Donnerstag, 9. Oktober 2014

Montag, 15. September 2014

Convert Conversations I

Culturally German, religiously a Muslim. 
Or: Too much biryani.

In the beginning it was exciting

If I am being perfectly honest, in the beginning it was exciting. This new religion came not only with a testimony of faith, principles of belief, acts of worship and the building of a relation with God, but with a whole new, and at times exotic, culture. Cultures, I mean. There was Eritrean hospitality, Moroccon tea, Algerian music, Pakistani food, Turkish fashion, Bosnian sweets, Central Asian architecture. Learning how to be a Muslim, I also learned loads about the many cultures that Islam left its footprint on in one way or another, cultures that are hard to think of without the enormous influence the religion of Islam had on them. 

Turkish lentil soup, Arabic hiphop, South Asian tea

Now, more than ten, almost fifteen years later, I can make a mean Turkish lentil soup; know how to do small talk in Bosnian, Turkish and Arabic; could give a 30 minutes presentation about Arabic hiphop and a 60 minutes presentation about the role of the diaspora in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I can tell a Moroccon hijabi from a Saudi, Pakistani, British-Pakistani, Turkish, Syrian or Malaysian one - from a 100 metres! (when I wear my glasses) - and I would happily explain to you the difference between aloo paneer, palak paneer and aloo keema ... if you asked. I can say the traditional Islamic greeting salam alaikum (may Peace be with you) the way it is pronounced in Turkey, Arabic countries and the Sub-continent. I prefer Fairouz over Umm Kulthum and Moroccon green tea with mint over South Asian red tea with milk; haggle like a pro (I am known to have made a taxi driver in Jericho complain, "she's worse than the locals!"); and it does not seem odd to me (any more) to keep on asking "how are you?", even after the person in question has already replied (twice).

Muslim habits, norms and values

With Islam, I got to know a long list of different countries, cultures, mentalities, lifestyles. Cultures which differ in many ways but which have in common that Islam is one of their main cultural reference points (not the only one, of course, after all, we don't want to fall into essentialist narratives of how all Muslims are the same, do we?). I have gotten to know many aspects of these cultures, I have gotten to love some of them, and many have become a part of me. I have not just become a Muslim but I also adopted quite a few habits, norms and values that are often regarded as essentially linked to Islam while in reality they are rooted in one of the many cultures, societies or communities which happen to be majority Muslim.

Culture and religion

Culture and religion are closely intertwined. That is not just an Islamic phenomenon but something that can be observed in all cultures and religions worldwide. Sometimes this intertwinement is pretty obvious, at times it happens more subtly and you need to look closely to spot it. Sometimes it is problematic, sometimes absolutely fine, or perhaps even of advantage - for example, when it brings out the best in a community of believers. Intertwinement can mean similarity, overlapping, contradiction; it is not positive or negative per se. In practise, the intertwinement of religion and culture means that it is often hard to tell where culture starts and religion ends.

"If you want to be a true believer..."

At first, I did not mind that too much. At first, it was exciting. And at first, I also lacked the knowledge to tell the difference between cultural practises and religious principles. Wrapped in mashaallah, alhamdulillah, bismillah, many things that were not Islamic in their own right (but, for example, Arabic or Turkish) or even not Islamic at all (as they contradicted the very basics of this religion) looked like they were the way to go - if you wanted to be a true believer. "Oh, you don't like abayahs? But that's what proper hijab looks like!" - "What do you mean, you are not happy to sit in the back? But you are a woman! We can't allow free mixing in our Islamic classes!" - "No, no, no, don't ask the speaker your question directly, let one of the brothers pass your question on!" - "Male friends? Astaghfirullah!!??" - "Western music? Filth! I only listen to Nancy Ajram..." - "No, I don't think we should start yet; yes, we are already 45 minutes behind schedule, but what if anyone is still on the way? Isn't it our duty to wait for our brothers and sisters in Islam who came here with the intention of listening to an Islamic talk and not prevent them from gaining knowledge? Gaining knowledge is so important in Islam!" - Ok, sorry, I might have gotten a bit carried away. Where was I?

Ten, almost fifteen, years later...

Ten, almost fifteen years, later, the initial excitement has slowly worn off. Not completely, I still owe a lot to all the Muslims (and their respective cultures) that I have met on this journey in the last years, I love many things I have learned from them, things that have become part of me. But I have become a bit older, a bit (tiny bit!) more knowledgeable, a bit more confident and, sorry!, less accepting of nonsense. I have realised in the last years that people have been trying to sell me something as Islamic which is not. And I'm tired of it. I don't need to wear a Saudi abayah to be a Muslim; I don't need to have the same views on gender relations as many South Asian Muslims, for example, do; my Norah Jones is not less Islamic than your Nancy Ajram; and if you serve samosas and dates to non-Muslim visitors at an event organised by the local mosque that's not "typically Muslim food". Your culture is not representative of Islam. 

Losing out of sight how diverse our Muslim community is

Alhamdulillah for biryani, but do we really need to serve it at every event organised by our Islamic Student Societies? At every single event? If all members of said society are desi (see, how I have learned my cool cultural terms), that's, of course, absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with biryani. This is not about biryani. This is about a majority acting as if the minority did not exist. This is about losing out of sight how diverse our Muslim community is. If all members of a mosque or student society or what-not are not Arabic but they keep on serving Arabic food, in my mind, there is something wrong. And I am not saying that this is being done on purpose, that the biryani fraction of my community have bad intentions or that they are to blame. If you are in the majority it is very easy to forget how those in the minority feel. I am not blaming you for that. But please, try to be a bit open-minded and don't start rolling your eyes and saying, "but it's Eid", when I suggest to order pizza instead of kebabs

An Islamic community in Germany

Last year, I spent Ramadan in Germany. My mosque there is very multicultural. The majority of the visitors are German-Moroccons, but  the mosque is also attended by German Muslims with a German background (like me) and by those whose families once came from Turkey, Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Southeast Asia, Poland, Slovakia, the US (many of whom have also become pretty German in the meantime). The only language we have in common is German so pretty much all activities are in German. In fact, a comparatively high number of young Muslims attend this mosque as they feel more at ease in a German-speaking (as opposed to Turkish- or Arabic-speaking etc.) environment. Here, they understand the language. And know how things are being done. 

German pasta salad for iftar

During Ramadan, free food is provided in the mosque every evening. Most of the time, it was Moroccon food. But that was fine. If 70% of your visitors are Moroccon, there is nothing wrong with serving Moroccon food 70% of the time. If, however, you serve Moroccon food only, I would say, there is a problem. At my mosque, they didn't do that. It was Moroccon food most of the time, with the odd Afghani or Pakistani meal inbetween. One day they made German pasta salad. German pasta salad. With mayonaise, cornichons, sweetcorn - exactly as we would do it at home. I was in food heaven, but I also realised this was the first time in over ten years of being a Muslim that I was eating European food in a European mosque.

It is easy to forget to look outside the box

As I explained above, in many cases, the majority of culturally (pretty) Turkish, Arabic or South Asian Muslims in Europe don't even realise how it can be for a German Muslim, for example, if Islam is made look, taste and feel foreign most of the time. They feel at ease, they know things to be that way, they expect things to be that way, so for most of them the thought that this might not be the same for those with a different cultural background does not even cross their minds. Again, I don't really want to blame them for it. I know myself how easy it is to see yourself only, to assume your preferences to be the norm, to forget to look outside of the box. I do it. You do it. We all do it. And as long as it happens unconsciously, unintendedly, I don't really want to blame anyone.

Muslims full of hared of "the West"

But there is something else, too. There are those who just don't question the predominance of Arabic / Turkish / South Asian / you name it! cultural practises in Islamic organisations and mosques in Europe - but who would, if you told them, agree that, yes, perhaps, one day we can have spaghetti napoli in the mosque for iftar and hmmm, why not get some potato salad, too?! And then there are those who are full of hatred of "the West" which they see as an antidote to "Islam". "Look at the West and how they treat their old people, sending them to care homes instead of looking after them, what a shame!" - "Look at how morally corrupted the West is!" - "You want to wear Western clothes?! Astaghfirullah, that would be imitating the kuffar!" 

I am not imitating "the kuffar" or "the West". I am of one them

I am sorry, I am not imitating "the kuffar" or "the West". I am of one them. Culturally, I am one of them; religiously, I am a Muslim. And before you start screaming now, "Oh my God, she declared herself an unbeliever" - I haven't. Not everything in Europe contradicts Islam. There are loads of cultural aspects that you can perfectly reconcile with Islam. In fact, some aspects of European cultures are even more Islamic than much that is found in many "Eastern" societies (talk about punctuality, bindingness of appointments or lower levels of corruption ... that is if you stay North of the Alps... :P ). 

Like the first Muslims back in the Prophet's time

By holding on to my German identity, I am really not doing anything different than the first Muslims back in the Prophet's time did. They were converts. And carried their (polytheistic) ancestors names, continued to eat their (type of) food and wearing their traditional clothes. They remained a part of society. What we consider essentially Islamic now (names such as Fatima, for example) used to be part of the culture of a polytheistic society. What did the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his followers do? Did they start to scream, "don't imitate the unbelievers" and change their own ways completely? They didn't. They changed what needed changing and held on to what was acceptable to keep. Fatima stayed Fatima. She was not made change her name into a more "Islamically sounding" name when she converted. 

Islam is bigger than this, it is for everyone

And lastly, don't misunderstand me. I am not asking for big changes. I am not asking for German pasta salad everyday. Have your biryani. I'll share it with you. But don't pretend this was Islam. Don't make us, Muslims and non-Muslims, believe your Pakistani naans or Turkish pides were more appropriate to have in the mosque than my German rye bread. Islam is bigger than that. It is more than just biryani. Let's not belittle this grand religion, let's not veil the universal character it has. Islam is for everyone. Look outside your box, have some compassion and try to walk a bit in my shoes. Leave me some room and let me be who I am. That's all I'm asking for.

Donnerstag, 28. August 2014

Jung, weiblich, muslimisch, aktiv

Toller Text in der taz über die Rolle von Frauen im neuen muslimischen zivilgesellschaftlichen Aktivismus.

"Es ist an der Zeit, über moderne junge (muslimische) Frauen zu reden (...)."
"(Ich) möchte (...) nur um der Abwechslung willen einmal von Frauen als Handelnden erzählen, zumal es sich um ein Phänomen handelt, das direkt vor unserer Haustür stattfindet: die Dominanz der Frauen im neuen muslimischen Aktivismus."

"In den Islamverbänden, wo es um Macht geht, dominieren weiter die Männer; in der Zivilgesellschaft und in den Jugendorganisationen dominieren die Frauen."

Aber mein Lieblingszitat: "Wir arbeiten den ganzen Tag und sind noch sonst wie aktiv, da ist Hausarbeit einfach nicht drin."


Dienstag, 1. Juli 2014

Ramadankalender für Faule || Ramadan calendar for lazy people


Das Lieschen ist im Ramadan geboren. Als sie ein bisschen älter war, alt genug, um zu verstehen, was Ramadan ist, begann ich zu überlegen, wie ich ihr vermitteln konnte, was für eine besondere Zeit Ramadan für Muslime ist; wie ich sie dazu bringen könnte, Ramadan zu lieben und es zu etwas zu machen, auf das sie sich schon lange im Voraus freut. Als Kind habe ich Weihnachtskalender geliebt. Als ich durch Zufall irgendwo gelesen habe, dass es Ramadankalender gibt, hat mir die Idee gleich zugesagt. Zum ersten Mal habe ich einen Ramadankalender für das Lieschen vor zwei Jahren gemacht, aber sie war noch zu klein, um die Idee zu begreifen. Nach der Hälfte des Monatshaben wir den Kalender nicht wirklich mehr benutzt.

Lieschen was born in Ramadan. When she got a bit older, old enough to be able to understand what Ramadan is, I started to wonder how I could make her grasp what a special time it is for Muslims, how I could make her love it and be excited about it. As a child I loved my Christmas calendars, so when I read about Ramadan calendars somewhere, I immediately liked the idea. I made a Ramadan calendar for the first time two years ago but Lieschen was still too young to really understand the concept so we only used it half way through the month. 

Letztes Jahr habe ich einen richtigen Ramadankalender gemacht und sie hat eigentlich fast jeden Tag eines der kleinen Briefchen geöffnet. Ich wollte nicht, dass sie denkt, im Ramadan geht es nur um Schokolade und Süßigkeiten, deswegen habe ich jeden Tag einen kleinen Zettel mit einem Islam-bezogenen Begriff vorbereitet ("Qur'an", zum Beispiel, oder "Kaabah", "Hadith", "Mekka", "Geduld" usw.), den ich mit ihr lesen und besprechen habe (so weit das mit einem Kind dieses Alters geht). Die Bastelanleitung für solch einen Ramadankalender habe ich letztes Jahr hier gepostet. 

Last year, I made a proper Ramadan calendar and she did indeed open one of the little sachets almost every day. I didn't want her to think that Ramadan is about chocolate and sweets only, so everyday I put a little note with an Islam-related term on it (such as "Qur'an", "Kaabah", "Hadith", "Mekka", "patience" etc.) which I would read and discuss with her (as much as you can discuss with a child of that age). You'll find the description of how to make such a Ramadan calendar here

Wie man anhand der Bilder und Bastelanleitung sehen kann, braucht es einige Zeit, solch einen Kalender zu basteln. Letztes Jahr hatte ich im Ramadan frei und hatte mehr als genug Zeit, einen Ramadankalender zu machen. Dieses Jahr bin ich mit der Promotion und einer Millionen anderer Dinge beschäftigt und wusste, dass es nicht drin sein würde, einen Kalender wie den vom letzten Jahr zusammenzubasteln. So kam mir die Idee für einen Ramadankalender für Faule Schwerbeschäftigte.

As you can probably tell from the pictures and description, making such a calendar takes quite a lot of time. Last year, I was free in Ramadan so I had the time, but this year I'm busy with my PhD and a million other things so I knew I wouldn't be able to spend that much time again. So I came up with the idea for a Ramadan calendar for lazy busy people.

1) Benutze ein Stück Papier als Hintergrund. Schreibe zum Beispiel "Ramadan karim" darauf, male eine Moschee, Sterne, einen Mond...

1) Decorate a piece of colourful paper, e.g. write "Ramadan karim" on it, draw a mosque, stars, a moon, or whatever else you like.

2) Klebe jeden Tag ein kleines Post-it-Zettelchen auf das Papier. Auf die eine Seite des Zettelchens (die Seite, die man sieht), schreibt man, was das Kind tun soll, z.B. eine Sure rezitieren, ein islamisches Kinderbuch lesen, eine Ramadankarte für jemanden basteln, Fragen zum Islam beantworten (je nach Alter, z.B. wer ist dein Gott? wer ist dein Prophet? welches ist dein heiliges Buch? was ist deine Religion?).

2) Everyday, put a little post-it note on it. On one side of the note (the side, that can be seen), write something your child should do, e.g. recite a surah the know, read an Islamic kids book, make a Ramadan card for someone, answer questions about Islam (depending on the kids's age, e.g. who is your God? who is your Prophet? what is your book? what is your religion?). 

3) Auf die andere Seite des Post-its (die, die verdeckt ist), schreibt man, wo das Kind das Geschenk suchen soll, z.B. "da ist was in einem deiner Schuhe", "schau mal ins Buchregal", "vielleicht liegt was für dich auf der Kommode".

3) On the other side of the note (the one that is hidden), write where they can look for their little gift, e.g. "there is something in one of your shoes", "look in your book shelf", "you might find something on the chest of drawers".

4) Das Kind muss die Frage beantworten / die Sache machen, bevor es nach dem Geschenk suchen darf.

4) They need to answer the question / do the activity before they are allowed to look for the gift.

5) Das Geschenk könnte zum Beispiel ein Schokoriegel sein, ein Lolly, ein paar Gummibärchen, ein kleines Spielzeug, ein Haarband...

5) The gift could be a bar of chocolate, a lollipop, some gummibears, a little toy, a hair band etc...

Donnerstag, 5. Juni 2014

Men, women, friendship and Islam

"Islam forbids 'unnecessary contact' between men and women"

Can men and women be friends? Just friends? Many Muslims will tell you that Islam forbids "unnecessary contact" between men and women. I have heard (and read) this numerous times since becoming a Muslim. There is talks, lectures, books, articles about the topic, in which Muslim after Muslim explain to you that men and women can't, shouldn't, mustn't be friends. There is family, there is mariage, two areas in which contacts with the opposite gender is legitimate; there is the grey zone of colleagues or classmates whom you need to deal with (unless you live in a country where universities and the workplace are completely segregated); there is strangers on the street (whom you usually don't really engage with anyway), but friendship, just for the sake of friendship between men and women? No. Haram. "Where will it lead?!" - "The line between joking and flirting is fine." - "When a man and a woman are together, Shaitan is the third person present." 

No khalwa; no physical contact; respectful behaviour

I know there is difference of opinion between scholars on the topic but I was taught that a man and a woman must not be alone in a secluded space (khalwa). I was taught that physical contact between members of the opposite gender is forbidden unless you are married or he is your mahram (some might want to add "physical contact when there is attraction", again: difference of opinion). I was taught that you must behave responsibly, sensibly and treat others respectfully. This is, of course, true for men and women but in front of members of the opposite gender it is even more important to maintain some decorum. 

It is useful to set objective limits

All this makes sense to me. Not because I believe that if you are alone in a room with a strange man you will inevitably be all over each other within seconds, or that shaking hands with a man will lead to hugging him will lead to kissing him will lead to (I spare you the rest) ... but because I believe it helps to know how far you can go, because I think it is useful to set (fairly) objective limits regardless of the person you're dealing with, because these rules help avoid confusion and misunderstandings. I respect these rules whenever possible, but I don't see how these tell me not to be friends with someone of the opposite gender.

If...: friendship with conditions

If I avoid being in a secluded space with my male friends, if I don't touch them and if they (and I) behave responsibly, sensibly and treat each other respectfully - why should I not be friends with them? Because "where will it lead?!"? Because "The line between joking and flirting is fine"? Because "When a man and a woman are together, Shaitan is the third person present"? No. 

"Where will it lead?!"

"Where will it lead?!" I am not sure what you are thinking of. Where will it lead?! I have had male friends for over ten years. It has not lead anywhere. I have not had any illicit relationship with any of them. I meet them with other friends or in public, talk to them on the phone or via social media, in short: I do not meet them in a secluded space. They know me. They know about my religion, my values, where my limits are. They respect them. They respect me. They don't hug me. They don't touch me. I don't either. They don't think anything when we talk or meet. And I don't either. They are married or not, I know their wives or girlfriends or not, but it is out of question that there is anything except friendship.

"The line between joking and flirting is fine."

"The line between joking and flirting is fine." No. Whether someone is joking or flirting depends on the intention. As long as my intention is pure, there is no flirting. I might joke with my friends but it is joking, nothing else. I know that and they know that. If I sense that there is more on the other side, I know how to distance myself. If it does not stop, he does not stay my friend. Easy.

"When a man and a woman are together, Shaitan is the third person present."

"When a man and a woman are together, Shaitan is the third person present." If you do believe that this hadith means that a woman should not be in the presence of a strange man without a mahram by her side, then I would urge you not to follow my example and have male friends. I do not believe this is what this hadith means. I was taught this hadith means that men and women are not allowed to be together alone, i.e. in a secluded space. I am not in a secluded space with my male friends, so this point does not apply to my friendships with men. If you are in doubt about how to interpret this hadith, check with a scholar. I did. And follow now what I believe in.

Friends who have lent me more money than I make a month

I would not want to miss my male friends. I have male friends that I can call at midnight and talk to them on the phone for three hours without them or me thinking anything bad. I have male friends who have lent me three times more money than I make a month when I needed it and did not ask twice when I would be able to pay them back. I have male friends who I have been friends with when they were single, in a relationship, engaged, married, divorced. I have male friends who have asked me for advice when they wanted to get married. I have male friends who I can discuss family matters with. I have male friends who will tell me when my headscarf does not go well together with my dress at all. I have male friends with whom I can laugh about stereotypes about Muslim women or the assumptions others make when they see us together.

I am not naive: reputation is important, too...

I am not naive. I am not like this with all of my male friends and acquaintances. I will be more careful in some contexts, not because I think what I do is wrong but because there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration, such as, for example, your (and his) reputation. There is no point in knowing that you have not done anything wrong if everyone believes you have. In situations like this, I will be more careful. (Most of the time. Because if there is nothing wrong with what you do, you cannot always worry about what others will think.)

...and so is knowing that there are black sheep

Another aspect to be taken into account is that no matter how clear the rules are to yourself, there is a risk that they might not be as obvious (or seem as respect-worthy) to him as they are to you. However, as mentioned above, this usually becomes obvious rather quickly. Unless you are completely naive, you can usually tell whether someone has pure intentions or something else on their mind. If you can't distinguish between the two, don't be friends with members of the opposite gender.

Breaking off all contact with male friends after marriage?

I have friends who have broken off all contact with their male friends after they have gotten married. It is your life and you have, of course, the right to do whatever you please, but I don't think I will ever understand. If I believe there is nothing wrong with having male friends, if there is nothing but friendship between me and them - why would I stop all contact with them just because I have gotten married? If my husband does not believe me when I say they are just friends, if he cannot stand that there are other people I like and I am in contact with, if he does not trust me - again, it is your life, but - I don't understand. To me it would be insulting if a man told me to stop having male friends or if he was jealous of my male friends. Don't you trust me? And please don't tell me he says: "I trust you, but I don't trust him!" Erm, excuse me?, who do you think I am, a piece of candy that a man just takes when he pleases without me being able to establish any rules, any limits in our friendship?

They offer a different perspective

I don't believe there is anything wrong with having male friends (if the conditions outlined above are met). Not being able to have male friends would break me. I love my female friends, there is something only they can give me; and I appreciate my male friends, something would be missing if they weren't there. Sometimes they are friends just like my female friends are, but sometimes they are different. Sometimes they make me understand things I, as a woman, would not see. Sometimes they offer a different perspective, speak differently, think differently, view things differently. This is something I, as an individual would not want to miss, but there is also a wider context this comes to play in. I want to be an active member of this society. I want to make a difference to my community, to help change things for the better. If I don't know how men think, how they behave, how they speak, laugh and cry, if I don't know how half of this society functions, how will I be able to contribute to making any impact?

Who defines "unnecessary"?

And this, by the way, is one of the reasons, I cringe when I hear this statement that "Islam forbids unnecessary contact between men and women". Unnecessary? Who defines that? Is it unnecessary for me to work with male colleagues? No, because I need to make money. Yes, because I could work from home. Is it unnecessary for me to study at a university where I sit in lectures held by male professors, side by side with my male classmates, where my thesis supervisor might be male? No, because otherwise I could not get an education. Yes, because I could emigrate to Saudi Arabia and enroll at a local, fully gender-segregated university. Is it unnecessary for me to speak to the male shopkeeper, to buy my groceries from his shop? No, because I need to get groceries. Yes, because for just one pound per delivery I could order them online. Is it unnecessary for me to have male friends? Yes, because why don't you just have female friends? No, because it is not the same; because they are not the same; because my male friends offer a different perspective and make me grow in ways that my female friends don't.

Samstag, 3. Mai 2014

LA is...

Californian diary, part 4 (part 1, part 2, part 3)
LA is the grandparents' house. House, garden, garage, four to five cars in the driveway. LA is four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms. LA is eating out, gifts for Lieschen, flying in the granddaughter from England.

LA is a huge suburb. House, garden, garage. House, garden, garage. House, garden... LA is hills, palm trees, multi-lane highways, traffic jams, green valleys to your left, I wish we could stop and take a walk in the fields...

LA is spending hours in the car. LA is taking the car to go to uni, taking the car to go to work, taking the car to visit a friend, taking the car to see your son, taking the car to get the groceries, taking the car to go to the mall, taking the car to get an icecream from the cornershop.

LA is leaving an airconditioned house, getting into an airconditioned car, going to an airconditioned mall before arriving in an airconditioned office.

LA is a tiny city centre, square kilometres of suburbs, endless highways.

LA is the Grandparents' neighbourhood. Doctors, lawyers, teachers. LA is La Puente or Santa Ana. Where per capita income is a third of the one in the Grandparents' city. Where you realise that just because you haven't seen any of the fat Americans everyone talks about in Europe in the city the Grandparents live in, doesn't exist mean they don't exist. They do. Perhaps not in the Grandparents' part of town, but there where it's not four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two living rooms, but a one-storey small house with a flat roof and loads of junk in the front yard and a fence that could really do with some mending.

LA is the mechanic who comes to your house to fix the car. Who is hardly older than you are, works seven hours in the burning afternoon sun and when you get him an icecold coke gives you a big smile revealing the huge gap in his front teeth. LA is the old woman with greyish-blonde hair, a face aged by the sun and rotten teeth who sells you an icecream in Disneyland. 

LA is the villa of a US South Asian family in one of the better parts of town you visit, six bedrooms, five bathrooms, three living rooms, where you sit in the midst of golden picture frames of the son who graduated with an-MBA-mashaallah, the parents years ago on their wedding day, the whole family posing and smiling to the camera, thick, fluffy carpets under your feet, where you are being served chilled apple juice, shami kebabs and green apple slices with red chilli sprinkled over them, while the daughter who is mentally handicapped and writes poetry makes chocolate-chip cookies for you.

LA is driving in the car with two young Desi Americans, who have only ever been to South Asia once or twice and discussing with them the differences between here and there, how we see them, how they see us, how others see us and them and everyone, talking about politics and culture and history and food.

LA is the Grandparents' house. Grandma, Grandpa and the uncles you love Lieschen and will miss her when she is going to leave again.

Dienstag, 29. April 2014

America is...

Californian diary, part 3 (part 1, part 2)

America is very big.

"Everyzing is verry big in zis countrry", said my father jokingly, mocking a typical German accent, after I told him about my first visit to the US two years ago. Yes, everything is very big in this country.

Big cities, vast landscapes, a country that covers half a continent. Six different timezones. Six-lane highways. In each direction. 

Icecream scoops big enough to feed two. When in doubt, always ask for the kids portion. Never order anything large. The American small is the European big-enough.

Two kilogram yoghurt pots, four litre milk bottles. Microwaves, ovens, dustbins three times the size of their European equivalents. A fridge as big as my bathroom.

A bag of chocolates weighing as much as five German chocolate bars for Lieschen.

Large, not to say fat, people. A huge American flag flapping in the wind. America is big.

Donnerstag, 24. April 2014

Palestine in California

Californian diary, part 2 (part 1)

As soon as we enter the shop, it smells like Palestine. It must be some of the spices, zaatar perhaps? it's been some time, crazy how odours can take you back to a place thousands of miles away. It smells like zaatar, the butcher behind the meat corner in the back of the shop speaks with an Arab accent and in the background some young Arab woman sings a catchy pop tune on the radio. A little bit of Palestine in California. It's hot outside on the street, April in LA is like August in London, but cool inside the shop, thank God for ACs.

Fresh oranges (60 cent the kilogram ... this is California, baby!), bananas, apples, eggplants, tomatoes, cucumbers, bundles of cilandro, basil and dill are piled up to your right. Deep-frozen meat and sausages, all halal, in the huge freezers to your left. Colourful hijabs and abayahs in one corner; the exact same kind of biscuits my friend from Gaza would have for breakfast in Ramallah in another. Two oversized Easter bunnies look down on us customers from the top of one of the huge shelves. There is one aisle with South Asian spices and specialities and one with Turkish delicatessen, to cater to all those who are kind of from that same corner of the world.

Living in the Southwest of the US of A, in an air-conditioned beige house with a car and a garage in the front and the small garden in the back that no-one ever uses anyway. Living in the Southwest of the US of A, buying a little bit of home. Or what used to be home. Or what used to be my parents' home. Because I have only ever been to Palestine once and when I walked over al-Manara in my baggy jeans they called me al-Amreeki.

Dienstag, 22. April 2014

The journey

Californian diary, part 1

When my 100-year-old grandmother's uncle left for the US some time in the late 19th or early 20th century, it was the last time he saw his parents. Letters took weeks, if not months, visits were not really an option.

Today we hop on a plane (ok, one bus, one coach, two planes, and a car) ... and 24 hours later, instead of rainy England we're in sunny California.

Waiting to board the plane in London-Heathrow. A group of loud, bored, fat, white, inconsiderate teenagers walk by. Everything I hate about America. Oh no, we're going to the US... Boarding the plane. Blonde stewardess with red lipstick and a huge smile. Friendly welcome, a wink to Lieschen. She has the same accent as my American friend Mary. Who studied in four universities and speaks five languages. Everything I love about America. Yay, we're going to the US...!

On the plane. Indians to my left, Indians to my right. Germans in the row in front of us. French in the aisle. God-another-seven-hours-on-this-plane conversations with a drunk Scot who hates extremists but doesn't mind Muslims and an Englishman who lives in the States. Discussions about Scottish independence (yes or no), Germans in the UK (us) and Brits in the US (them), South Asian (me) and American (him) spouses. About kids. That grow up somewhere in between.

Landing. Queues. Security. Border agency guys who all have the same strange humour. PhD student from England, originally from Germany, exams coming up in May, right answers, passport stamped, you're in.

Relief. Not that there was any reason, but I'm worried every time. And think of those who didn't make it.

Nina was sent back. Housewife from Romania, going to join husband from Nigeria, no good enough reasons to go back, wrong answers, out.

And that's just us, who can afford a plane ticket, not one of the thousands who try to climb fences, outsmart guards, brave the desert sun...

Dallas. Texas. Yeehaw!

Tired. Late night here, early morning there. Yet another plane. Couple of more hours.

LA. Hello Golden State. Hello US.

Samstag, 5. April 2014

Wir müssen schreien, sonst hört man uns nicht

Frauenwiderstand in der DDR der 1980er Jahre 

1. April 2014  bis  31. Mai 2014 
Montag bis Freitag, 9 bis 20 Uhr 
Reformhaus Halle (Treppenhaus), Große Klausstraße 11, Halle (Saale)

"Die Plakatausstellung zum Frauenwiderstand in der DDR erzählt „eine Geschichte vom Sprechen lernen, Verantwortung übernehmen, von Solidarität und der Verteidigung der Menschenwürde in einer Gesellschaft, die von Willkür und Lüge beherrscht wurde“. So beschrieb Bärbel Bohley im Rückblick eine Widerstandsgeschichte, die vor nunmehr dreißig Jahren begann."

Mehr? Hier.

Mittwoch, 19. März 2014

Event: Tackling exclusion in Muslim communities

"Friday 21 Mar 2014, 18:45 - 20:30 
Abrar House, 45 Crawford Place, W1H 4LP 

Event Details:

It is common to observe that exclusion and discrimination occurs at every level of society, on grounds of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, politics, age, and more. 

But how far are  British Muslims prepared to address exclusion within our communities and our institutions? Who is being excluded directly or indirectly, ignored and rendered invisible, their concerns unrecognised let alone addressed?

Are we prepared to go beyond our comfort zones to make our institutions more inclusive, welcoming, and reflective of how our communities are today? Join us for a frank discussion of these issues and how we as a faith community might go about tackling them."

Event details: here.

Donnerstag, 27. Februar 2014

I will complain

"Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

Muhammad, Peace be upon him (Abu Dawud)

Donnerstag, 13. Februar 2014

Das andere Iran

Fotos aus dem Iran ähneln sich oft: Frauen in langen, schwarzen Gewändern; Männer in wuchernden Bärten; Kopftücher; Hinrichtungen; Massen an Menschen. Das ist das eine Iran. Aber natürlich gibt es auch das andere Iran. Leute, die in oft widrigen Umständen versuchen, ihr Leben so leben, wie es für richtig halten; sich ein kleines Stück Freiheit erkämpfen; Moment finden, in denen sie ganz sie selbst sein können. 

Solche Momente sind es, die der iranische Fotograf Hossen Fatemi in seiner Serie An other view of Iran festgehalten hat. Schöne Bilder sind es, die er zeigt; intensive Bilder; Bilder vom Leben ... die hoffen lassen, dass der Iran eines Tages frei sein wird.

Mittwoch, 12. Februar 2014

Integration? Kauf ich mir

Oder: "Noch so einer" vs. "schön, dass du da bist"

Oder: Hasret und Enes

Hasret ist in ihren Vierzigern. Sie kam als Grundschulkind aus der Türkei, wo sie bei den Großeltern, Mama und Papa waren zum Arbeiten in Deutschland, gelebt hatte, nach Deutschland. Sie machte ihren Abschluss, arbeitete, erkämpfte sich das Medizinstudium, begann ihre Promotion. Heute ist sie Ärztin. Jetzt, wo sie beruflich Fuß gefasst hat, ist auch das Kopftuch nicht mehr so eine Barriere, zu dem es teilweise während ihrer Ausbildung und den ersten Berufsjahren von so manchem Chefarzt oder Uniprofessor gemacht wurde. Sie kann was, man will sie. Ihre Fachwissen und die Erfahrung im Beruf sind gefragt. Ihre Türkischkenntnisse sind ein Plus, die Kulturkenntnisse sowieso. 

Ihr Sohn Enes, so würden manche vielleicht sagen, lebt hier "in der dritten Generation". Als es Zeit für ihn war, in den Kindergarten zu kommen, meldete Hasret ihn im katholischen Kindergarten um die Ecke an. In Laufnähe, und dass den Kindern dort auch religiöse Werte vermittelt wurden, sagte ihr auch zu. Enes bekam den Platz. Alles war paletti, bis Hasrets Mutter den Kleinen zum ersten Mal in den neuen Kindergarten brachte. Sie wurde dort so herablassend, so forsch, so was-willst-du-Gastarbeiter-hier behandelt, dass Hasret sich weigerte, den Kleinen in der Einrichtung zu lassen. Jemandem, der ihre Mutter so behandelte, der solch ein Bild von Deutschtürken, von Muslimen hatte, ihren Sohn anvertrauen? Nein, danke.

Hasret hat das Geld, sie kann es sich leisten - und einige Monate später war Enes in einer Internationalen Schule in der Stadt angemeldet. Der Lehrplan orientiert sich an britischem Vorbild, die Kinder sind - wie auf der Insel - bis nachmittags in der Schule, Enes lernt neben Deutsch und Türkisch jetzt auch Englisch und er ist willkommen. Wäre er in eine der Schulen in dem Viertel, in dem Hasret und ihre Familie bis heute wohnen, einkommensschwach, bildungsfern, gastarbeiterig, gekommen - Enes wäre in einer Einrichtung gelandet, auf der er "noch so einer" gewesen wäre. Wie heißt du? Enes. Aha, schon klar. Und dann noch die Oma mit Kopftuch und türkischem Akzent. Jetzt ist Enes auf einer Schule, auf der man sich freut, dass er da ist, wo er dazu gehört, Teil des Ganzen und Multikulti wie alle anderen ist.Wo Vielfalt willkommen ist, wo Enes willkommen ist.

Hasret hat das Geld, sie kann es sich leisten.

Montag, 10. Februar 2014

Sexismus. Und Rassismus.

Von afrodeutschen Frauen, alltäglichem Sexismus und Rassismus während des Nationalsozialismus - und im Deutschland des 21. Jahrhunderts, von Ausgrenzung, Widerstand, Anpassung und Rebellion.


Daima – Frauen | Bewegung | Feminismen | Identitäten

Mo 17. Februar bis Fr 28. März 2014 

Öffnungszeiten: Mo–Fr 14–18 Uhr

Belächelt und sexualisiert werden – diese Erfahrungen teilen viele Frauen. Was, wenn sich das mit Erfahrungen von Rassismus mischt? In der Veranstaltungsreihe kommen Frauen zu Wort, die all diese Erfahrungen von Ausgrenzung teilen und sich ihnen aktiv widersetzen: durch Kunst, Politik und Zeugnis-Ablegen. 

In Kooperation mit Witnessed / edition assemblage. Gefördert von der Senatsverwaltung für Arbeit, Integration und Frauen. Alle Veranstaltungen finden in der Galerie im August Bebel Institut statt (Müllerstraße 163, Berlin, S+U Wedding). Die Räumlichkeiten sind rollstuhlgerecht, Zugang über den Haupteingang des Gebäudes. 


Fr 14. Februar, 18–21 Uhr: Daima. Images of Women of Color in Germany

Ausstellungseröffnung und Buchvorstellung. In Ausstellung und Buch porträtiert die afrodeutsche Fotografin Nzitu Mawakha zwölf Schwarze Frauen, die in Deutschland leben und arbeiten und/oder Deutsche sind. Sie erzählen von Alltagsrassismus, Sexismus und Widerstand, von Familie, Community und Schönheit. Das Besondere: Nicht die Frauen erklären sich – sondern sie sind diejenigen, die die Betrachtenden befragen und den Blick zurückwerfen. Mit: Nzitu Mawakha (Fotografin & Autorin), Sharon Dodua Otoo (Herausgeberin der Reihe »Witnessed«) und Protagonistinnen von Buch und Ausstellung. Grußwort: Barbara Loth (Staatssekretärin in der Senatsverwaltung für Arbeit, Integration und Frauen, angefragt). Live-Musik: 3 Women & The Bass. Um Anmeldung bis 10. Februar wird gebeten. 

Do 20. Februar, 18–20 Uhr: Einschreibungen. Fotografie und Widerstand 

Fotografie blickt auf eine lange politische Geschichte zurück. Welche Möglichkeiten bietet sie im politischen Kampf und um Identitäten auszudrücken? Der Vortrag zeigt zunächst, wie Fotografie mitwirkte, Unterschiede herzustellen und zu zementieren – in Bezug auf Ethnizität, Geschlecht oder Sexualität. In Kontrast dazu werden fotografische Arbeiten wie die des afroamerikanischen Philosophen W.E.B. Dubois, der Schwarzen Südafrikanerin Zanele Muholi und des Afrodeutschen Philip Metz vorgestellt. Sie wollen Fremdzuschreibungen brechen, Blicke irritieren und eine eigene Bildsprache entwickeln. Geht das? Mit: Nana Adusei-Poku (Forschungsprofessorin für Kulturelle Vielfalt, Hochschule Rotterdam, und Dozentin für Medienkunst, Hochschule der Künste Zürich) Moderation: Çağla İlk (Architektin und Kuratorin, büro MILK). Um Anmeldung bis 14. Februar wird gebeten. 

Fr 7. März, 18–21 Uhr Von »Mädchenfallen« und Selbstbewusstsein

Regina M. Banda Stein im Gespräch mit Marie Nejar Am Vorabend des Internationalen Frauentags hören wir den Bericht eines ereignisreichen Lebens: Marie Nejar, Jahrgang 1930, liest aus ihrer Autobiographie »Mach nicht so traurige Augen« und spricht mit Regina M. Banda Stein über ihr Aufwachsen als Schwarzes Mädchen im Nationalsozialismus, über ihr Leben als Schlagersängerin »Leila Negra«, als Krankenschwester und als Aktive in der afrodeutschen Community. Mit: Marie Nejar (ehem. Schlagersängerin und Krankenschwester), Regina M. Banda Stein (ehem. Vorstandsfrau ADEFRA Berlin, Krankenschwester, forscht zur Geschichte Schwarzer Frauen in der Pflege). Um Anmeldung bis 3. März wird gebeten.

Do 20. März, 18–21 Uhr: Feministische Kämpfe of Color in Deutschland. Eine Chronik 

Feminismus in Deutschland ist auch das: Frauen, die nicht nur Sexismus erfahren, sondern auch Rassismus durch die weiße Mehrheitsgesellschaft; Frauen, die sich jenseits von dieser organisieren. Seit Mitte der 1980er Jahre sind Schwarze Feministinnen in »ADEFRA« organisiert und wagen »Immigrantinnen, Schwarze deutsche, jüdische und im Exil lebende Frauen« Bündnisse, zuletzt 2013 in der Tagung »FemoCo«. Was die Beteiligten verbindet: Die Erfahrung, dass Sexismus von Rassismus, Homophobie und anderen Formen der Ausgrenzung nicht zu trennen ist. – Der Abend wagt eine Chronik politischer Kämpfe. Mit: Jasmin Eding (ADEFRA-Gründungsmitglied), Natascha Nassir-Shahnian (FemoCo-Konferenz) und Peggy Piesche (ADEFRA, »Euer Schweigen schützt Euch nicht«). Moderation: Manuela Bauche (August Bebel Institut). Um Anmeldung bis 14. März wird gebeten.

Fr 28. März, 18–20 Uhr: In Gedenken an Juliana Wonja Michael (1921–2013)

Ausstellungsfinissage. Die Finissage ist Juliana Wonja Michael gewidmet, die im März 2013 verstarb. Die Tochter des ab 1894 in Berlin lebenden Kameruners Theophilus Wonja Michael und dessen weißer deutscher Ehefrau Martha Wegner überlebte den Nationalsozialismus durch ihre Arbeit im Zirkus – für viele Schwarze eine Nische, die Arbeit und einen gewissen Schutz vor Verfolgung bot – und in der französischen Emigration. Mit Fotos, Videos, mündlichen Erinnerungen und einer Lesung aus autobiographischen Notizen erinnern wir an die Raubtierdresseurin, Botschaftsangestellte und Übersetzerin. Mit: Nicola Lauré al-Samarai (Historikerin), Lara-Sophie Milagro (Schauspielerin, Label Noir). Um Anmeldung bis 24. März wird gebeten. 

August Bebel Institut, Müllerstr. 163, 13353 Berlin (S+U Wedding) 
 Tel. +49 (0)30 4692-121 / -122 
Fax +49 (0)30 4692-124"

Samstag, 8. Februar 2014

Frauen in der islamischen Theologie

"Innen und Außenansichten: Frauen in der islamischen Theologie im Spannungsfeld zwischen Religion, Macht und Wissenschaft

Vernetzung, Debatte, Wissenschaftsstrategie

25./26. März 2014

Erlanger Zentrum für Islam und Recht in Europa (EZIRE) an der Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Obwohl geschlechtersensible Aspekte und Perspektiven durchaus ihren Platz in der islamischen Exegese besitzen, sind diese bisher kaum in der Islamischen Theologie sowie der Forschung darüber präsent.

Frauen werden in ihrer Rolle als Wissensträgerinnen und -vermittlerinnen selten wahrgenommen. Ziel dieser Tagung ist es, Positionen und Personen zu stärken, die sich innerhalb der Islamischen Theologie mit geschlechterspezifischen und –sensiblen Ansätzen beschäftigen und sie mit Forschenden zusammenzuführen, die sowohl historische als auch zeitgenössische Entwicklungen solcher Ansätze dokumentieren und analysieren.

Die Tagung verfolgt neben der inhaltlichen Auseinander-setzung mit einer wissenschaftlichen Debatte das Ziel der Förderung bisher marginalisierter Akademiker_innen."

Hier geht's zum Flyer zur Veranstaltung.

Mittwoch, 5. Februar 2014

A Muslim name

What does a Muslim look like? What is a Muslim name?

What does a German look like? What is a German name?

Dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes? ... Muhammad?

Blonde, blue eyes, rather tall? ... Hans?

But what about Hans who became a Muslim? The blonde Muhammad from next door? Ayet ... who is no less German than she is Muslim ... and Turkish ...

Of course we (well, most of us) know that issues of identity are much more complex than they can sometimes be presented by some, than how at times we see them ourselves...

But in a world in which being a Muslim and being British (German, French, Russian, US American...) are still way too often presented as mutually exclusive - both by Muslims ("what? your name is Lieselotte? but that's not a Muslim name!") and non-Muslims ("oh yes, I agree, interfaith work is so important! it can really help bring Muslims and Germans together" ...), we are in need of reminders reiterating what we tend to forget ... 

... reminders like this series of beautiful photographs by Claire Beckett portraying US American converts to Islam.

Dienstag, 4. Februar 2014


Ayo: Live at the Olympia, Paris (2007)


Sonntag, 12. Januar 2014

Don't ask me. Seriously, don't ask.

Don't ask me.

Don't ask me what my views on gender relations amongst young practicising Muslim are.

Don't ask me.

Seriously, don't ask.

Don't ask because you would risk triggering a rant that would not stop until I had told you ...

... how fed up I am with attitudes like those of that couple who attended an event at their local mosque which finished late and who refused to give a friend a lift home in their car because ... she was a non-related single female. Seriously? Seriously?? She went home on her own ... because clearly it is so much more Islamic to let a single woman take the underground home late at night than having a foreign woman in your car. What?!

I would tell you how sick I am of hearing the same old stories again and again. So we need a curtain between men's and women's sections in the mosque because otherwise the khatib will get distracted? Excuse me? The khatib will get distracted? And that's why we have to hide the women behind a curtain, not giving them a chance to see the person giving the khutba speak, see his gestures and facial expressions, see when he gets up for prayer, see the male part of their community? Seriously, if the khatib gets distracted by the mere sight of women (in full hijab, by the way) in a mosque ... perhaps he should ask himself what he is doing there in the first place. If really his gaze wanders somewhere he does not deem appropriate (which, granted, at times does happen to the best of us, even to khatibs), can't he "lower his gaze" as we ... happen to be told in the Qur'an? And what on earth does a khatib who "gets distracted by women" in the mosque do out there, in "the real world", full of women, many of whom are much less covered than his "sisters" in the mosque ... and with no curtain in sight? Seriously, poor guy, how does he cope?

If you asked me, I would tell you how upset I am to hear stories like the one of that girl who was a committed member of the Islamic Society at her university and who was asked to speak at a meeting because one of her classmates could not make it. She had all the knowledge on the subject matter required, was prepared and willing to talk ... but was asked to please keep her presentation brief as she did not wear hijab. WHAT??!

I would tell you how offended I was when I noticed that some of the "brothers" at my university's Islamic Society did not return my salam. At first I thought they had not heard. At first I thought they did not realise I was addressing them. But then it became obvious and I found out I was not the only one who was being ignored by them... I don't get how a "brother" can joke around with our non-Muslim / non-hijabi classmates but when you ask him a question he's like "astaghfirullah", murmurs an answer and keeps looking at the wall behind your face.

I would tell you how ridiculous I find it that I have male non-Muslim friends whom I can call at midnight without them (or me) thinking anything inappropriate while with many of my male Muslim friends I have to think twice before sending that text message / making that call / liking their status update because he may find it inappropriate / think that I have gone completely overboard / that a day later the marriage proposal will follow. Seriously, guys ... "brothers" ... can't we just be friends?!

And yes, I know that this is not fair, that we should make 70 excuses for people, that I don't know their intentions, that it might have been unfortunate coincidences, that they have the right to be Muslim the way they deem it correct as much I have the right to my opinion, that what we consider to be appropriate has a lot to do with our upbringing / personal background / views on religion / and so on, that I don't have the right to impose my views on others, that there are loads of Muslims out there who are not like that, that focusing on the negative examples is not the right thing to do either ...

... I know, I know, I know ...

... that's why I asked you not to ask me.

Mittwoch, 8. Januar 2014


Oder: wie man sein Kind dazu bringt, nach mehr Gemüse zu betteln: "Mama, das ist nicht gerecht, ich hab kein Rot oder Orange auf meinem Teller!!" ... 


Freitag, 3. Januar 2014

Cesaria Evora

Cesaria Evora - Live d'Amor (2004)