Looking up at the Stars

Life can go from the sublime to the ridiculous and sometimes within a nanosecond. It got me reflecting that Oscar Wilde was right when he said “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at {and reaching for} the stars.”

My day (6 November 2017) started with me trying to respond, yet again, to a post on the Christian Muslim Forum’s Facebook page about women’s dress. Whatever your view on what is appropriate dress, the fact is this post, made an unfortunate analogy/allegory which seemed to compare women with a sweet. I do not think the person who posted it, realised that, but the main difference for me, since the last time someone put up a similar post, is I have had a little more experience of being covered. I often walk around being covered, because it’s cold, having a bad hair day, praying or in an area where it is wise to do so: e.g. Pakistani market/village. This time, however, I learnt that the covering, can extend to the ears and arms right up to the wrists. I had not picked that up, even when I did a pilgrimage to the holiest sites of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. The above discussion, my experience and the list of powerful men accused of sexual harassment, including the President of the USA; makes me sad about living in a world where women are objectified, and people are abused by the seemingly invincible. It can be difficult dealing with the anger and resentment but most of the some of the responses to the post, above are worth noting.

Comments from a discussion on the Christian Muslim Forum’s Facebook page:

· The question of modesty strikes me as quite complicated. I live and work in a Christian community in the US doing outreach work, and we do ask volunteers to dress modestly, though for us that doesn’t have to include hair covering — indeed, we don’t have a specific dress code at all. I think in the US we have unfortunately developed a culture which encourages women to treat themselves as consumable goods and to dress in a way that advertises their sex appeal, and I think this is very troubling, just as I think it’s very troubling to tell women that they have to cover to a certain degree or they’ll be seen as damaged goods.

· And the question of not causing sin in men’s eyes also strikes me as complex. Obviously, it’s every man’s responsibility to refrain from ogling, catcalling and sexual harassment, and men who use the woman’s attire as an excuse for their misbehaviour are wrong.

· As long as the person’s face is visible so you can identify them she should be able to wear whatever she pleases.

· Oh, not this old chestnut… my take…modesty is clearly a spiritual mode for men and women… it’s a cross gender quality as in fact are all matters of the soul…adab or manners … are the best ways of adopting polite manners of another country. I had a Muslim man decline to shake my hand proffered to him… my initial reaction was affront and then I let it go…small stuff when humans are killing each other over equivalent nonsense… the extremity of taking offense is north Korean dictatorship executing at perceived insults to their idea of protocol…get over it people either way… it’s not a thing and I can promise you the Prophet was not offended easily …. I would hope this is a sign of let people decide for themselves about level of modesty in their women folk… even western men choose to be comfortable or not about their wives’ attire… still the lack of direct responsibility to the women for this Quranic directive is a mystery to me…maybe to draw attention to respect for all women …someone’s daughter or mother so theirs too? Anyway, an over inflated topic but it never goes away!!

· Such a sad and scary statement. But sadly, how women are often seen, and treated, by men from many different cultures…

· Women 👏Are 👏Not 👏 Sweets 👏Phones 👏Or👏Any 👏Inanimate 👏Objects👏

· If men are so dangerous that women must be protected from them then they should be locked up.

· Re the first analogy, anyone can shake the Queen’s hand, if she chooses to initiate the handshake. If you want to treat women like Queens, let them choose who they touch.

· Women are equal people. How about ask a woman, “as if, ya know; we had actual agency in our lives.”

· Both women in the market, the covered and the uncovered one in your example should be “safe” and good for “society” (as you say). Both deserve respect and no human being shall be allowed to harm or judge anyone just because of the appearance (being that short skirt, headscarf or trikini). The problem here is only in the eyes of the person who thinks that he/she should be allowed to judge, harm or disrespect a woman just because she is wearing a short dress.

· Please don’t use what women wear as a justification of judging them. There’s 1 judge- remember that. Look inside yourself and work on that. Questions you may ask are; why do I find women so threatening/repulsive? What might a woman say about the way I interact with her? Where do I place my inner and outer gaze when interacting with the opposite sex? Am I able to accept a woman’s opinion respectfully? Just a few suggestions.

· I am a human being. Not a sweet or a candy or anything else edible and sweet. But if you did try to consume me I would be poison for you. Sorry but putting a human being on a par with candy wrapped or not wrapped is not positive. when I think of Islam I think of our beloved prophet and all I know is that men have failed to show women the respect that he did. So before talking about women or their covered bodies you should remember his example. He did not compare women in this manner. It’s just not healthy to objectify women.

· This is misogynistic nonsense. Women are not men’s property to be protected and kept “pure.” Women are fully human beings capable of deciding what they want to wear and whose hands they want to shake. How would you feel if the tables were turned — if it was women who told you what you could wear where and whose hands you could touch? Please take note of the screaming double standard here. The problem is right there in that last sentence — “That’s how we treat and see *our* woman.” Women are not yours, they are not anyone’s, they are their own. The good news, of course, is that this kind of misogyny is not intrinsic to Islam — it’s simply a cultural construct that’s long outlived its shelf-life. Islam will be all the better and beautiful when it’s gone — and truer to its own essence and impulse towards equality and justice.

· A very harmful allegory that we need to stop promulgating — filled, as it is, with the over-inflated nafs/ego of the patriarchy.

· In my opinion it’s more childish to keep peddling a harmful “allegory” to apparently support women when enough women have made it clear they find it offensive!

· As a Christian husband I resent the inference that I am disrespecting my wife by allowing her to shake hands with strange men.

· Apologies if I am mistaken, but having read you posts it appears your English and the rest of the groups is at odds. You say you are not comparing women to sweets but it’s clear to the rest of us, that your original post, is an analogy or an allegory and those who do like the idea of any human being objectified have responded likewise. Dictionary definition of analogy: a similarity between like features of two things, on which a comparison may be based: the analogy between the heart and a pump. Allegory a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one: “Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of the spiritual journey.” Your statement reinforces that the fact it is an allegory/ analogy and most of the comments have indicated that it is an offensive allegory/analogy.

· “I don’t think this generation of Muslim women need defending from anyone!!!” and can we please focus on issues such as our connection with God, Justice, Peace etc.

Very powerful comments and the next day (7 November 2017) I tweeted “It’s not so hard. Patriotism is about paying your taxes so your country can educate its children, care for its elderly. Treat women with respect. Pay especial attention to how you behave towards people with less power. I also read an article by Aisling Bea about masculinity and decided to write this blog: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/04/aisling-bea-my-fathers-death-has-given-me-a-love-of-men-of-their-vulnerability-and-tenderness?CMP=share_btn_tw.

The above discussions and increasing list of powerful men accused of sexual harassment can lead one to become dismissive/resentful of men and, I think, my poor brothers had a lot to put up with as we were growing up but I love them. I also love looking and being like my father. I love the title of Aisling Bea’s article “My father’s death has given me a love of men, of their vulnerability and tenderness.’ I actually do not think there is a great deal of difference between men and women and I have my dad’s genes/DNA to proves it, but I do think there is a huge difference in the privilege and power we have or do not. Men can also feel equally trapped within the roles society expects them to play. One reason I love the debates around gender fluidity.

As, Oscar Wilde, a man said; “We are all in the gutter but some of us” take whatever opportunity we have to look up at the stars, planets, gardens, comets or even beautiful stained-glass windows.

The East Window at St Martin-in-the-Fields

The East Window at St Martin-in-the-Fields, make me think of all the above: the tangled messes we make, the resentment and fear; yet the Light and the stars get through. The website states it is “Etched mouth-blown clear glass and shot peened stainless-steel frame the East Window was commissioned as part of the renewal of St Martin-in-the-Fields, our major £36m building project from 2006–2008. Light was a key theme of the project and the East Window was designed to let in as much light as possible while creating a work of art that is uplifting and inspirational… 2008, by Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Horne.”

I went to St Martin’s, on the 6 November, for evensong and an event organised by Coexist House: (http://www.coexisthouse.org.uk/), “Reforming attitudes to Islam — Mona Siddiqui, Joshua Ralston, Sam wells.” I have to say the vicar; Sam Wells was funny and I wonder what his sermons are like. Mona Siddiqui and Joshua Ralston shared their considerable experience and knowledge. Lots to take in and be inspired by:

We in the West need to engage with our own history properly, after all it was Guy Fawkes on the previous night which is a reminder of a past we have simply reduced to another holiday.

What does it mean to live as a Muslim in the West?

Did we forget something in the last 1500 years of years or so? Yes, the art of discussion, the thinkers who talked and continue to talk about what does it mean to live well? What does it mean to pray? What does a religious voice bring to the public conversation? What is Beauty, Our values and Inspiration?

A reminder that in the past, when the British Empire ruled some of these lands they thought, Sharia Law was not strict enough and so imposed harsher laws and this included establishing laws that criminalised same sex same relationships: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/10/30/the-british-colonial-origins-of-anti-gay-laws/?utm_term=.f910833bf1bd)

There is within Islam a concept: ALLAHU ALAM, an Arabic expression meaning God knows best, which can explain why there were several different schools of law that were equally valid: i.e. the other person might be right. Also, at various times, some schools of law or jurists were asked by the ruler to work for them but they refused, perhaps, knowing that power may corrupt justice. Isn’t this the separation of state and religion that we in the West are so proud of?

Stay engaged no matter how difficult the encounter. It is through which unsettles us, that we grow.

We don’t think of history anymore. It’s too easy to talk about injustice. We need to share power and for too long a dominate group has been allowed to suppress the other. This includes Muslim communities where the majority largely Sunni community have not played fair with the, generally, minority Shia community.

All this talk of history made me reflect on some of mine. I worked with the British army, during the summer, when I was a student, which involved living in the officer’s mess. On one occasion, one of the officers decided to show us around the Mess and before realising it, I mentioned that one of the pictures, was probably when his regiment was fighting my ancestors, in the Punjab. It’s also the only time, I have had a soldier shout the “n” word at me and then hide behind a fence. The officers were horrified, when I told them, and one of them shared their experience of working with the Gurkhas. I recently had to teach, mostly students of … descent, about the battle of Hastings and one of a significance of that battle, is that we, in Britain proudly state, that we have not been successfully invaded since 1066. History is important, but so is the refection, understanding and empathy it encourages which is why we need to see it in its entirety and not focus just on the bits we like. There and my ancestors were invaded by the British, which is perhaps why we are now British: Trevor Noah and British colonialism https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ichVw7Uef6w

Maybe it’s only when we are in the gutter that we can look up and reach for the stars! Maybe it’s only when you try and limit the Light it comes and demonstrates its power.

May we all be well, healthy and strong:

May we all be happy.

May we all abide in peace

May we all feel safe and secure

May we all feel loved and cared for.

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