«Le plus important pour nous ce n’est pas le sexe (des candidats): c’est que les gens partagent la plateforme et les valeurs du parti», s’est défendu le chef du Parti populaire du Canada (PPC), Maxime Bernier. Il présentait les candidats des circonscriptions de Montréal, Montérégie Ouest, Laval, Laurentides, et de l’Outaouais.

Les candidats sont issus des milieux des affaires ou des relations publiques, certains sont étudiants, ostéopathes, pasteurs, militaires, promoteurs immobiliers, avocats, etc. Ce panel hétéroclite a tout de même un point en commun: une vision d’un État aux pouvoirs restreints pour davantage de libertés individuelles.

Fort de ces candidatures, Maxime Bernier espère toujours participer au débat des chefs. Pour être éligible, puisque le PPC a été créé il y a neuf mois, le chef doit présenter des candidats dans au moins 304 des 388 circonscriptions. Ces candidats doivent aussi avoir «une véritable possibilité» d’être élus. Pour l’instant, il en a présenté 260. Selon le chef du PPC, il devrait de toute façon avoir sa place au débat, car il participe déjà chaque mardi aux côtés de représentants des autres partis politiques à l’émission Power Play, animée par Don Martin à CTV News.

Les «bons» changements climatiques

Maxime Bernier a réitéré l’opposition de son parti aux objectifs de l’accord Paris, puisqu’il croit «que c’est normal que le climat change» et «qu’il y a plus de 12 000 ans le Canada était sous la glace et que c’est grâce aux changements climatiques si le Canada est ce qu’il est aujourd’hui», ce qui a bien fait rire ses candidats. Il a ensuite affirmé vouloir dépolluer les lacs et les rivières pour qu’il soit possible d’y pêcher et de s’y baigner.

Maxime Bernier avait assuré que ses candidats pourraient prendre la position qu’ils désiraient dans le débat sur l’avortement. La candidate dans la circonscription de Shefford, Marriam Sabbagh, est pro-vie, tout comme celle dans Saint-Léonard-Saint-Michel, Tina Di Serio. «Je suis pro-vie, mais je respecte le choix des autres», a expliqué Mme Di Serio.

Pour le chef populiste, la catastrophe de Lac-Mégantic prouve par ailleurs qu’un oléoduc transnational est la solution la plus sécuritaire pour le transport du pétrole au pays. Si son parti remporte les élections, même en l’absence d’acceptabilité sociale, il imposerait ce pipeline.

Maxime Bernier a rappelé d’autres grandes lignes de son programme: fin de la gestion de l’offre en agriculture, réduction des seuils d’immigration, réforme du financement de Radio-Canada et de CBC, réduction de l’aide financière internationale et, entre autres, abolition du Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes (CRTC).

Source: Maxime Bernier présente ses candidats québécois

Child marriage ‘legal and ongoing’ in Canada, researcher finds

Not clear whether the definition used is the UN one (under 18) or the Canadian federal Civil Marriage Act of 16, although likely the latter. An average of 188 per year:

Ontario, Alberta and Quebec have licensed the most child marriages in the last 18 years, said professor Alissa Koski, who researches the practice in Canada

Since 2017, Canada’s government under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals has conducted foreign policy with an explicitly “feminist” approach, especially as it relates to sexual and reproductive health rights.

Part of that has involved trying to eradicate child marriage overseas. Canada is a leader and key funder of United Nations efforts to end child marriage, which is regarded as a revealing measure of a country’s development.

But there is a curious blind spot.

“There’s been absolutely no reflection on the fact that it remains legal in Canada,” said Alissa Koski, who researches child marriage in Canada as an assistant professor at McGill University’s Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health.

The bizarre result is that Canada legally permits the very practices it condemns and combats in the developing world.

Child marriage in Canada “is legal and ongoing,” Koski concludes, and not as a rare legal quirk in niche communities of religious extremists, as media coverage often suggests.

Provinces have, in fact, issued marriage licences for 3,382 children over the last 18 years, according to Koski’s presentation to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver.

In absolute numbers, Ontario sanctioned the most child marriages with 1,353 since 2000, then Alberta with 791, Quebec with 590 and British Columbia with 429. She adds that her results likely “underestimate the true extent of the practice.”

It has happened in every region, Koski said. The vast majority are girls; and compared to boys, girls marry at younger ages and to substantially older spouses.

The rate is highest in Alberta, at five girls per 10,000, and one boy as measured by data from the year 2016, or three children total per 10,000.

Her discovery that Canada has approved at least 3,382 child marriages since 2000 is based on data from vital statistics offices, which indicates the marriage happened in Canada, but otherwise offers limited information. Further work with census data might offer a clearer picture of demographics, although with the added caveat that it will include marriages that happened in other countries before the person came to Canada.

In the United States, the rate of child marriage is about 6.2 children per 1000, higher in girls than boys (6.8 vs 5.7), lower among white people, higher among Indigenous and Chinese, and ranging from less than four children per 1,000 in Maine, Rhode Island and Wyoming, to as much as 10 per 1,000 in West Virginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, according to Koski’s previous studies of child marriage in America.

Her doctoral research was on child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa and India, which fits with the common imagination of the phenomenon as “something that happens elsewhere,” as Koski put it.

For example, her separate research on Canadian media coverage of the issue shows it is almost entirely about Canada’s efforts to eradicate child marriage abroad. The few exceptions are focused on specific religious minorities, primarily the fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., and the fundamentalist Jewish sect Lev Tahor, first in Ste-Agathe-Des-Monts, Que., later in Chatham, Ont.

Canada’s federal Civil Marriage Act sets the minimum age for marriage at 16. Provinces, which administer the licensing, require parental consent for people younger than 18.

But the United Nations, and Canada through its participation in its various programs and documents, regards child marriage as marriage of a child, which is to say someone younger than 18.

The reasons are well known. The proportion of girls who marry before 18 is used as a quantifiable measure of a country’s development progress, Koski said, and it is widely considered a violation of human rights. Research in the US has shown higher mental illness and substance abuse in women who married as girls.

“Child marriage is associated with poor health and economic outcomes, particularly for girls,” she said.

Koski said there seems to be a general political reluctance to raise the age to 18, part of which involves concerns over infringing on religious freedom.

Source: Child marriage ‘legal and ongoing’ in Canada, researcher finds

In a survey of American Muslims, 0% identified as lesbian or gay. Here’s the story behind that statistic

Interesting:

In the United States, you could count the number of mosques like Masjid al-Rabia on two hands. It’s a small community built on “five pillars of inclusivity,” including pledges to be “women-centered,” anti-racist LGBTQ-affirming and welcoming to a variety of Islamic traditions.

Mahdia Lynn, a transgender woman, helped found the mosque in Chicago in 2016.
For several years, Lynn attended a mosque in a small conservative Muslim community in Oklahoma, where people believed she was a straight, cisgender woman.

“There was always the risk of being outed,” said Lynn, a Shiite Muslim. “But at the time, I just wanted to focus on my faith.”

There are a few mosques like Masjid al-Rabia around the world, notably in Berlin and Toronto. But the number of LGBT-affirming mosques and Islamic centers in the United States remains small.

Muslims for Progressive Values has eight “inclusive communities” in the United States, from Atlanta to San Francisco. Berkeley’s Qal-bu Maryam Women’s Mosque, which calls itself “America’s first all-inclusive mosque,” opened in 2017. Other like-minded mosques have struggled to find consistent congregants in recent years and closed down.

Imam Daiyiee Abdullah, 65, is one of the few openly gay Muslim clerics. For four years, he labored to build a mosque for LGBT Muslims in Washington, DC.

Frustrated, tired and running out of money, Abdullah gave up and moved to the mountains of Colorado, where the nearest inclusive mosque is an eight-hour drive away.

Liberal Muslims say there are hints of change. The percentage of American Muslims who said society should accept homosexuality has doubled in the last decade, to 52%, and is even higher among Millennials.

Still, for many LGBT Muslims, coming out of the closet to their families and religious communities can be a fraught decision.

Ani Zonneveld says she receives calls regularly from young gay and lesbian Muslims who have been threatened by their family or are afraid to reveal their sexual identity.

“I tell them that, unless you have a fantastic relationship with your parents, keep it in the closet until you finish high school and can leave the house,” said Zonneveld, who heads Muslims for Progressive Values.

Religious spaces can be just as alienating, Zonneveld said. “What we have seen is that LGBT Muslims are not comfortable going to a mosque, and if they do, they definitely keep closeted.”

They may even be reluctant to tell anonymous pollsters. According to a recent survey of more than 800 American Muslims, 0% identified as gay or lesbian.

‘Islam is too important to leave anyone behind’

Muslims in the United States are among the most diverse religious communities in the world. While 82% are American citizens, nearly a third have been in the country for less than two decades. A plurality (41%) are white, but no racial or ethnic group makes up a majority of Muslim American adults.

That diversity also applies to attitudes towards gay, lesbian and transgender people. According to a recent survey by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 31% of Muslim-Americans said they hold a favorable opinion of LGBT people, 23% said “unfavorable” and 45% said they had “no opinion.”

Among the Catholics, Jews and Protestants polled, only white evangelicals held less favorable views of LGBT people, the survey found.

Some Muslims have, like Lynn, hidden aspects of their identity for fear of being alienated or even endangered. But she said bigotry is no worse among American Muslims than in society at large.

“To act as if discrimination is unique to American Muslims is to buy into the Islamophobic narrative pushed by the right wing in this country, which is ironic, because it’s the right wing that is systematically erasing transgender people’s rights.”

Lynn transitioned as a teenager, and converted to Islam later on, during a particularly painful period. Islam’s spiritual regimens and rules for living offered a scaffolding on which to rebuild her life, the 31-year-old said.

“Islam saved my life, so I made the decision to give my life over to Islam.”

She founded Masjid al-Rabia with two other Muslims in 2016.

“Part of our role as a community center is to create a space for those healing from spiritual violence,” Lynn said.

This year, it’s celebrating its first Ramadan as a fully operational community center.

Lynn described her community as both idealistic and incremental. It’s small — Friday prayers draw about a dozen worshipers to its downtown Chicago space — but its very existence makes a radical statement.

While pushing for greater inclusivity in American mosques, she said it also provides a hospitable space where Muslims can practice their faith openly, regardless of race, gender, sect or sexual identity.

“We believe that everyone has a right to come to Islam as they are. Islam is too important to leave anyone behind.”

Support in society, but not in mosques

Muslims disagree on how to interpret the Pew survey that showed an increasing acceptance of homosexuality.

Some said it signals growing support for LGBT political rights, but not in religious spaces like mosques and Islamic centers.

LGBT activists have broadly supported Muslim-Americans, rallying to their side in recent years to protest Trump administration policies. Prominent Muslim activists have argued that they need all the political allies they can muster.

“I will fight for anyone who fights for our community,” activist Linda Sarsour said during a contentious panel discussion at an Islamic convention last year.

“And everybody is created by Allah and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. That is how we Muslims have to show up in these United States of America.”

But Yasir Qadhi, an influential scholar and dean of academic affairs at the new Islamic Seminary of America in Dallas, said pro-LGBT-rights political activists are confusing young Muslims.

“You are sending a mixed message,” he said at the Islamic conference. “Because at the end of the day, we do not believe that it is morally healthy to engage in intercourse outside of the bonds of marriage.”

Contentious questions

In a recent interview, Qadhi said that he is grateful for LGBT Americans’ political support. While he hasn’t changed his theological views, he said he has softened his rhetoric.

“I will be the first to admit that we were overly harsh and perhaps we did marginalize people and make them feel as if they were not human or worthy of love,” the scholar said.

Now, Qadhi often prefaces his remarks about homosexuality by noting that “feelings and inclinations” are not themselves sinful, and that homosexual acts should not be singled out for special condemnation.

LGBTQ Muslims should be welcomed at mosques, he said, but should not push for changes in Islamic theology or practice on mosque grounds.

“Whatever anyone does in their private life is not our business,” Qadhi said. “I am never going to single out anyone in sermons for any sinful conduct. At the same time, in the mosque I am a part of, there is a clear red line: They cannot preach onto others that this is part of Islam, the same way I would not let a person sell liquor on our property.”

The Fiqh Council of North America, a body of scholars who issue legal opinions based on Islamic texts, will take up transgenderism this year, said Qadhi, a council-member. Sexual reassignment surgery is permitted in Shiite Islam, but not among Sunnis, who comprise the majority American Muslims.

In most mosques, the genders are separated, and there have been conflicts about where Muslims in the process of gender transition should sit, Qadhi said. “Gender identity issues will be the big questions for the next several years.”

But external and internal tensions can make it hard for Muslim-Americans to directly address contentious questions, said Dalia Mogahed, director of research for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

“This is a huge source of division in the community right now,” she said. “There are a lot of different opinions and, frankly, there is a lack of space to discuss it.”

“When you have a community that is so under the microscope and being subjected to litmus tests for civility and tolerance, people become afraid and self-censoring”

Mogahed herself came under attack several years ago after a Gallup survey showed that no British Muslims — as in, 0% — said homosexuality was morally acceptable. Right wing provocateurs such as Milo Yiannopoulos seized on the survey to portray Muslims as a threat to gays and lesbians.

But Muslims in the United States and Britain have not mounted political or social campaigns against the LGBT community, Mogahed said.

“To conflate a religious belief with one community being a threat to another is unfair.”

Behind the 0%

Like a lot of pro-LGBT Muslims, Imam Abdullah has migrated to online projects. He now runs the Mecca Institute, an Internet-based program to train a new generation of likeminded clerics. The program has three part-time students.

Because of media attention on his life and work, he said he draws attention when he visits American mosques.

“Sometimes people make derogatory remarks, like: There’s that gay imam,” Abdullah said.

“I’ve been asked in different parts of the country to leave the mosque, which is fine. I’m not going in to any mosque to try to change them. I am going there to pray.”

In Washington, DC, weeks would go by without anyone showing up at his former mosque. Some closeted LGBT Muslims feared of being associated with “the gay mosque,” he said.

“The personal trauma that so many went through made it hard for them to be public about their identity,” Abdullah said.

The ISPU survey provides statistical backing for that sentiment. Of the 804 American Muslims polled, not one identified as gay or lesbian. Four percent identified as bisexual, 2% said they were “something else” and another 2% refused to answer the question.

Asked about the 0% statistic, Mogahed offered a nuanced interpretation. If 92% of American Muslims identified as straight, she said, then the remaining 8% may be lesbian or gay, even if they’re reluctant say so.

“The fact that there is a segment of Muslims who identify as something other than straight means that, even though they may not be acting on that inclination or orientation, they have negotiated a space where they can still be Muslim,” Mogahed said.

“There is enough space within the theology to be able to do that.”

Backlash over the Women’s Mosque of Canada is predictable – and misplaced

Of note:

Across the country, makeshift mosques are popping up in various towns and cities. Many Canadian Muslims are observing Ramadan and renting out community centres, or taking up space in each other’s living rooms, basements and local dining halls to join in congregational prayers before breaking fast or to perform extra evening prayers.

There isn’t anything controversial about these gatherings. As meals are set out on tables, patterned prayer rugs, large colourful linens or simple mats are laid out nearby. Men, women and children eventually line up together in prayer.

Yet, one such pop-up gathering has received particular attention – and not all of it positive. A few weeks before Ramadan, a group of women launched the Women’s Mosque of Canada. The inaugural Friday prayers were held inside Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church in Toronto. Roughly 40 Muslim women and allies from various faith traditions listened to co-founder Farheen Khan give the sermon.

While the prayers proceeded in tranquility, reaction to the event was less calm. The debate that emerged once again symbolizes the divide that continues to exist in our communities when it comes to the place of women in traditional sacred spaces.

Why do we need this, wondered people writing in an online discussion group of more than 300 Toronto Muslim activists, leaders and scholars and posting to the Women’s Mosque’s Facebook page. One community leader admonished the effort, saying there was nothing in Islamic tradition to support the notion of a women-only mosque. Others suggested the effort would only divide people and would reinforce harmful stereotypes about the oppression of women.

Then there were the supporters, including several men who have themselves witnessed the unequal treatment of women and girls. They are sometimes banished to cramped rooms and poorly maintained areas, or made invisible behind barriers – physically and spiritually separated from a wider community in which they expect to belong.

“It’s been 30 years. How long should I tell my daughters to wait before they get taken as equal partners where they worship?” asked Naeem Siddiqui, a long-time community advocate.

Many women have decided they’ve already waited long enough.

Ms. Khan, herself deeply tied to the traditional mosque environment, was hoping to avoid any backlash. She simply aims to provide an opportunity for women and girls to regularly gather for Friday prayers and together reclaim their religious inheritance.

“Like many women, I grew up in a religious family and attended mosque. In fact, my father was one of the founders of the first mosque in Mississauga, so faith is an essential part of my life,” she wrote in a recent essay for NOW Magazine. “But as I got older I felt less connected to the experience. I didn’t see myself reflected in the scholarship, in the language and in the programming offered to women. Women’s Mosque of Canada is an attempt to engage women, like myself, to reconnect with their religion in a space with other women.”

That Muslim women, often facing the brunt of Islamophobia, need a place to heal is not lost on many. “Sadly, the reality today is that many women feel welcome everywhere except in what we believe are the best places on Earth, the mosques,” Ottawa Imam Sikander Hashemi acknowledged in an e-mail.

Indeed, a 2016 Environics survey of Muslims in Canada confirmed that women were much less likely to attend places of worship than their male counterparts.

Canadian filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz chronicled the growing alienation she felt in her own local community in a 2005 National Film Board documentary, Me and the Mosque. Little has changed since then, although many continue to push for better representation of all levels of mosque governance and participation.

Following in-depth studies of American mosques titled Re-Imagining Muslim Spaces, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding launched a toolkit in 2017 to encourage religious leaders to nurture more welcoming spaces. Other American national institutions have similarly called for more inclusion and provided advice on how to achieve it. Last year, the Muslim Council of Britain launched a six-month program to train women to become mosque leaders.

“Muslim women, Muslim male allies and non-Muslim supporters of mosque reform are participating in one of the most significant struggles presently happening in our global Islamic communities,” Canadian researcher Fatimah Jackson-Best wrote in 2014 for the magazine Aquila Style. “Mosque reform is not some fringe movement or a bunch of troublemakers trying to jeopardize the image of Islam. This is about spiritual equality and destroying archaic notions that are based in culture and custom and have little to do with the religion.”

Growing alienation has sparked the UnMosqued movement in which women, young people and converts eschew traditional institutions, including multimillion-dollar mosques, in search for alternatives or third spaces. These are formal and informal gatherings outside of traditional religious centres and homes, where there is often less rigidity and an authentic embrace of diversity.

Those anxious about the Women’s Mosque of Canada should be less concerned with the thought of women reconnecting with their faith and instead commit to addressing the schism that drove them out of the mosques in the first place.

Source: Backlash over the Women’s Mosque of Canada is predictable – and misplaced Amira Elghawaby