If you think that you have just one life, think again. There's the life you think you have, the life others think you have and the life you really have- three lives!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I did it and I'm back and I'm sorry

So so so so so sorry to everyone who was worried about me.
The good news is I'm fine.
Thanks Peter, Kinzy, Racooooon and everyone else.

The better news is that I've just hit save on the final chapter of my PhD.
Yes yes, I know that I said I wasn't going to do it anymore in my last post- but I just couldn't help myself. I've finished 10 months ahead of schedule- just because I can. I haven't cleaned my oven for a couple of weeks though!

It's been two years, one month and five days since I started my PhD on the fear of terrorism. 10 Focus groups and 60 interviews and 140 000 words and 360 pages later I'm done! In the meantime I seem to have developed an unsightly haunch in my shoulders, a permanent frown and a somewhat nasty disposition (as opposed to my usual sun shiny shiny happy happy disposition).

OK- so let's get up to date.
Marraige- working- YAY. After some really long talks and some laying down of the laws things are working out OK. I basically told himbo that I did not want great sex and physical attraction to be my 'everything'. Sounds lame hey! And I just know that you blokes out there are now shaking your heads furiously and mouthing 'oh noooooooooooooo' while desperately hitting the exit button before your partners see this post and start getting ideas!
But it's true. Everyone I've ever spoken to about marraige problems seems to have the same problem- bad sex. They enjoy a great spiritual and intellectual connection, they describe their partners as their 'best friend' but say they would like more sex. True, that everyone I've ever spoken to about marraige problems happens to be male- but that's beside the point. I have the exact opposite problem- great sex but no intellectual connection. So here's what I did...
I demanded less sex and more connection! I put a limit on all sexual activity and reduced the frequency from 5-7 times a week to 3-4 times a week AND (here's the best bit) I made a new rule that we have to talk about our feelings more. That bit hasn't really worked mainly because I'm not really into talking about feelings unless I'm feeling particularly PMSful. The late late nights working on my thesis have assisted with the sex reduction strategy though.
I hate sounding like a sappy chick flick so I'm going to stop there.

What's next? Oh, I've been very busy writing- not just my thesis- I've been asked to contribute chapters to two books- academic stuff- not the creative kind. I have also been researching a book of my own which I hope to churn out one day (once I get my posture and my sun shiny shiny back). It will be about the discourse of jihad and the ontogenetic power of the jihadi message.

On the political front- Hilaly is out and some other old fart is in his place. I hear this guy is better- the less I hear from him the better I'll think he is! Apart from that am loving watching our PM John Howard squirm in the knowledge that nobody loves him everybody hates him, he should go eat worms! Am hoping that the election will be called soon so that we can all vote him out of office. Not that puppet head, Kevin Rudd, is any better. Anybody else think he looks like a Chucky doll? Maybe it's just me and that nasty disposition of mine.

On the subject of elections- the big big news is that I was approached by a political party (which I can't reveal here because it would blow my cover) to run for a Senate Seat in this years elections. It's really not a big deal as it is highly unlikely that I'll get a seat given that I'm third on the Senate ticket but it is nice to be asked and I really wanted to do it just to let all the Muslim girls out there know that you don't have to hide behind a burqa- you can leave the shadows and it's ok if you do.

And that's about it- boring I know- but most of my time has been spent cultivating a love affair with my laptop (I know which buttons to push to turn it on).
Love to all

Saturday, April 07, 2007

I can, I can, I can, I can't

I can graduate with high honors
I can survive a massive haemmorage after an illegal backyard abortion in a seedy looking Cairo back street (will tell that story one day)
I can withstand the pain of child birth (for 10 hours followed by 2 hours of pain relief)
I can do the midnight dash to the emergency ward with a 6 year old who is turning blue
I can stare into the face of a violent husband, hold a knife to his throat, threaten to kill him if he hits me again, then walk away and never look back (will tell this story too)
I can let the past go and help him to reconnect with his children
I can change a tyre, fix a leaking tap, hang a picture, paint a house, sew curtains, lay tiles, put together Ikea furniture, use a jigsaw, dig a pond, plant a garden and install a shelf
I can also burn out a car engine because I forgot to put oil in it
I can raise two children on very little money
I can earn six figures
I can complete a 50 page report on domestic violence among Muslim communities in 2 (very long) days and have it launched by a senior politician a month later
I can jog for 40 minutes
I can dine and chat comfortably with diplomats, academics and homeless people alike
I can complete a Masters degree in 9 months
I can complete a PhD in 2.5 years
I can tutor my son in highschool physics even though I've never studied it
I can read Foucault and get him and then I can explain him to my students
I can stand up in a room of 100 or so men, know they are probably more interested in checking out my breasts, and within one minute, have them hanging on my every word as I talk about terrorism and fear
I can stand up to a group of armed bikies taunting a Chinese student and get the group to disperse
I can write about the dark days of my teenage years and be OK about it
I can MC an event, appear on TV, sit on a panel and go live on radio without breaking into a nervous sweat
I can forgive my sister, my parents and myself
I can perform CPR

I read an article today in which this woman talks about how she was always gunning for an A+ in her marraige and I realised that's me.
Always trying to be the best at everything- the best wife, the best lover, the best mother, the best daughter, the best sister, the best student, the best teacher, the best stepmum, the best friend, the best worker.
Most of the time I think I'm probably just scraping in with a C even though I put this incredible pressure on myself. It's not enough for me to be average, or even good. No, I have to be perfect!

I can't just finish my Phd in the alotted 3 years, like everyone else- no I have to finish it in 2.5 eventhough my generous scholarship is for 3 years.
I can't just clean the kitchen like normal people- no I have to take apart the stove, scrub the little knobs till they glisten, I have to scrub the pots, I have to polish the kettle, rearrange the bloody sugar and tea cannisters for crying out loud and clean the oven 3 times in one day.
I can't just mark my students essays with ticks or crosses- no I have to write each one of them an essay back- commenting on virtually every line they have written. Then I have to take 20 hours to speak to each one of them individually about their essays (trust me- there is no university lecturer who does this!)

The worst part is that I don't want to be like this! I don't want to be bloody perfect and I don't want to exhaust myself trying anymore. Perfection is highly over rated.
I don't want to be that little girl who waits eagerly for her husband to come home, look at the gleaming kitchen with its shiny kettle and glistening nobs- praying that he nods his approval- just so that she can give herself an A+

I don't want to do it anymore.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


I reckon that there are people in this world who just don't know how to find their own happiness. They look to others to make them happy, relying on those around them to take responsibility for their lives.

Then there are people in this world who measure their self worth by the happiness of those around them. They take it on themselves to be responsible for others' lives. They live for it, infact, measuring their successes and failures in life on the basis of those around them.

What happens when these two people get together?

In some ways it's the perfect union-symbiotic almost- one needs the other to be happy and one needs the other to make happy- but it's not. It's far from perfect.

I reckon I'm a pretty happy kind of person. Sure I've faced trials, heartache, sadness and hard times in my life. So what? Who hasn't? Everybody has a story- everybody.

I've been on the verge of death and back.
I've been forced to make choices that I didn't want to make, that I wasn't prepared to make that I did not have the capacity to make.
I've had days when I could only afford to feed my children and would go without (we were poor but we we had a roof over our heads and warm beds at night)
I've sat by my son's hospital bed in the middle of the night, alone, with noone to talk to, no shoulder to cry on and no hand to reassure me- wodering if he would make it through the night.
I've had days when I felt so alone, so lonely and so lost that I thought I would never make it out of the shadows.

But hasn't everybody? Compared to some people- my life has been a party and at the end of it all- I realise it wasn't half bad after all.

I do not for one minute regret any path that I've taken, any path that I've been forced to take and where I've ended up- it's all good. So, yeah- I'm happy.

But there is one thing that plagues me- a constant niggling, yearning, desire to make everyone else happy.
You might think it comes from a natural urge to nurture and love but I'm not so sure it's all that noble.
Perhaps it's a bit of arrogance- a bit of self adulation that makes me think that I have the capacity to bring happiness where there is misery; hope where there is despair and laughter where there are tears.
Perhaps it is my overblown sense of my own "sun shinyness" that defines failure for me. Failure being when I cannot make someone else happy- when, despite everything that I do, that I sacrifice, that I give- he still cannot find his happiness.

Why? Why do I do that? Why is it so important for me to do everything I possibly can, even if it means going out of my way and making myself 'unhappy', to make someone else happy? And why am I so hurt when it doesn't work?
Every common sense part of me tells me that I'm an idiot- ofcourse I can't make someone else happy- ofcourse happiness can only ever come from within- ofcourse the more I try the more I fail because it's not up to me.

So why do I do it?

Any answers out there?

Thursday, March 29, 2007


It's my birthday today. A big one- one of those ones with a zero on the end- you can guess.

Usually I look forward to my birthday. We have a bit of a tradition where we make a big fuss over birthdays and celebrate in the lead up.

Not this year.

I'll remember this birthday because for the past 5 weeks (has it really been that long?) my husband and I have not spoken, have not touched, have not said more than 2 words to eachother. It's started again and this time I don't think it's going to end in reconciliation or resolution- it never does actually- but this time I know that there is nothing more that I can do.

I've said before that my relationship has been strained and that last year I resolved to just accept the fact that we don't really share an intellectual or emotional intimacy. I was happy with that I guess- or maybe I was just fooling myself.

What does it mean to say "I don't love you anymore"?
It means that I have failed- again.
It means that I once loved you- but somehow that love got lost and I can't seem to find it. I don't know where it went and I haven't been able to hold on to it.
It means that I've finally faced up to the fact that love is not enough. All those romantic notions we had of how our love was strong enough to break cultural divides, transcend differences, live on forever- it was all bullshit.
It means that I'm not strong enough, not able to cope with the constant cycle of good and bad. One day I'm perfect- your dream wife and the next it seems like I'm everything you don't want.
It means that I can't make you happy- I tried but I just can't.
It means that I can't be who you want or need me to be and you can't accept me as I am.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh What a Night

Well the Arrested Development concert would have to be the highlight of the year, possibly the decade.

Apart from the fact that we waited 30 minutes in line and then had to sit through 2 hours of support bands (they weren't too bad except for the guy who thought he was the white and bald Craig David), and fend off the foetuses before Arrested Development finally came on stage at midnight- it was bloody brilliant.

The band played for over an hour. I know I was the biggest fan there because nobody was singing along to Mr Wendall like I was!!
And I was right up the front.

But wait there's more...

After they finished playing they came around and shook hands with all the people in the front row so I got to say a quick hello to them all.

But wait, wait there's more...

After the concert my friends and I were going to get some coffee. We walked behind the club and saw the band leaving. I got to meet them- all of them-Speech, Farida, Neisha and Baba- not just meet them but talk to them, I mean really talk about all sorts of things for around 45 minutes- we talked about life, love, kids and the fact that I have been listening to their music for 17 years. My kids were raised on Arrested Development- it was like milk to them- there is not another 17 or 14 year old in the world who can sing along to Mama's Always on Stage, Rain, Mr Natural and Tennessee like my boys can!

We took photos and said goodbye and I invited the band to a function I was MCing the next day that featured an African fashion parade. They said they'd try to make it and gave me the name of the hotel they were staying at.

But wait, wait, wait there's more....

After we said goodbye, we started walking back to my car having decided not to go for a coffee afterall. Then we saw One Love (who's been with the band for about 8 years) and the DJ from the club trying to get a cab. If you've watched the Amazing Race and know where I live, you'd know that it is virtually impossible to get a cab here- so they weren't having much luck.

What's a courteous, angelic, kind hearted girl to do in such a situation?

Offer them a lift ofcourse.
They were heading to a club in another suburb so they hopped in and we drove them to there.

But wait, wait, wait, wait there's still more...

We had a great conversation in the car and One Love (who's real name is Spencer) invited us to the after party which we stayed at for about an hour before finally heading home at 4am for some much needed sleep.

The next day (Saturday) I woke up without a voice and realised that I was going to be MCing the whole day on Sunday. Luckily my voice came back by then but I was a little croaky.

The late night/ early morning nearly killed me (I'm getting too old- time to settle down) but it was worth it.

They didn't make it to the fashion parade on Sunday but it didn't matter because they'd already given me so much through their music.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Too exciting

I'm sooooo excited
Tonight I'm taking my gal pals, Roo and Miss F, to the Arrested Development concert. It's Miss F's birthday next week and I thought dinner and a concert would be the perfect gift for the gal who already has too much of everything else that a gal wants (shoes, bags, belts, etc)

Arrested Development is one of my favourite bands and I can't wait to see them play classics like Tennessee, Mr Wendal, Everyday People, and my favourite, United Minds.

I think I've mentioned before that I live in the most isolated, boring, perochial city in the world and I never ever expected that Arrested Development would come here. Most bands that visit Australia do the East coast (Sydney, Melbourne) and that's it. That means a five hour, $600 flight plus the cost of accomodation and the entry fee if I want to see any big names.

But Arrested Development is here, and I'm going to see them tonight!
Too exciting!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Update on the domestic violence issue

You'll remember my ranting about a Muslim women's association (otherwise known as Enablers) that had first hand knowledge that a father was abusing his daughters. He had broken the nose of one of them and cause the other to become deaf in one ear by banging her head against the wall. He had held them captive in their bedrooms for 3 weeks and threatened to kill them. He had also threatened to return them to Afghanistan to face the prospect of an arranged marraige or an honor killing.

You'll remember that upon learning of this I advised the association to go to the authorities. You'll remember that the association refused and instead brought in a conservative Imam to speak to the father. You'll remember that I drove to the police station at 9pm one night and filed a report. I informed the authorities. The girls were taken from their father and placed in foster care.

You'll remember that I attended a meeting with the authorities at their request along with a representative from this association of Enablers who defended the father, denied he had done anything wrong and then later called me a Kafir because I suggested that the intergenerational conflicts needed to be addressed by engaging the girls' boyfriends so that they also understand what is going on.

You won't know that I received a copy of the letters the girls had written during their time with their father that detailed every disgusting, degrading and humiliating moment of his abuse. You won't know how much I wept over those letters.

You'll remember that I did not choose to be involved in this situation- but the burden of knowledge was far too much to bear.

Well, the authorities have returned the girls to their father. He has taken them to Afghanistan.

I can only despair.

Polyandry Fatwa

Like me, you're probably wondering wtf polyandry is.

Well it's the female answer to polygamy. That's right- imagine that ladies- two fragile egos to pander to. I'm just quivering with excitement at the prospect!

The world just gets stranger and stranger- apparently there is a Polyandry fatwa- meaning that us Muslim women who have long been subjected to the humiliating and degrading practice of polygamy may actually be able to get ourselves another hole in the head.

Did I say hole in the head? I meant husband.

Seriously though, I'm all for equal rights- but do two wrongs make a right?

The Polyandry Fatwa

By Mohja Kahf

(AL-TAL, SYRIA) Women in this small Syrian town have had absentee husbands for decades, like women in many other poorer Arab states, where the lack of livable income drives many men abroad in search of work. Now, thanks to improved DNA testing and a fatwa from Syrian ulema that some think will soon be followed by the ulema of other countries, women here have the option of taking a second husband, even if they do not want to divorce the first one.

Polygamy in Islam has traditionally been a male prerogative. The preservation of nasl, or paternity, is cited as the reason why the Quranic verse allowing polygamy for men cannot be assumed to apply in both directions. This has always posed an interpretive problem, since Quranic commandments phrased in the male gender case are not generally assumed to
apply exclusively to men. Many verses commanding prayer and fasting, for example, or detailing how zakat must be distributed, are offered in the male pronoun, but apply equally to women.

With enhanced DNA testing now making it possible for paternity to be determined non-invasively from the moment of conception, in a process accessible to everyone in this socialist state, where all health care services are considered a universal human right, ulema in the small,
Muslim-majority country are relieved to be able to extend the blessing of polygamy to women. The secular government has not played a role in devising the fatwa, but a representative of family court says such marriages will be recognized.

“It solves a real stress that is on our society,” Sheikh Habib-uddin says, as one of the scholars who was instrumental in coordinating the ijma effort. “We have political prisoners who are arrested and never seen again by their wives. We have men who migrate to the Gulf for work, but send paychecks once in a blue moon, and God knows what wives and families they have taken there.”

His own daughter, Carima, was married for four months to her cousin Rafik, in a match that had been arranged and happily celebrated by the two families, when the state police hauled Rafik away for political activism.

“I don’t want to divorce him,” Carima says. “even though my mother and father said that would be okay. He’s my cousin, and I’m fond of him.” She blushes. “He should come out of prison and find an empty room? I can’t do that to Rafik. I should be there for him if he gets out one day. When. When he gets out.” She pauses to wipe the tears that have sprung to her eyes.
“But—I should put my life on hold? Not to be able to build a family of my own? My younger sisters were having babies, and I had none to cradle in my arms.” She cites the example of another woman in the extended family who lived on tenterhooks for twenty-two years because her husband, also a political prisoner, was reported alive by a prisoner who was released. Five
years later he was said to be dead, then alive again. Doubt and hope went on for more than two decades, with prison authorities unwilling to release information.

“Divorce is allowed in such circumstance, of course,” Sheikh Habib says. “But the woman refused it as long as a shred of hope remained.” Finally it became clear that her husband had been executed the first year, in one of the repressive massacres of the Baathist state.

Carima waited three years after Rafik’s arrest before allowing her parents to arrange another marriage for her, to neighborhood shopkeeper Abu Tosheh. She still goes to the authorities with Rafik’s parents at the start of every year to file an inquiry, and meanwhile is pregnant with her first child and glowing.

“This is exactly the sort of difficult dilemma God created polygamy to relieve,” says Muslim Brotherhood representative Aqil Fahim, a Syrian dissident who lived in Riyadh for four decades. “I’ve seen men in the Gulf who are supposed to be there to support wives and children back in Syria, but they end up finding a nice local girl and settling down. What happened to sending money back home?”

More than money is on the mind of Um Wisal, whose husband is one of those deadbeat dads in Riyadh. Abu Wisal’s father and clan were willing to support Um Wisal and her eight children, given the abandonment of their son, who wouldn’t divorce her. Rumor had it, he’d married two women in Saudi, a Moroccan and a Somali. Whenever she sent word asking for a divorce, he’d
wire money, along with the words “Baby, don’t go.” So Um Wisal had no case for divorce on the grounds of non-support, plus the words made her remember his charms. “That was our song,” she says, pulling the edge of her veil over her mouth to hide a smile. “Maybe he’ll come back some day, and we’ll have us some more good times.” She puts her hand on her ample hip and says, “But I wanted a man by my side. A woman needs support in this world. I wanted the
weight of a man.”

She found one, in the hefty shape of a truck driver from Ifrin, Farris al-Youm. Her husband’s clan was furious. They tried to take the children, but she wasn’t divorced from their son, so they couldn’t. “I’m halal married,” she says triumphantly. She sends the children to their father’s
clan after school, at dinnertimes, and for breakfast and lunch on weekends. Asked whether she is a good mother despite her second marriage, she insists that she is; Farris’ driving schedule allows her time to give them plenty of motherly affection, as well as to tend her two goats and to harvest her seven walnut trees.

Advocates of the Polyandry Fatwa insist that it’s not just about sex (really? because who could resist Arab men?). Areej Basaleh (who, with a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies, teaches at Damascus
University’s Islamic College) says it’s about companionship, being a couple, having a mate at the dinner table, for some, while for other women it is also about finding a provider and a protector in a world that is still tilted toward male power (oh yeah- I forgot- we need protectors to keep us in the shadows, otherwise we'd whither away). Others want to balance between family obligations incurred with a first marriage, and personal inclinations addressed by a second spouse. Sometimes the first spouse is mentally instable, or infertile, or brainstem dead, but the wife wants to keep the bond out of loyalty, or for the children or inheritance issues.

And then there is also sexual need, she admits. “Marriage is a sexual outlet, among other social glues it provides.” Some first husbands have prostate problems and cannot take Viagra because of heart conditions, she explains, or simply are unable or unwilling to understand how to bring a
woman to climax, even though her equal right to orgasm is, nominally at least, recognized by Islamic jurisprudence. They want to clamber on top of a woman without the foreplay of “kisses and words” advocated by the Prophet Muhammad. Or they master vaginal sex in one traditional position, but are unwilling to adventure further, leaving her frustrated and bored, staring at the ceiling. Yet other aspects of the marriage may be fine, and the wife may
be willing to stay in the marriage for those reasons, seeing it as cruel and selfish to leave, especially if there are children. She is thus left with a sexual dilemma.

“Marriage is the one place we, as a faith community, do sanction sex, right?” Areej continues. “So it’s supposed to fulfill that natural, God-ordained function, in a context of love and compassion.”

“When it’s not doing so for too many women because the men are not stepping up, something is wrong, and religion should provide a compassionate answer,” says conservative cleric Imam Hamid al-Fahl, who works out at the gym to stay in shape for his wife, and brings her roses on the anniversary of the publication of the book that founded the Shafi’i school of fiqh. “Something
had to be done about all these restless women.” With the Polyandry Fatwa, men will realize that, for the first time in history, there are consequences for such shortcomings, Imam al-Fahl believes. Even those whose wives do not consider the polyandry route will be more motivated to try harder.

Opponents of the Polyandry Fatwa point out that it’s not just for women with absentee first husbands. Women with husbands who are present and accounted for make trouble in the family by marrying over them, they say. Feminists who would rather see polygamy ended all together are not pleased, but polyandry proponents say such activists are just not being realistic.
Christian Syrians in this 15% Christian country say they do not wish to get involved in what they see as a intra-Muslim issue, but privately, some think the Muslims have gone nuts (“We had the good sense to ban all multiple marriages by the third century after our faith started, and anyway we see abstinence as the ideal to strive for; you folks seem to swing the other way”), while others say they were glad to see Muslims finally being fair to women on the multiple marriage thing.

Romantics who insist that marriage means a pairing of two souls meant exclusively for each other are outnumbered by those who say that is a highly individualistic view, contingent on specific economic conditions in other societies. They add that marriage in Syria, rather than being merely an individual act, is a societal institution at the center of a web of complex,
pragmatic roles. Nature can be brought in to support either view, with romantics pointing to the lifelong pairings of monogamous animal species and polygamy advocates noting the proliferation of multiple partners in other species.

Conservative Muslim adversaries of the polyandry ruling, meanwhile, derisively tag it “the Slut Fatwa.” “Only a slut would want to sleep with more than one man,” says Mafini Dam of the Center for the Syrian Family in Damascus. (that's different to the other millions of slut fatwas out there mind you like the 'sew yourself up again slut fatwa', the 'it's ok to kill the slut who dishonored you fatwa' and the 'mutilate the vaginas of the sluts fatwa')

“Case in point, my neighbor Sharifa Izzat,” she says. “She’s got the apartment upstairs with her first man, and an apartment down in the basement with the second one.” There is a rhythmic rattling from the ceiling and Mafini, a widow, puts her hands to her ears. “A’ouzu billah,” she says.

Sharifa Izzat, 35, freshly showered, brushes aside Mafini’s disdain, as she enters the apartment house lobby. Sharifa’s upstairs husband is a respected contractor twelve years older than she, paunchy and bald, “but a dear,” she says, and a good father and provider.

The downstairs spouse is a long-haired starving artist with rugged good looks who takes her dancing on the town and paints loving portraits of her three children (from the first husband) in oils. Seven years younger than she, he made her feel alive after sixteen years of marriage had settled her into a rut. She was not willing to have an affair; it had to be halal and aboveboard. Nothing sordid: a clean, responsible act.

“Each husband satisfies a different side of me. I’m a complex woman in her prime,” Sharifa says brightly, pushing the “down” elevator button. “One for the money, two for the show,” Mafini says of Sharifa’s two husbands, grimacing.

Sharifa is open to the idea of a third husband, “but only if the right man came along.” It would make her life even more complex, she knows, and while her two current husbands have adjusted to each other, a third might change the dynamic. “I’ve always had a soccer player fantasy,” she says with a wink, as the elevator door closes on her. (I think she means soccer team)

Islamic education materials distributed by imams in support of the Polyandry Fatwa remind women that the Quran limits polygamy to four spouses, and that they must be scrupulously fair in dividing their time and attention among them, an ideal men have had a hard time living up to. The pamphlets also note that monogamy continues to be favored implicitly in the Quran. Most
Muslims, says Shaikh Habib, historically have been monogamous, and polygamy has been limited to small numbers in society, even if the spotlight often falls on those few. And most Muslims, he believes, will continue to be monogamous.

“But it’s nice to have options,” his daughter Carima adds.

Friday, March 02, 2007

One for Halal Hippie

I got this interesting article by email.
Food for thought!

Imagery in Islam

There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead. That position was further buttressed by the fact that Islam acknowledges the Jewish Ten Commandments--which include a ban on depicting God--as part of its heritage. The issue has never been decided one way or another, and the claim that a ban on images is "an absolute principle of Islam" is purely political. Islam has only one absolute principle: the Oneness of God. Trying to invent other absolutes is, from the point of view of Islamic theology, nothing but sherk, i.e., the bestowal on the Many of the attributes of the One.

The claim that the ban on depicting Muhammad and other prophets is an absolute principle of Islam is also refuted by history. Many portraits of Muhammad have been drawn by Muslim artists, often commissioned by Muslim rulers. There is no space here to provide an exhaustive list, but these are some of the most famous:
A miniature by Sultan Muhammad-Nur Bokharai, showing Muhammad riding Buraq, a horse with the face of a beautiful woman, on his way to Jerusalem for his M'eraj or nocturnal journey to Heavens (16th century); a painting showing Archangel Gabriel guiding Muhammad into Medina, the prophet's capital after he fled from Mecca (16th century); a portrait of Muhammad, his face covered with a mask, on a pulpit in Medina (16th century); an Isfahan miniature depicting the prophet with his favorite kitten, Hurairah (17th century); Kamaleddin Behzad's miniature showing Muhammad contemplating a rose produced by a drop of sweat that fell from his face (19th century); a painting, "Massacre of the Family of the Prophet," showing Muhammad watching as his grandson Hussain is put to death by the Umayyads in Karbala (19th century); a painting showing Muhammad and seven of his first followers (18th century); and Kamal ul-Mulk's portrait of Muhammad showing the prophet holding the Quran in one hand while with the index finger of the other hand he points to the Oneness of God (19th century).

Some of these can be seen in museums within the Muslim world, including the Topkapi in Istanbul, and in Bokhara and Samarkand, Uzbekistan, and Haroun-Walat, Iran (a suburb of Isfahan). Visitors to other museums, including some in Europe, would find miniatures and book illuminations depicting Muhammad, at times wearing his Meccan burqa (cover) or his Medinan niqab (mask). There have been few statues of Muhammad, although several Iranian and Arab contemporary sculptors have produced busts of the prophet. One statue of Muhammad can be seen at the building of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the prophet is honored as one of the great "lawgivers" of mankind.

There has been other imagery: the Janissaries--the elite of the Ottoman army--carried a medallion stamped with the prophet's head (sabz qaba). Their Persian Qizilbash rivals had their own icon, depicting the head of Ali, the prophet's son-in-law and the first Imam of Shiism. As for images of other prophets, they run into millions. Perhaps the most popular is Joseph, who is presented by the Quran as the most beautiful human being created by God.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Progressive Islam

I've been prompted by some of the comments to write this post about Progressive Islam (Racoon, I hope this answers some of your questions.)

First of all, let's examine some home truths:
  • Islam has fractured into a number of Sects (2 Sunni schools of thought, 6 Shia sects, 6 Sufi orders, 2 Kharajite sects, 4 Kalam schools, 7 movements within Sects including Salafism and Wahabbism and 8 other sects). All this despite the Quran (6:159, 10:19) prohibiting Sectarianism.
  • Sects differ according to the Hadith and Sunnah (sayings and doings of the Prophet), not according to belief in the Quran as the word of God and the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as his Messenger nor according to the 5 Pillars of Islam (prayer, alms, pilgrimage, shahada, fasting during Ramadan)
  • As most of you will know Hadith and Sunnah were incorporated many years after the death of the Prophet among them some which were considered spurious.
  • Thus, Islamic scholars compiled a list of what they considered authentic Hadith that could be validated- known as Sahih resulting in 6 collections of Hadith of which Bukhari and Muslim are most quoted.
  • Hadith authentication was mainly based on isnad- the chain of authority from which they originated. Authentication was not based on analysis of the Hadith itself and whether or not it could, logically, be considered something the Prophet would have actually said or done.
  • Over centuries Hadith have come to be the principle source of information on how to practice Islam for the majority of Muslims. They have been manipulated and distorted by Muslim clergy and politicians such that the actions of the Taliban, the oppression of women, the killing of innocent lives have all been justifiable through a distortion of Hadith.

Progressive Muslims vary in their level of acceptance of Hadith. Generally speaking, all Progressive Muslims believe that the Hadith has come to replace the Quran as the main source of knowledge for Muslims and that this constitutes a breach of Quranic edicts. All Progressive Muslims advocate for the absolute authority of the Quran and refute the growing authority of Hadith. All Progressive Muslims believe that Islam has lost its way and that the majority of Muslims focus on superficial symbols of religiousity (what is Halal or Haram, to pluck one's eyebrows or not; to have a dog or not; to adorn your house with statues or not- and other such stupidity) in Hadith rather than turning to the principle source of guidance- the Quran.

On one end of the spectrum are those Progressives who completely dismiss all Hadith on the basis that sectarianism is against the teachings in the Quran and has arisen out of Hadith- hence all Hadith must be dismissed. Some can be quite over the top.

There are ofcourse other much more complex arguments about leadership and what exactly constitutes "the message" that Muslims are obliged to obey- but I'm not going to get that deep into it here- maybe another time.

There are also those Progressives who believe that the Hadith must not be accepted at face value and that it must be interpreted according to actual content (remember Hadith was only interpreted according to the line of authority) and according to the context of the day.

Some Hadith actually contradict Quranic edicts- particularly those in relation to the status of women and some have no basis and cannot be validated in the Quran (eg hijab- not in the Quran, only in Hadith and according to which sect you follow might mean anything from a scarf over the hair to a complete covering of face and hands).

Where do I sit?

Well, as you will probably know from reading my blog, I have a lot of problems with the way Islam is practiced today. It seems to me all the disunity among Muslims comes from different interpretations of Hadith. When I ask someone to show me where, in the Quran, Muslims are not allowed to celebrate birthdays, or keep dogs, or pluck their eyebrows, or have statues- they direct me to Hadith. Why? Because it's not in the Quran. These people are actually placing Hadith above Quran as authoritative text!

I don't think that all Hadith should be dismissed but I do strongly believe that God has given each and every one of us the ability to think for ourselves. Through the Quran, God has also charged us to learn, educate ourselves and become better people. Is not plucking my eyebrows going to make me a better person? Is killing innocent Jews and Christians going to make me a better person? Is blowing myself up into a million pieces going to make me a better person? It sounds ludicrous doesn't it- but this is what Islam has become- the illogical, the ludicrous, the ugly!

We teach our kids to recite Quran, we praise those who become Hafeez (memorised the entire Quran) and give Masha'Allah to 8 year olds who can recite Surat Yassin in full. But do we teach them what it means? Do we guide them in applying it to their lives? No we don't- instead we admonish them with "haram" and "ayb".

Imam baqir (the 6th successor of the Prophet), said that the Quran is like an ocean, where everyone benefits from it..... The young pick up pebbles and shells from close to the shore, wehreas the older (advanced) search out the depths of it for it's pearls.

I can be like the majority of Muslims and stand from afar gazing at the Ocean and occassionally admiring its beauty but never really fathoming this wondrous creation.

I can be like the majority of Muslims and sit on the shore line accepting second hand shells discarded by those who know better but never venturing into the ocean, never allowing myself to be overcome by its beauty.

I want to find my own pearls. I want to experience the beauty of the ocean in all its glory. I want to search for truth, for beauty.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Who needs a Sharia divorce court in Australia?

Yes, yes, I know it's been a while but I've been flat out like a lizard drinking.

I'm finishing up my office job this week and taking 8 months extended leave to finish my PhD so naturally everyone wants everything yesterday.

I've been in this job for 5 years and, while I'm relieved that I can finally only focus on one thing, I must say I'm feeling a bit sad about going. I'm in a fairly senior position in Government with fairly close access to the head of state. What's been good about this is that I'm often the one who gets to brief the head of state about issues like this little beauty:

Muslim leaders call for Sharia divorce court

Now the last time this little issue raised its ugly head in 2005 I wrote a four page briefing on why it's all a load of crappola and advised the pollies not to touch it with a barge pole.
You see the real issue behind all of this hoo ha is that some charming men are using the fact that they were married under Sharia as a reason to deny a divorce to their wives while they happily go about life rooting like rabbits, marrying 2 or more (the more the merrier) and living a horny over-sexed, testosterone laden life in full control of all their monetary (and other- albeit probably quite small and useless) assets.
So the women, (because they are incapable of thinking for themselves), believing that they need to have a Sharia divorce because they have a Sharia marraige, either don't file for a divorce through the courts (where they can also be granted half of everything) or else agree to go to a Muslim country in order to obtain a Sharia divorce.
Even where the women have attained a legal divorce through the Australian courts, some still do not feel that they are "properly divorced".

And that's the crux of it- THEY DO NOT FEEL DIVORCED- nothing at all to do with actual divorced status or legal rights or anything remotely logical!

I have personal experience here. I can't tell you the number of times my ex tried to pull the whole "well you can get a legal divorce if you like but you will still be 'ala zemetti' because we were married in Egypt under Sharia" thing on me- and, sad to say, he almost had me there for a while.
That is until I discovered and became involved with a group of Progressive/ Modernist Muslims who do not believe that Sharia is a Quranic edict, that none of Sharia is found in the Quaran and that many Sharia laws practiced in certain Muslim countries actually violate Quranic edicts.

The real issue then is not the need for a Sharia divorce court- it's the need for a CHANGE OF THINKING and a realisation that Sharia is not the solution for everything (it is infact quite the opposite).

And that is precisely what I'll be advising this time around.

But what happens when I leave this place?
I don't want to think about it!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Things you don't know about me

Tagged by Mumbo

1. I have a shameless love of free stuff- I will take anything if it is for free- I mean anything. And I have the garish pink lipgloss, blue mascara, green eyeliner, crappy hair products, hotel slippers, little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel, logo t-shirts and caps and oversized sunglasses to prove it. I have never worn or used any of them- but who cares- they were FREE!!!

2. I hate massages. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them. I can't bear for anyone to touch my back, my neck or my feet. It sends a chill up my spine and makes me cringe.

3. I don't do pink. Ever. OK, maybe once or twice- but I was forced to!

4. Unlike Mumbo- I am addicted to horror movies. I love them. I'm one of those losers who goes to the cinema by myself. It's not because I don't have friends- it's just that they would all prefer to see some shmaltzy boo hoo pass the tissues sooky sooky la la romantic comedy (bunch of girlies!)

5. I am Australia's worst road rager. Every morning my work colleagues are subjected to a vitriolic diatribe about how bad EVERY BODY ELSE drives. I have been known to follow people who did not do the 'Thankyou wave' when I have let them in (don't laugh- the thank you wave is right up there in terms of driver etiquette).

6. On more than one occassion a man has called me intimidating. Imagine! Me? Intimidating! Bloody little wussy sooky sooky la la scaredy cats pee in your pants want my mama run like a girlie girl got no balls losers!

7. I have an amaaaaazing propensity to attract freaks, stalkers and weirdos- especially on public transport and at conferences. One guy professed his love for me after 5 minutes of knowing me (yeah- I'm going to run off and marry you because you googled me- STALKER), another I sat next to on a plane tried to invite me to a mass orgy (yeah, I'm going to join you and your fat n' over 40 friends in black leather masks and fluro pink g-strings for some 'real fun'- WEIRDO), when I was 8 months pregnant, I guy I sat next to on a bus begged me to allow him to come to the birth (yeah, I want YOU there while I'm lying there in agony with my legs up in stirrups- FREAK) Life is just one big adventure!

8. I love roller coasters and any kind of ride that takes you to the edge of bringing up your breakfast. But I'm afraid to get on escalators- in case I fall and hurt myself.

9. I love birds- they are my favourite animals. But I'm scared of chickens (chickens are not birds- they don't fly- the evil little buggers!)

and finally....

10. I don't look like anyone- and, to be honest, I feel like I'm missing out on something! Occasionally I've been told that I look like Halle Berry and at other times like Victoria Beckham (eww!!) in a photo but nobody ever says "wow you look just like...". My husband looks like Nicholas Cage and always gets told that- Not fair, I want to be told too!

I'm tagging Raccooooooon, Queen and Path 2 Hope. And I want Howie and Egypeter to tell us all some thing we don't know about them- and it better be good, juicy stuff that we can get our teeth into!

Saturday, February 10, 2007


I want to thank everyone who left comments on my story.
Your words really touched my heart. You see, I've held this secret for almost 20 years now and lived with the guilt and shame of what happened. That is why I have never told- I wrapped the story in guilt and shame and hid it in the back of my mind.

What happened back then was the start of a long and hard journey. There were many many more times when I would feel the stinging aftermath of my father's hand across my face and the pain of my mother's biting degradations- my adamance for choosing my own path made me the black sheep; the 'wild child'. Ofcourse my uncanny aptitude for choosing the "wrong" men did not help- my first true love was Coptic Egyptian- as it happened he was not just the "wrong" religion but also the wrong class- his parents threatened to cut him out of their will and stop his allowance if he continued to see me- our relationship ended soon after. But not before his mum rang my mum and exposed our ilicit romance.

It also did not help that I am the first woman in my ENTIRE family (that's about 100 people if I was to bother to actually sit down and count) to ever get divorced and the only woman in my entire family to marry a khawaga (gringo).

With those kinds of credentials, is it any wonder that my life has been one long battle to escape the shadows?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Part 3- The Final

I read an article in the newspaper yesterday about a small village in Pakistan that had lost a lot of its young men to suicide missions thanks to an Al Qaida recruiting program. The fathers of these young men were talking about how proud they were- how honoured they felt that their sons had sacrificed their own lives for some warped ideology- how they had earned the respect of the entire village and were regarded with esteem as the honourable fathers of martyrs.

It strikes me that some people think that honour is all they have in this world. They hold honour so dear yet they do little to honour themselves, instead placing their own honour in the hands of others. Where is honour if not in your own heart? Why must people die so that others can claim honour? If death is indeed honour, then I choose life.

I will never know exactly what it was that made my father stop himself that night. Perhaps the sight of his own hands closing around my throat as I struggled for breath, reminded him of how they had once guided mine: "Bishwish, Bishwish- softly, softly. Tenderly ya habibti. You are not painting a wall. Paint from the heart. From your heart, to your brush, to your canvas. Let the paintbrush capture your feeling."

Perhaps in that instant- that millisecond when time stood still, he released his grip and allowed the breath to once again enter my body- he had realised what honour really is.

From that point on I became "she", "her", "that girl", "the tainted one", "el bet di". When I tried to speak to my mother she told me that I was no longer her daughter. My father left the room whenever I entered. I became a ghost. I was alive, but in their minds I was dead. How ironic that the consequences of my actions should be that I became an outsider even in the shadows.

Determined to do well in my final school year, I threw myself into my studies. I studied 10 hours each day, everyday, emerging from my room only for bathroom breaks and to eat. Oddly enough, this kind of diversion therapy has helped me get through some rough patches in my life. Years later when I separated from my first husband, I started a Masters degree by Thesis and finished in less than a year. When my boyfriend (now husband) and I broke up, I would divert my attention by immersing my self in home based projects. Had it not been for the fact that we broke up about 5 times during our courtship, the rooms in my house would have remained bare and unpainted.

Occassionally I wandered into my sister's old bedroom. Dr Dickhead, deciding that Australia was a land of painted hussies where a good little Muslim wife could easily be led astray, took my sister to Egypt where she embarked on a life as the good Doctor's coffee machine and baby making factory. I would sit on her bed and the room would come alive with memories of the two of us listening to music, arguing over whether the members of Duran Duran were gay, laughing with glee as we imagined Dr Dickhead's penis as a pale pink flacid appendange no bigger than a peanut dangling helplessly between his thunderous thighs, and squeeling with delight as we found new and even more disgusting ways to degrade him.

My parents kept a close eye on me. They quit full time work so that one of them could be home at all hours to watch me. If I missed the train and took a later one, I would find them waiting for me at the train station questioning why I was 10 minutes late. They regularly raided my room searching for any incriminating evidence that I might have found a way to evade their close surveilance and sneak off at night to fuck a football team (or two). If my period was late, as it often was, my mother would march me down to the clinic to draw blood for a pregnancy test. There were no school excursions, no outings, no extracurricular activities, no acting classes, no debating team, no friends, nothing. Only the shadows and school.

One day my mother told me to get dressed as I had an appointment with a doctor. "But I'm not sick" I protested. As it turned out, this was not the kind of doctor you go to if you're sick.

As we sat in the doctor's office, my mother went through my medical history- tonsils out at five, no major illnesses, no major surgery.... Then she leaned towards the doctor the way people do when they are about to say something shocking and life changing and whispered "Doctor, she is not a virgin." The doctor sat back looked at my mother and then at me and, with a slight grin, responded "So what?". After about 10 minutes it was settled. I would go in for surgery the next week.

I was to be re-virginated. Born again as a pure, untainted, unsniffed rose. I was to reclaim my virginity, re-instate my hymen to its once glorious status as protector of my virtue. I was to become marraigable material- a fine and beautiful virgin for would be Dr Dickheads.

I was angry but I had no choice. What options were there for me? I could run away but what about school, my exams, my dreams of studying law? I was not willing to give that up- that dream was the only control I had over my own life now. I could refuse to have the surgery but what good would that do? It would only serve to incur my parents wrath even more. No. I had to go along with this, even if I strongly believed that your experiences make you who you are and that nobody should ever force you to erase part of yourself.

As the school year neared to an end and I prepared to take my final exams, my parents revealed their plans for the new, improved, re-virginated me. I was to go to Egypt with my mother where I would stay with my widowed Aunt and cousins (whom I had never met) in Cairo. Ofcourse if I wanted to come back to Australia when University started the next year I could, but I would spend at least 4 months there. I was not fooled by their false assurances, not convinced that they would suddenly hand me back control of my life and allow me to step out of the shadows. I was to leave the day after my final exam.

And so the path winds it way and leads us places we never imagined we would go. And we let it because we made that initial choice, we took that initial step and threw ourselves at the mercy of destiny. And now we cannot move- not left, not right, not back, not forward- we only go where the path takes us. We watch helplessly as the scenery changes around us and we are forced to change with it. All the while desperately yearning for a path that is our own.

My parents rang me from Australia the day my final results arrived. I'd done well and was offered a place at Sydney University's Law Faculty, my first choice. But it didn't matter anymore. That dream belonged to a different life, a different path. I had to let it go if I was ever going to regain control. I had to embrace the reality of my new life and forge a new path. And I did.

There. It's done. I've told it. The secret that's lived in the dark places of my mind for so many years. The memories that make up my third life- the life I really have. Now I've released them from the shadows and brought them to the light.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Part 2

His name was Wayne (I know- sounds like a stupid name now but, trust me, it was a cool name back then). He was in his final year at a private boys college which would have made him 17 years old. He was blonde, blue eyed and a surfer- everything I thought I would never have.

I knew, with all my heart and every cell in my brain, I knew that after that night he would pretend he didn't know me. I knew but I didn't care. For one night he did want to be with me. For one night he looked at me as he looked at all those other girls. For one night, I could know what it felt like to not be different.

So I took that step. I plunged actually- full on- head first- no thinking. The next day my friend's mother took a photo of my friend and I together. Two 15 year old girls in jeans and sneakers and matching pink t-shirts. I looked so different- so changed. It was quite striking actually and i felt my face redden as I imagined that everybody else could see what I could see. I imagined that strangers were looking at me and seeing this change and knowing what I had done.

As I write this now it sounds so silly and immature-embarrassing almost. I keep telling myself "what were you thinking" and I have to remind myself that I am not writing this as I am now- but as I was then- as a 15 year old girl, not as a grown woman with the clarity of hindsight who has learnt to love herself and who, for a long time now, has found her place and embraced her difference.

I told only one person. I told my sister. It only felt natural that I should- we shared everything- our hopes, our dreams, our secret crushes, our mad passionate love for the members of KISS. Her reaction was neither here nor there- or perhaps I just didn't see it. She did not judge, she only asked "why?" and I said "because he wanted me". That was it- nothing more was said of it. She wasn't curious as to what happened, what it felt like, how it happened, if it hurt- nothing. She only wanted to know why and then she walked away.

Then he arrived. The stranger. The son of one of my mother's friends from Egypt. A doctor, no less. My mother made it clear that she hoped one of us would please him enough that he would approach my father and seek marraige. For months I put up with his obnoxious presence. I hated him- he was rude and arrogant. Once he asked me to make him a cup of coffee and I told him that I hadn't noticed that he did not have legs and arms to do it himself. Perhaps, I suggested, he was a doctor who did not know how to make a simple cup of coffee? My mother took me aside and scolded me like she had never before- it was like I had insulted her.

My sister and I would lock ourselves away in her bedroom whenever he was around and make fun of him, laughing all the while at the ridiculous thought of either of us marrying Dr Dickhead.

Despite my obvious distaste for the man, he approached my father and requested his permission to marry me. Was he mad? Did he honestly think I would willingly marry him and submit myself to a life of depravation and oppression- a life of making endless cups of coffee at his beck and call. I protested loud and clear but I didn't need to because my parents weren't interested in forcing me into marraige. Besides that, I had just turned 17 and was entering my final year of school with plans to become Sydney's top criminal lawyer.

One night, my mother was looking especially pleased with herself. Dr Dickhead had decided that my sister was agreeable enough to be his wife. And she had said yes.
My sister was getting married- to Dr Dickhead no less. As much as I tried to be happy for her, if this was indeed what she wanted for herself, I could not fathom why on earth she would make such a choice. She had told me she hated him, had led me to believe that she would not ever conceive of marrying him. I kept my reservations and concerns to myself and tried my hardest to support my sister (she is still married to Dr Dickhead and I still hate him).

Then it happened. Why wouldn't it? I had been kidding myself all along thinking that my actions did not have consequences- thinking that I could control my own destiny. The path was winding its way along and there was no stopping now.

My parents were visiting my sister at her new home. For some reason I was restless and sleep did not come easily that night. I couldn't explain why but I was overcome by an uneasy feeling- a feeling of impending doom or sorrow or something ugly and dark.

When my parents arrived with my sister and her husband that night they headed straight for my bedroom- my mother screaming like a woman in the throes of childbirth:

"Where is she? Where is the girl? She's not a virgin. She's not a virgin."

I looked to my sister for some kind of explanation, without any emotion she looked straight at me and said "I told them everything".

Why? Why? Why would she do that? Why would she betray me like that?

The moments that followed are hard to express- there was a lot of noise, a lot of commotion, a lot of screaming. I could not take in what was going on around me- the tears, the yelling, the occassional fist in my stomach and kicks to my side, the frequent slaps, the insults, the degradation- it all seemed a million miles away, like it was happening to someone else in some alternate universe and yet it was happening, it was happening to me.

All the while I just stood there- not moving, not flinching- my eyes fixed only on one thing, one person, my sister. I tried to speak but my voice made no sound so I looked at her and mouthed the word that was consuming every thought in my mind: 'why?'. She never answered.

I can imagine now how the conversation might have gone that night. My sister had just received notification of her high school leaving score- she hadn't passed. I can imagine my parents sitting there, facing my sister and her new husband across the table and saying something like "Thank Allah she got married because she's failed high school- she's not like her sister you know- her sister is the smart one- her sister...her sister...her sister".
I can imagine that my sister would then have broken her silence, that all the years of pent up resentment would have rushed forth and exploded as they had wanted to so many times before: "You think she's an angel? You think she's perfect? Wait till you hear what she is really like."

The screams grew louder. My mother was inconsolable. She was hysterical. And my father?My father kept his head down afraid to look at me. Perhaps he wanted to keep that image of his little girl for as long as he could- even if it was just a few moments longer.

Having rid themselves of their initial reactions of rage, my parents took me into their bedroom, locked the door and began the inquisition. Who was I with? What was his name? When did it happen? How many times had I done it? What else had I been hiding? A million, zillion, trillion questions.

Then a period of calm. Like the eye of a storm.
Quiet, peace, silence.
Were they done? Was it over? I started to come back to reality- to feel the pain in my head and stomach and the bruises on my legs.

Then the storm raged again.

"She has dishonoured us."
"She does not deserve to live"
"She needs to die"
"We must kill her"

And my father's hands- those hands that once had gently caressed me, those hands that had introduced me to the joy of art, the wonders of Gaugin and Chagall and had nurtured my love of painting.

My father's hands gripped my throat.

I'm sorry. I have to stop now. I promise I will write Part 3 soon.

Memorable Moments #2

This one is going to take a while so please bear with me.
It's a long story but it is a story that I promised myself I would write a long time ago. Until now, it just didn't want to be written...

We, my brother, sister and I, grew up as typical Sydney wogs. By that I mean that our parents as immigrants to a new land, worked long hours to make ends meet and I was often left only in the company of my siblings. This explains why I never learnt to speak Arabic until later in life.

My sister and I were close. We're only about 18 months apart in age (she's older) and, with our parents often working shifts, we spent most of our time together and were often mistaken for twins. As we grew older our personalities and interests developed in different directions but the bond we developed as young girls remained strong. I had an inquisitive mind and would spend my time reading and studying. Not surprisingly, I excelled academically. My sister was a dreamer who would rather spend her days lounging in the sun and listening to music. She exasperated my parents, who placed a strong value on education, with her average performance at school. While I often won their approval with my glowing reports and perfect marks.

It was not that I tried to overshadow my sister or to make her look bad. It was just that I had found something that I enjoyed and that I was good at. My biggest regret is that I never noticed the pain in my sister's eyes whenever my parents yelled at her "why can't you be more like your sister".

When we started high school, my parents insisted on sending us to a posh Anglican ladies college. I didn't belong there among the girls with their shiny blonde hair that glistened in the sun. I, with my dark curls, dark eyes and dark skin which I wore like a hideous birthmark. They with their perky breasts, lean hips and big houses in Sydney's upper class suburbs. I with my breasts already so large that they strained against my school uniform, my round hips and parents with thick accents and middle class jobs. Oh how I longed to be like them. To start each school week with exciting stories of parties and boys, a first kiss, a first date. How I longed to be a part of their world.

It's not that I was unpopular. My penchant for acting, my class antics and my academic achievements made me very popular at school- but I was always an outsider. My parents were very traditional and I was not permitted to attend parties or outings with the girls from school. I would never, not in a million years, get to experience what they experienced. My world was the shadows. Theirs was the light.

We maintained Muslim traditions in our household- we always fasted Ramadan and celebrated Eid- but my parents never taught me what it meant to be Muslim or what was expected of me. I knew one Surah- the Fatiha- which my father taught me when I was 10 and one Arabic song- Mama Zamanha Gaya- which I remembered from my early years (funny how we all seem to have one song that stays with us through life). Apart from that, I knew nothing else of what it meant to be Egyptian or Muslim- I only knew that it was what I was expected to be.

As time wore on my parents softened a little in their strict restrictions on me, mainly as a result of my sister's insistence- the elder child must always pave the way and the younger ones must always enjoy the fruits of that labour.

The year I turned 15 was uneventful in most respects. I was in year 9 (Junior High) and was starting to enjoy some level of freedom. I attended a few school parties where I got to know some of the boys from the neighbouring schools. We were friends but they would never entertain the thought of seeing me as anything more than that. I was too different- and when you're a teenager, different isn't what you want to be. No, they reserved their affections for the girls who were like them.

You know how sometimes you make a conscious choice to do something and you have no idea where the consequences will lead you? You kind of take one step along a path and then it is like you are at the mercy of destiny and nothing you do can change your path- you can't go back but you can't go forward either because it is not you who is in control anymore. One night I made a conscious decision. I stepped onto a path without giving a single thought to where it might lead. I saw a way that I could be like them- like those girls- even if just for one night- and I took it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The real reason my kids think I'm cool...

... is that my friends look like this:

PS: I'm the handsome one!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Why is this happening?

I've just watched a television interview (I've linked it here) with Wassim Doureihi the young spokesman for Hizb ut Tahrir in Australia.

The group, clearly an Islamist organisation with strongly wahabi influenced views, is running a conference right here, right in Australia, where the guest speaker Ismail Yusanto from Indonesia went on about the responsibility of every Muslim to undertake training and fight the 'enemy'.

Doureihi defended Yusanto's calls to arms stating that Muslims needed to prepare for the return of the Caliphate and that it was the duty of all Muslims to learn self defence in the case of an "agressive" attempt by the enemy against Muslims- he used Iraq as an example. Hmmm- funny that he doesn't mention the acts of agression by Muslims against Muslims- perhaps he has not heard of Darfur.

My question is...
What the fuck is the Australian Government doing? If the Egyptians can manage to keep a fairly tight lid on extremists to the point that people like Zawahri have to flee Egypt and head to Afghanistan; to the point that Islamists have actually called on the UNHCR to assist them seek asylum in countries like the UK and France because the Egyptian government does not allow them to breathe- then what on earth is the Australian government doing allowing them to come here and attempt to steal the minds of our young with their warped ideologies?

What am I supposed to do as a mother of young boys to protect them and ensure that they do not succumb to the mindset of the extremists when my own government won't lift a finger?

This is just ridiculous. How can this be allowed. If Yusanto and Doureihi want to blow themselves up because they have some kind of warped idea that Allah wants this from us- then go right ahead- do it- blow your own fuckin brains out and have a great time as you head to straight to hell in a bucket. BUT LEAVE US ALONE. LEAVE OUR CHILDREN ALONE.

Honestly, I just don't know what to do anymore. How do you fight something like this? How? When is the Australian government going to realise that dealing with terrorism is not just about 3D blast modelling and CTV and identity cards and police raids- it's about winning hearts and minds. It's about stealing back from the jihadis what they stole from us- peace, harmony, the beauty of Islam, and the minds of thousands of dead young men who believed in their "jihad".

My Big News

I have just accepted an invitation to teach a 3rd year unit at the University. The topic is....

Sex and Intimacy in Cinema

The coordinator said that she had heard about my interactive style of teaching and thought that I would be perfect for this unit. Not quite sure what she meant by that! In any case, it sure will be an interesting semester!

I decided to share my big news with my family- husband (H), 16 yr old son (B1), 14 year old son (B2) and slightly younger step son (B3) over dinner tonight. Little did I know that the conversation would end like this...

Me: So... I've been invited to teach a special elective unit at the Uni. It's on Sex and Intimacy in Cinema.

B1: Sounds like a fancy shmancy term for PORN

Me: Where do you learn these things?

H: Ha ha ha, 'porn', that's a good one!
*high 5s B1 and they laugh their stupid 'we are the masters of the universe' laugh*

B1: So Mum will you have teach them about the clitoris?

B2: What's a clitoris?

B3: Yeah what's a clitoris? We saw it on Southpark. It's a big huge pink thing that looks like a hat.

Me: It's not huge OK. Where do you learn these things? Who's letting you watch Southpark?

H: ha ha ha, Southpark, yeah that was funny.

B2: Yeah and it has magical powers or something. What is it Dad?

Me: Don't ask him, he doesn't know.

H: *shoots me a look and suddenly gets all serious*
Well boys... when you have sex...

B3: Ewww gross. I'm getting out of here

B1: Man, our family put the 'DIS' in disfunctional

Me: No son. Our family put the 'FUNK' in disfunctional

So much for my big news!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Egyptian Mum Part 2- The Sex Talk

One day, while chopping carrots, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been remiss in my motherly duties and had neglected the ritualistic sex talk which all parents must endure at some time in their lives:

Suddenly overcome by an urgent sense of parental responsibility, I ran upstairs to where B1, B2 and B3 were playing...

Me: Ummm...boys do you need me to give you the sex talk?

Boys: No Mum, we know everything

B2: Yeah, we know about the penis and the vagina

B1: *giggles like a little girl* You said vagina

Me: Cool, then my work here is done *moon walks out of the room*

OK. So maybe I didn't do too well on the whole sex talk thing. But it's not like I had a good role model....

Egyptians love analogies. They have an analogy for everything. Nothing is what it is, it is always what it is like- men are like walls, women are like cat meat- you get the picture. Not surprising really when you consider what a flowery language Arabic is compared to English.

Consequently, my Mum's version of the sex talk did not involve a penis, or a vagina or birds and bees. In fact my Mum's sex talk did not involve sex at all:

" A woman is like a flower. The first time a man smells a flower, it
smells so lovely. He wants to keep smelling it. But the more he
smells flower the less he can smell until he can no longer smell
the flower and then he doesn't want it anymore and he
looks for another flower."

I first got the sex talk when I "became a woman". Until I got married, the sex talk was an annual event- always the same, never wavering. Without fail, my mother would sit me down and repeat the sex talk word for word (and she NEVER moon walked out of the room when she finished- that was my little innovation!)

I could be forgiven for thinking that I was actually getting a lesson in the fine art of flower arranging, or that sex was something that involved sniffing or that my mother's sex talk was an, albeit obscure, caveat against unpleasant body odour.

It did, infact, take me quite a few years to decipher my mother's coded message about sexual relations between a man and a woman. But by then it was too late... I'd already been sniffed and discarded in favour of another more beautiful flower with an alluring and hedonistic perfume that no man could resist.

My mother's analogy is not completely lost. With a few minor amendments I could really make it work. How's this:

Life is like a rose bush. Watch out for all the pricks!
*moon walks out of the room*

Monday, January 15, 2007

Getting Old

My son started shaving this week. Add to that the fact that he is at least 15 cm taller than me, wears a monstrous size 11 shoe and can stay up longer than me at night- it's official- he is now a man. Which makes me the mother of a man, which makes me old!

So what do I do now?

Do I start wearing purple?
Do I adjust my car seat so that I'm sitting up against the windscreen when I drive?
Do I abandon any hope of perfect abs and shapely arms and instead take pride in the way my upper arms flap in the wind when I wave goodbye?
Do I hang up my stilletos and start wearing ugly flat shoes?
Do I talk about "my day" as if it was 100 years ago?
Do I start carrying around one of those wheelie shopping bags with pink flowers on them?
Do I start wearing three layers of clothing even in the heat of summer so my kidneys won't catch cold?
Do I throw out my sexy lingerie and buy myself some nanna knickers in a sensible beige?
Do I take a belly dancing class so that I can get in touch with my inner vagina?

BUT WAIT... wait just a minute... I don't FEEL old...

I'm still in my thirties
I still have body issues
I still get pimples
I still check my butt and thighs in the mirror everymorning for cellulite
I still complain about how long it takes to do my hair and how much product I need to make it look decent
I still can't apply eyeshadow correctly
I still have at least 5 different mascaras in my makeup bag of which at least 2 are waaaay past their use by
I can still pass the pencil test ;) (ladies- you know what I'm talking about)
I still get hit on by foetuses (ie younger men)
I still catch up with the girls every Friday to talk about men and their appendages

So... when am I officially over the hill?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Memorable Moments #1- The Day my Boys Reconnected with their Father

I separated from my first husband when my two sons were just 3 and 1 years old. It was not a happy marraige. Having reached the age of 21 and thinking that I knew everything, I naively got married despite many of my friends warning against it. My parents were happy though, relieved that their 'wild child' was choosing to settle down. It lasted 6 years.

For the first year or so after we separated he kept in contact with the boys. He still pulled his usual tricks- promising to take them out and then not showing up- leaving me to comfort and console their tiny little hearts. Then he moved to Sydney. He still sent birthday presents and cards but within a year he had stopped all contact.

Many times I tried to contact him, to find him and let him know that his son had had major surgery, that his other son was top of his class, that I worried about the bullying at school, that his son, at just age 7, had read his first novel in 2 days- but to no avail. I was a struggling single Mum (he has never paid a single cent in maintanence) but I managed to scrimp and save for a private investigator to try to find him. No luck.

So I brought up my boys as best I could and, despite their Mum, they are fine young men who make me proud. My eldest is in his final year of school and is set on being a human rights lawyer. The youngest is a math wiz and wants to be a doctor or robotics engineer. But they have seen so much heartache for such young lives.

After 7 years of being on our own with no contact from their father I found my eldest son walking around the house clutching a photo of himself as a baby with his dad. I asked him if he wanted to talk and took him into the bedroom for some privacy. He sat on the edge of the bed silent for a long time until he could no longer hold back his tears. Still clutching the photo of his father he turned to me and asked "Mum, is my dad dead?". My son was just 10 years old but in his eyes I saw a pain that I had seen in lonely old men who had said goodbye to children, friends and family.

To say that it broke my heart is an understatement. It was as if my heart had shattered into a million pieces. I am fighting back the tears just writing this now. I wanted to yell and scream my anger at the man who had caused my babies so much pain, who had left them and forgotten them and refused to share in their achievements, their joys and their sorrows. I wanted to take a knife and find him and pierce his heart a million times for each time he had made them hurt. But instead I smiled at my son, wiped his eyes and said "Son, I don't know where your father is, I have tried to find him and I failed. But I do know that he loves you and your brother very much and that every moment of every day he thinks about you both and that he wishes he were here and that he is very proud of you."

It was the hardest but also the easiest lie I had ever told in my life.

Small miracles do happen. The next morning as if by God's merciful hands, I was woken by a phone call. It was their father. He was coming back to see them and to stay for good. Just like that. Just out of the blue like that. I was skeptical but decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The day he arrived, I dressed my beautiful angels, who were now 10 and almost 8 years old, in their best clothes and told them that their father was coming to see them. When his car pulled up in the driveway I went out first to meet him.

I stood there, face to face with the man who once held so much power over me that I thought I would surely die by his hand. No more fear- just rage and anger. "You have hurt these boys so much, you have been the cause of their suffering, you have let them down, you have made them cry. Today you are here and in a minute you will see them again. But I am here now to tell you that if you ever let them down again, if you ever make them cry again, if you ever break their hearts again- you will be dead to them. Do you understand me? I will do everything in my power to make sure that you are dead to them- that you never ever ever see them again and that they forget your name and who you are. Do you understand me?"

The man who once wielded such power, stood helpless, a shadow of the man I had married and shared a bed with and from whom I used to cower in fear. To me he was nothing now.

I went back in the house and got the boys. Clutching their hands tightly for fear that he might once again break their hearts. My eldest, who had memories of his father, immediately recognised him. He let go of my hand and ran into his father's arms, smiling like I had never seen him smile before. But my youngest, my little talkative angel, who was just a baby when his father left stood behind me, clutching my skirt and staring at me with his big beautiful brown eyes, looking bewildered and confused. His father stood at the end of the driveway, arms open and tears in his eyes, beckoning his youngest son to him. But he would not go.

I bent down and looked him in the eyes. "It's OK son. He is your father. Go, go say hello to your father and give him a hug." My little angel touched my face with his tiny hand, he looked over at his father and then back at me. Then he let go of my skirt and ran towards his father grinning widely, he jumped into the air and straight into his arms and held his father tightly.

I cannot say that my thoughts and feelings were noble right then. I was damn angry and felt cheated. Cheated that I had endured the long sleepless nights, the nappies, the illnesses (my eldest son has one kidney), that I was left alone to hold their hands and see them through their vaccinations, their scraped knees and broken arms. I felt cheated that I had given everything to them, that I had struggled, put my own life on hold- for this day. For the day that he could return and feel their arms around him and see their smiles and feel their love- 7 years worth of love pent up inside their tiny bodies- all at once overflowing into HIS arms- the man who had done nothing for them but cause heartache.

And so that was the day that my boys reconnected with their Dad. A day they and I will remember forever- each of us for our own reasons.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hilaly's Dark History

Conversation with my Dad today:

"I can only tell you what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own
ears. This man has a dark history. He is a liar and a boaster.

Many years ago he got into trouble because he made some comments comparing Australian women to exposed meat- some very offensive comments. The Government said that if he didn't like Australia he could go back to Egypt and he was facing deportation. He didn't like this. He was pissing himself (my Dad actually said "pissing himself"), walking around like a lost man- he couldn't even make his prayers.

He went to the Lebanese community and asked them to stand up for him. A
group of them went to Canberra and protested against deporting Hilaly. The
government gave in and let him stay.

Then when the Iraq/ Iran war started he got involved with the Iranians.
There was a Mosque where the Iranians would go and he would meet with them every so often. They would tell him what to say and who to target.

His sermons at Friday prayers became political. He rubbished the Arab
states, rubbished Egypt and supported the Iranians.

It was then that I spoke up. I said that what he was doing was wrong, that he should be focussing on leading us in prayer and in preaching about Islam- not politics. His supporters hit me like this (my Dad shows how they hit him). They told me to be quiet- they said not to question the Sheikh.

If anyone spoke out, they would send around his heavies to knock on their
door and tell them to keep quiet. This is how they operated. Like a mafia. His
heavies kept people in line. People were afraid to speak out.

He even tried to send some young men to Syria to carry out terrorist
activities. I heard this with my own ears. This happened in front of me. I can
only tell you what I heard and what I saw. He tried to recruit some young ones.
I cannot say what happened because I don't know but I don't think anything came
out of it- I only know that he tried.

This man has a dark dark history. He is only interested in increasing his
own profile. Every Friday he would tell worshippers at the Mosque "What will you
do without me? Muslims in Australia will be lost without me as Imam". Eventually
he convinced them to give him the role of Mufti.

This man is a liar and only cares about himself. He is supported only by
people who want to increase their own profile as well- that's why they attach
themselves to him.

There is more that I can say. But I will only tell you what I heard and
what I saw with my own ears and my own eyes. There are other things that are
said about him- but these things I cannot verify- but I know what I heard and
what I saw."

Friday, January 12, 2007


Recent coments by Sheikh Taj El Din Al Hilaly (often referred to in the Australian media as Mufti of Australia) have again caused a media and public furore.
Sheikh Al Hilaly has openly demonstrated on Egyptian television his incapacity to lead Australian Muslims.
Australian Muslims cannot allow this situation to continue. It is up to us to do something about it and to show the broader community that we are peaceful, law abiding and loyal Australians.
If we do nothing, we only have ourselves to blame.


We, the undersigned Australian Muslims, reject comments made by Sheikh Taj El Din Hilaly.

We consider that these comments are offensive to all Australians and are not representative of the views of Australian Muslims.

We call upon the Australian media to desist in referring to Sheikh Hilaly as the leader of Australian Muslims.

We call upon the Australian National Imams Council to remove Sheikh Hilaly from office and to relinquish him of the title of Mufti of Australia.

Three ways you can sign this petition:

1. Go to:

2. Send me an email and I will forward an email petition which you can send on to other email contacts

3. If you would like to assist in collecting names for the petition, send me an email and I will email or post a hard copy of the petition to your nominated address.

If you want to do more:

Contact your local media. Write a letter to the newspaper, call talkback radio, send an email to your local paper, write to your local MP- you should state clearly and unequivocally that:

-Sheikh Al Hilaly does not represent Australian Muslims

-Australian Muslims do not share his views

-Sheikh Al Hilaly does not have community support as a leader of Australian Muslims in any capacity.

If you need assistance in drafting a letter, please email me and I will offer some suggestions on how to ensure that your letter is published.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Enough is Enough

Right, that's it. I've had it with Sheikh Taj El Din Hilali and his embarrassing, degrading and harmful comments. The man needs a muzzle.

I'm sending out a Petition to all Australian Muslims denouncing his comments and stating once and for all that he DOES NOT represent Australian Muslims, he IS NOT our 'leader', he WAS NOT elected into any position and we DO NOT recognise him.

I'll post it on here when I'm done and I'll send it to my contacts in the media and in government. We live in a democracy- so let's take democratic action to STOP THIS ONCE AND FOR ALl.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Dialogue between Jews and Muslims

I have a Jewish friend with whom I see eye to eye on many issues. But there is one issue that we always debate and that I do not agree with her on.

My friend insists that you cannot have dialogue between Jews and Muslims without talking about the Israel/ Palestine situation. I disagree.

Firstly, there are a lot of Muslims in the diaspora who have never engaged with the Israel/Pal situation and who have no indepth knowledge or interest in it. Over a third of Muslims in Australia are Australian born. The largest ethnic groups after that is Lebanese in the East and SE Asian Muslims in Western Australia. For these people there are other issues that are much more salient than ME conflicts. Does this mean that we should exclude them from interfaith dialogue and debate? Or should we be forcing them to engage with an issue that they feel has no immediate relevance to their lives?

Secondly, what about Palestinian Christians? If we are going to base interfaith dialogue on the conflict, then shouldn't Christians have an equal say and participation? In that case then, why restrict dialogue to Muslims and Jews at all, bring in all faiths and include athiests as well.

I'd be interested in what others think- especially Jews in Israel and elsewhere. Do you think that dialogue is impossible without talking about Israel and Palestine? Why or why not?

Common Ground

This may seem a bit simplistic but sometimes when you stand back and look at something that seems complex, it really is quite simple:

I've been having a bit of an exchange of Sandmonkey's blog with an anonmymous poster who identifies himself/herself as a Christian and who insists that:
  • Islam wants to take over the world
  • Sharia is the absolute antithesis of Western ideals and values
  • Muslims hate the West so the West must hate Muslims
  • All Muslims are the same
  • There is no such thing as a moderate Muslim. Muslims who are moderates are not really Muslims and do not understand their religion.

Seems to me that this is very much what the Jihadis think:
  • The worldwide Nation of Islam must unite
  • The West is the absolute antithesis of true Islam
  • The evil West and their Zionist co-conspirators hate Islam and want to destroy it so Muslims must hate them
  • Islamic ideology is not flexible
  • Muslims who are moderate and who live in the West are Kafir and do not understand true Islam.

Then there are Christians who take this view:
  • Christianity preaches love and tolerance
  • The best way to deal with Muslims is on an individual basis and to show them love
  • Jesus taught us to forgive and to turn the other cheek

And there are Muslims who take this view:
  • Islam preaches tolerance of all races and religions
  • Islam is the religion of peace- violence and agression are un Islamic
  • The best way to deal with the current situation is to engage in dialogue with people of other faiths

Do you see a pattern here? Can you see the common ground?

Looking at it this way, the schisms are not between Islam and the West or Christianity but between those who have a rigid, fundamental, unbending view of their religion and the world and those who do not.

Just my opinion.

Fearing Fear

I'm in the middle of writing an article on the fear of terrorism based on my research and I find myself reflecting on my own feelings here.

Just to put it into context: the project that I'm working on looks at how people are responding to the new era of increased security and global terrorism. We've found that people are adopting both preventative and protective behaviours. Preventative behaviours means that people avoid circumstances that they think are dangerous such as air travel or using public transport. Protective behaviours means that people are taking measures to protect themselves in circumstances that they are dangerous. For most this means being more wary and taking more note of their surroundings on airplanes, buses and in public places.

So I started thinking about myself. Have my behaviours changed? Do I now avoid certain situations? Am I more suspicious of people on airplanes? Do I get nervous around unattended baggage?

To be honest- I really can't say that I have done any of those things. And now I'm wondering why.

For a start, I don't believe that there is a huge terrorist threat to Australia. I guess for me that terrorism is still something that happens in other places. I often joke about the fact that if the terrorists were to launch a 9/11 style attack on my home town they would probably fly a plane into the Bell Tower and that most people here would welcome the destruction of such an ugly eyesore.
See for yourself:

Looks like a cockroach hey!

The Bell Tower is the legacy of one of our former Premiers (head of State Government) and each time I look at this phallic symbol I cannot help but think that he must have a very very small dick!

I also think that because I'm an unrecognisable Muslim (in the sense that I do not wear hijab) that I also don't have a sense of fear of backlash or vilification from some members of the broader community that some Muslims have. I know a few people who stopped going to public places because they were worried that they might be attacked after 9/11, Bali and London. Won't catch me doing that. Actually there is almost nothing in this world that would prevent me from going shopping.

But perhaps the biggest reason why I haven't changed my behaviours in any way is that I've never really been one to avoid situations that others might see as dangerous. I have a strong belief that when it is your time to go it is your time to go- whether that is in a car accident, through terminal illness, plane crash, or while bungee jumping. There's nothing that you can do about it. I was on a plane once with a friend who got really nervous and scared when we hit some turbulence. I mean she was really panicking and I just couldn't understand it. I kept thinking 'well, if this is it, this is it. No use wasting my energy on panicking about it."

I'm more worried about my kids being in a dangerous situation than myself which is I often tell them "don't try this when I'm not looking because I promise you I will find out and you will be grounded for life".

Don't know if any of that makes sense. Perhaps I need to think some more about it. Perhaps I really do have a subconscious fear that I'm not aware of. Perhaps I need to get in touch with my inner fear!