Secrets Behind the Burqa

Secrets Behind the Burqa is a short (145-page) paperback by Rosemary Sookhdeo which investigates what life is like for women in Islam.

The book is a reworking of a thesis which Sookhdeo wrote for a Masters degree, and still retains a distinct flavour of academic writing. The thesis topic was whether contextual change makes a difference to the position of women in Muslim societies in Britain. A wide range of Muslim women of different ages, social classes, and groups (Sunni and Ahmadiyya) were interviewed for the study between over a 9-month period shortly prior to 9/11.

The book covers a lot of ground – lightly touching on the position of women in pre-Islamic Arabia, presenting texts from the Qur’an, and explaining the honour-based framework of Muslim social and family life. Then the remaining four of the seven chapters deal with the situation of Muslim women in the West, and Britain especially.

But it makes for grim reading. Considering just the one topic of marriage, for example, take the following.

  • arranged marriages are the norm within the Muslim community even in Western countries
  • young women who run away to avoid arranged marriages are ruthlessly tracked down, either by family members or even by ‘bounty hunters’ who can be paid “as much as three thousand pounds plus expenses,” p75
  • each year hundreds of Muslim girls in Britain are forced into marriage; “research commissioned by Scotland’s Pakistani community found that almost half of marriages involving Scottish Muslims and a partner from abroad involve coercion,” p70
  • although polygamy is prohibited in the UK, second marriages are performed under shari’a law with only a religious ceremony, and no accompanying civil ceremony; if the marriage fails, the woman has very few rights as the second wife and may be left with absolutely nothing
  • although it is considered very shameful for the woman to initiate a divorce, “it is not considered shameful for a man to divorce, whatever the reason he gives. One legitimate reason considered for divorce is because the wife cannot produce boys,” p82
  • at least 10% of British Muslim women are abused emotionally, physically, and sexually by their Muslim husbands; “some Muslim men accept the idea that it is normal for a man to hit his wife,” p85; “none of the older women [interviewed] would be drawn to comment on violence in the home. The younger women who were not married said that they were very concerned about it,” p93
  • up to 17,000 women in the UK are subjected to “honour”-related violence every year, although police chiefs suggest that the number could be “up to 35 times higher than official figures suggest,” p87; this includes girls being forced into marriage, subjected to kidnapping, sexual assault, beatings, and even murder, by relatives seeking to uphold the honour of the family.

There is also a whole chapter devoted to the veil. Sookhdeo points out that there is diversity of opinion on veiling, with some interpretations suggesting that the hijab “refers to the covering of the hair and neck only, with what is called the (Islamic) headscarf,” p95, and others believing that “the woman should be completely covered, including her head, face, hands and feet,” p96. In discussing the reasons why Muslim women wear the hijab in Britain, Sookhdeo points out that in the 1990s it was seen as a “statement of solidarity with the Muslim community” at the time of the controversy over Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and comments that since the Iraq war, more women adopting this symbol of allegiance is perhaps not a surprising choice. She further mentions that many Muslim men believe that veiling protects women from harrassment and removes a cause of temptation to men; Muslim women also express the view that the invisibility afforded by veiling even in some form frees them from harrassment and for that matter also from the demands of the beauty industry.

However, the case of women who are punished in places like Saudi Arabia for not being completely covered is cited as evidence that in the wider context wearing the burqa is far from being always a free choice, and similarly even in Britain, when girls (some as young as 3) are dressed in burqas this cannot be regarded as a free choice either. Indeed, as was brought out in the case of Shabina Begum (the schoolgirl who took her school to court for not allowing her to wear the jilbab, ie complete covering), when some women and girls wear the more extreme form of covering, this puts pressure on others to cover more completely “by implying that they are insufficiently observant” if they don’t (p114). Even worse, it has been alleged that some women have to wear a burqa in order to “hide the violence that fathers and brothers have done to them,” p102. As Sookhdeo says,

“Women who have fled brutal patriarchal regimes and come to the West have become the most vociferous supporters of [for example] the French law to ban headscarves in schools … The burqa is the next frontier for puritanical Muslims who believe females are dangerous seductresses who must be hidden from sight. … the burqa goes against the principles of individual autonomy and equality between the sexes. In Afghanistan and Iran women fight against wearing it as it is recognised as a symbol of oppression. This symbol of oppression in Islamic countries has become a symbol of oppression in the UK” (p100, 102).

The book as a whole takes (I think it’s fair to say) a more or less entirely negative view of the position of women in Islam. Yet this bleakness is very effectively counterbalanced by the unfailingly human way of dealing with individual Muslim women and girls, if that’s the word I want. Women in the most impossible and restrictive of situations are still treated by the author as equals to be treated with respect and sympathy, and to the extent possible in a formal academic piece of writing an attitude almost of friendliness or neighbourliness shines through.

My abiding reaction to this book – like I say, it’s short – it’ll take you a couple of hours at most, although they will be painful hours – is a feeling of intense gratitude that the principles of the Qur’an and Hadith are not, in fact, the revelation that God has given for how women are to live and how men and women should relate. Whatever can be said for individual Muslim men and women who live better than their principles (or for that matter, Christian men and women who fail to live up to their principles), the Bible’s message for women and men from the one living and true God is vastly and intrinsically different from the demeaning and dehumanising presentation found in the Qur’an. The ‘biblical womanhood’ view which so emphasises “submission”, for example, is worlds removed from a context where beatings are the norm, polygamy sanctioned, “honour” idolised, and men’s every desire to be satisfied implicitly.

This book also, though, reinforced the huge need to be alert and active in our society – whether that includes praying about the situation at large, getting better informed about the encroachment of shari’a law (and resisting it), or helping out in more practical ways. Our freedoms in the UK – civil but especially, I can’t help saying, religious and spiritual – need to be preserved; they need to be put to good use while we still have them; and they need to be proclaimed as worth embracing by anyone from any background as a good alternative (in the civil realm) and the only alternative (spiritually speaking) to the cultural and religious bondage that too many of our fellow human beings suffer under.

___________________
Secrets Behind the Burqa, by Rosemary Sookhdeo. Isaac Publishing (2008)
Available from Wesley Owen (and Amazon in an older edition).

11 thoughts on “Secrets Behind the Burqa

  1. Speaking as a highly educated Western woman, I find this book laughable. It takes edge cases and paints them as the norm, all the while ignoring the tremendous injustices to women perpetuated in the name of Christianity. I read this book *before* converting to Islam, and the author’s self-deception was so apparent it probably hastened my decision.

    May I recommend:
    http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/gender.htm

    and the books:
    http://www.amazon.com/Daughters-Another-Path-Experiences-American/dp/0964716909

    http://www.amazon.com/Muslim-Marriage-Guide-Ruqayyah-Maqsood/dp/091595799X

    The latter is by another female British convert to Islam, and is a far more honest look at what Islam actually teaches.

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  2. Hi Caroline,

    thanks for commenting. (Your comment went for moderation because of the number of links – and I’ve not been online to release it till now)

    One of the most striking things about this book was that it drew its conclusions from interviews with Muslim women from such a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Perhaps your particular social or demographic group wasn’t represented in these interviews though – as a Westerner who i assume must have converted very recently (if you managed to read the book before converting).

    It’s interesting though that although women may well have suffered injustices within Christian contexts (whether or not such contexts were self-consciously acting out Christian principles is, of course, a different question), it would not seem to be possible to legitimise violence against women within the domestic/marital situation on the basis of what the bible teaches. For me, this was a noticeable difference between the two kinds of religion, since several portions of the Qur’an can be cited in defence of what we’d understand as fairly drastic domestic abuse. You may, of course, have a different perspective.

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  3. Hi Cath,

    Thank you for replying.

    The book has been around in some form or another since at least 2004, and even before then I was fairly well acquainted with Muslim (and of course Christian) teachings.

    The author clearly and unsurprisingly has an agenda; it is hardly an objective look at the lives of Muslim women. (The author’s husband (Patrick) is notoriously Islamophobic; he recently attended a “counterjihad” conference in Brussels along with a slew of personalities from the hard right. Nick Griffin has praised his work, and he hasn’t repudiated that endorsement either.) It would perhaps be more accurate to say that “the book cherry-picks interviews with Muslim women from such a wide range of ages and backgrounds”. I could easily check-pick a list of outstanding Muslim women from an even wider range of ages and backgrounds — and even put you in contact with them. Ruth Roded, the secular Israeli academic, pointed out that:

    ‘If U.S. and European historians feel a need to reconstruct women’s history because women are invisible in the traditional sources, Islamic scholars are faced with a plethora of source material that has only begun to be studied. … In reading the biographies of thousands of Muslim women scholars, one is amazed at the evidence that contradicts the view of Muslim women as marginal, secluded, and restricted.’

    As for the specific point you raise — Christian women were, for the most part, simply considered the property of their husbands until Christianity collapsed in the aftermath of the Enlightenment. And you had the right to treat your property as you choose, as a good many Christian judges acknowledged.

    Mainstream (Sunni/Shi’a) Islam has never sanctioned “fairly drastic domestic abuse”, although it has permitted a very limited form of corporeal punishment so long as it does not cause physical or psychological harm – obviously men cannot be “protectors” of women (as the verse in question describes) and harm them at the same time. And we must also remember that Muslim women have always had the right to divorce their husbands, along with the right to their own separate property (for financial independence) plus the right to be supported by other members of their family when they do choose to divorce.

    Anyhow, I don’t really wish to turn this into a “Muslim vs. Christian” debate, because I don’t see myself as turning my back on Christ. On the contrary, Islam has enabled me to see Jesus, peace and blessings upon him, much more clearly than before, without Paul’s Hellenizing distortions— Original Sin, the Trinity, Atonement, etc. I am, however, tired of Christians (like the Sookhdeos) and Muslims who have turned religion into an us. vs. them game, away from a quest for truth, beauty, and goodness.

    “True religion invites us to become better people. False religion tells us that this has already occurred” -Shaykh Murad

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  4. Dear Cath,

    I was exploring the rest of your site, and it seems you are a woman of erudition, if not wide-ranging experience. Therefore, I thought I’d take the time to properly address the substance of the concerns outlined in this blog posting.

    arranged marriages are the norm within the Muslim community even in Western countries

    “Arranged marriage” can (and usually does) mean that there is some family/community involvement in arranging marriages. Parents/family will recommend that their son or daughter talk to so-and-so and see if there is any interest in each other. There’s no picking up people in bars or clubs, there are no ambiguous premarital relationships, but properly done, there is choice and there is no coercion. “Arranged marriages” are normally something very far from “forced marriage”, which is always null and void in Islamic law. (The bride signs the marriage contract separately from the groom and his family, specifically to help ensure that there is no coercion.)

    each year hundreds of Muslim girls in Britain are forced into marriage; … young women who run away to avoid arranged marriages are ruthlessly tracked down

    This is an problem in some cultures, but again it is quite contrary to Islamic norms and laws. We most often hear about it in the South Asian context, and within this culture it happens amongst Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Sikhs. Furthermore, there are many Muslim cultures where this does not happen at all.

    although polygamy is prohibited in the UK, second marriages are performed under shari’a law with only a religious ceremony, and no accompanying civil ceremony; if the marriage fails, the woman has very few rights as the second wife and may be left with absolutely nothing

    Given that adultery is totally legal in the UK, all mistresses of Christian men — and there are many — are in the same boat. To have any meaningful change, we must criminalize adultery and/or legalize polygamy, giving these women and offspring of these unions their due legal rights. As our own culture amply shows, many women prefer to go after a successful man who is already taken than to have an unsuccessful man all to themselves; it seems to stem from a tendency engrained in human nature.

    although it is considered very shameful for the woman to initiate a divorce, “it is not considered shameful for a man to divorce, whatever the reason he gives. One legitimate reason considered for divorce is because the wife cannot produce boys

    This is far more true of our own Christian heritage than it is of the Muslim world, generally speaking. In most Muslim cultures, and in Islamic practice, there is absolutely no stigma attached to divorce for either gender. (Christianity, however, sees virginity as the ideal state, which is partly why divorce was so scandalous in Western countries until relatively recently.) Women regularly approached the Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, on the issue of divorce and he never belittled them for it. One woman came to him and said she simply was not attracted to her husband even though he was a nice guy– and her request for divorce was granted. In much of the Western world, the woman simply had no right to divorce *at all*, even in the case of abusive husbands.

    The Quran also explicitly condemns misogyny and specifically the practice of burying baby girls because pagan Arabs preferred boys:

    When one of them receives the good news of [the birth of] a female, his face remains darkened, and he is angry within. He hides himself from the people because of the evil of that of which he has been given good news. Shall he keep her in contempt, or bury her beneath the earth? Evil indeed is their judgment.

    Again, the Christian world has the poorer record here; girls were not seen as individuals in their own right, and their families generally had to pay dowries to the groom’s families. (In Islam, a man must give his bride a payment as specified by her in the marriage contract; this sum can be in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

    at least 10% of British Muslim women are abused emotionally, physically, and sexually by their Muslim husbands … up to 17,000 women in the UK are subjected to “honour”-related violence

    This figure is actually higher amongst many white Christian-heritage populations; the figure I most often hear is northwards of 35% for the general population in North America. So while any abuse is to be abhorred, it appears that rate of abuse of British Muslim women is not worse than that of the general population, and may be considerably better. (Given the strong sense of sorority, Muslim women are less isolated than their secularized counterparts.) There is an awesome amount of domestic violence amongst “regular white people”, as any look at legal dockets will confirm– it just happens so regularly that it is not newsworthy.

    a whole chapter devoted to the veil
    This is a favorite topic in anti-Muslim rhetoric, I suppose because of the titillation factor. (It is telling that she snarkily titled the book “Secrets Behind the Burqa”– an odd choice of title since ~98% of Muslim women in Britain and in the Muslim world do not wear the burqa!) It is also interesting that she critique it from a hard-secularist perspective, given that Christian women traditionally dressed just as modestly, and many nuns still do. (Did anyone complain or even notice that the women in the very British “Lord of the Rings” movies almost all wore headscarves? No!) Mary, may God be pleased with her, is almost always shown with a headscarf in Christian iconography and art. Mrs. Sookhdeo, with her (perhaps unconscious) condescending, Orientalistic outlook, has overlooked her own traditions! (You do the same when you wishfully describe it as “a symbol of inferiority“.)

    It is worth pointing that traditional Muslim men almost always cover their hair and wear loose, flowing clothes as well. On the flickr web site, you can compare thousands of photos of traditional Muslim men to the traditional Muslim women and you’ll see that the men are no less modest. You will also be awestruck by the dazzling variety in dress around the Muslim world.

    beatings are the norm, polygamy sanctioned, “honour” idolised, men’s every desire to be satisfied implicitly.

    -Beatings are certainly NOT the norm. The norm is set by the example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, who adored and never abused his wives — some of whom held great positions of leadership in the wider community. (One was his employer, another the most influential hadith scholar and a leader in battle, another a regulator of the financial markets). By contrast, Paul and Martin Luther thought that women should be consigned to their homes. Luther even said that “The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” [Martin Luther, Works 12.94]
    -Polygamy is more common in our society than it is in many Muslim ones, the difference being that we call the second wives ‘mistresses’.
    -Honour is not idolized; pride is the greatest of sins. Wives have rights against their husbands, and children against their parents, in courts of law. In some ways they are still ahead of our culture here, which does not grant women the same degree of financial independence.
    -Women’s every desire is also to be satisfied implicitly. If a man does not provide for his wife according to her own standards, she can take him to court. If he does not satisfy her in bed, she can also take action against him.

    is a feeling of intense gratitude that the principles of the Qur’an and Hadith are not, in fact, the revelation that God has given for how women are to live and how men and women should relate

    That is the intended effect of the book. From the title on in, you can tell that it is not intended to be a dispassionate look at how most Muslim women actually live, but a tract aimed at reinforcing stereotypes and giving Christian women a false sense of security in their faith.

    Karen Armstrong, the former nun, wrote (here) that:

    Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not – or feared that we were. The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour. … In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness. This habit has persisted.

    Sookhdeo’s book is a perfect illustration of what Armstrong is talking about; even the title of the book says as much.

    Now, if you venture out of this self-deluding cocoon that some member of the Christian right have defensively constructed, you will soon see how blinkered and artificial these stereotypes actually are. I have already addressed the substantive issue you highlighted, so I’ll just leave you with a few resources that you really must explore if you want to have a fully informed and balanced opinion.

    First, a few women whose very existence refutes the canards propogated by the Sookhdeos:

    Marlyn Morrington: a District Judge in England, an international lecturer, and writer on family law including domestic violence. She was a recipient of a scholarship in Notre Dame Convent and obtained her LLB (law degree) from Sheffield University, being the 6th in the Bar Finals of 1976. She started practicing Family Law in Liverpool in 1976. In 1994, she was appointed as District Judge in Birkenhead, Liverpool, and was the first Barrister to be appointed as a District Judge at the age of 40.
    http://www.welcome-back.org/profile/morrington.shtml
    (At the bottom of this page there are links to a 5 part video interview with her on YouTube)

    Dr Ingrid Mattson
    President of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest and oldest Muslim organization on the continent. She has worked amongst the women of Afghanistan, and completed her PhD at the University of Chicago.
    http://www.hartsem.edu/faculty/mattson.htm

    Dr Leila Ahmad is a Harvard professor of divinity; in this interview she tackles many of the stereotypes directly. She starts by asking why people always ask her about the burqa, but never ask why Muslim nations have produced 7 female heads-of-state when Europe has produced only 2 or 3 and the United States none at all.

    Dr Aliah Schleifer is a Muslim scholar (of Jewish heritage) who has written a couple of books that will interest you: Mary, the Blessed Virgin of Islam and Motherhood in Islam. (The publisher, Fons Vitae, carries a wide range of peer-reviewed traditional literature from Islam, Christianity, and other religions. Highly recommended.)

    Prof. Sachiko Murata, a highly regarded Japanese Muslim scholar of Islam at SUNY, has written The Tao of Islam, which is now the most popular graduate level American university textbook on gender relations in Islam.

    Again, if Sookhdeo’s pablum portrayal of the faith were true, why would so many Christian/Jewish/other women of formidable intellect adopt Islam? I don’t think these women (or converts generally) can be shoehorned into Sookhdeo’s patronizing characterizations. None of the above are silly, naive girls charmed into the religion by their future husbands, and all are far more educated, independent, and well-travelled than Sookhdeo herself. Some of them started out with the very same prejudices expressed in this blog post…

    Anyhow, I hope this has been helpful. If you have any follow-up questions — and I’m sure you will — please do not hestitate to ask! Always remember that we are not enemies, but fellow lovers of God and his truthful prophets.

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  5. Dear Caroline,

    thanks for taking the time to produce this painstaking response :)

    I’ll try not to make this comment too long (but usually that’s something i fail at miserably…)

    It’s obviously reassuring to hear the testimony/perspective of women within Islam who do not experience the kind of oppression detailed in Sookhdeo’s book. It’s of course very clear that there are different schools of thought within Islam, and I suppose Muslims must sometimes find themselves in the same position as Christians, whenever a criticism arises that’s framed about “Islam” or “Christianity” in general terms – attacking a teaching or a practice that may well be unrecognisable to a particular individual Muslim or Christian.

    As for the claims of the book itself – one thing I did wish when I read it was that the author had gone into more details about the methodology, including the process for inviting/accepting people into the study. (Although in her defence, this was obviously a book intended for the general public, rather than a strictly academic research report.)
    I’m not sure therefore whether it’s possible to evaluate the claim that the author cherry-picked the participants in her study. It may well be that the women interviewed were from particular strands within Islam or particular cultural backgrounds which are not as enlightened and free as some more moderate versions of contemporary Islam especially as it finds expression in the West.
    Yet what is reported in the book is surely not deliberately inaccurate as a report of the findings of the interviews, and although it may be disputed that the book comprehensively covers all possible instantiations of Islam, it surely gives a realistic picture of the areas it does cover.

    The Sookhdeos do clearly have a big and personal interest in the practices and teachings of Islam. However I don’t think it’s right or fair in the least to make links with deeply objectionable groups like the BNP. (I don’t fully remember the details, but I believe there was an incident in the past when the BNP sought to make use of some organisation or perhaps publication of theirs, but they did then move quickly to publicly repudiate any link.)
    The main work of the Sookhdeos is of course devoted to supporting individuals, mainly Christians, who do suffer specifically for not belonging to Islam (either because they were never Muslim or because they have converted from Islam to another religion). It is unfortunately the case that in some parts of the world, Christians do undergo persecution at the hands of some self-professed Muslims – in the name of their religion and specifically on the grounds that they are non-Muslim.
    The Sookhdeos are among many interested and well-informed observers who would be overjoyed to see all kinds of Muslims repudiate the discriminatory, oppressive, and frankly inhumane practices and teachings which unfortunately characterise some self-professed Muslims. The moderate, modernised, more liberal version of Islam which you seem to adhere to is – to the extent that it allows its followers the freedoms that other varieties deny them – obviously highly preferable.

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  6. I suppose Muslims must sometimes find themselves in the same position as Christians, whenever a criticism arises that’s framed about “Islam” or “Christianity” in general terms – attacking a teaching or a practice that may well be unrecognisable to a particular individual Muslim or Christian. … moderate, modernised, more liberal version of Islam

    This is somewhat true, but Islam hasn’t fragmented to the same degree as Christianity has. Today there are just 8 schools of thought in Islam (as specified in the Amman Message), and all of them recognize each other as having valid foundations. Four of those schools, comprising 85%-90% of the Muslim population, are Sunni and each of those consider each of the others equally valid. The other 10%-15% are Shi’a or much smaller schools like the Ibadi. In the last 200 years or so, a modern “Protestant” form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism has taken hold in Saudi Arabia and a few other places (like Taliban Afghanistan), but these are a minority of about 50 million people out of 1.3 billion.

    I practice traditional Sunni Islam, not a ‘modernized, more liberal version of Islam’. I’m not sure how you arrived at that conclusion; everything I described has been normative to Islam for centuries.

    I’m not sure therefore whether it’s possible to evaluate the claim that the author cherry-picked the participants in her study. It may well be that the women interviewed were from particular strands within Islam or particular cultural backgrounds which are not as enlightened and free as some more moderate versions of contemporary Islam especially as it finds expression in the West.

    If you have even a rudimentary understanding of Islamic theology and history, and meet a wide range of Muslim women from various cultures (as I have), then it certainly is possible to determine whether the cases she described are cherry-picked. That’s why I provided links to a broader range of educated women, and to secular research. Her “methodology” is extremely sloppy, confusing (deliberately, I think) cultural practices with Islamic teachings, selective use of statistics, and so on. As I said, even the titles of her books betray a bias. Of the truthful cases she does present, the difference is not so much that they practice a different or more conservative form of Islam than I (or any other informed Sunni Muslim does), but that some of the people involved are simply not well-informed about their faith. I don’t dispute that there are some unhappy Muslim women or converts out there, but in virtually all of those cases it is something other than the religion that is to blame for their woes. Religion is only one factor of many.

    However I don’t think it’s right or fair in the least to make links with deeply objectionable groups like the BNP.

    You are (probably) correct in saying that they don’t have any direct public ties with the BNP themselves. However, it is striking how their views coincide, and Patrick Sookhdeo had no qualms lecturing at a hard-right “CounterJihad” conference in Brussels in 2007, alongside many well-known Islamophobes who are repudiated by mainstream Christian churches. Members of the far-right Vlaams Belang party were also in attendance. There he had a cordial conversation here) with a fawning, atheistic, Coulter-like extremist named Pamela Geller. In this interview, he talked about Israel not coming down hard enough on its enemies(!)

    I thought this was very strange, given that he is supposed to be a champion of persecuted Christians, and there are few Christians on Earth as persecuted as the ones in Christ’s homeland, who were ethnically cleansed from their land in 1948 and who have suffered every bit as much as the Muslims from the brutal Occupation since then. The Occupation does not distinguish between Muslim and Christian; it seeks to expropriate land from both. Palestinian Christians have been at the forefront of that struggle, not just as resistance fighters, but as leaders — most notably, the eloquent and elegant Hanan Ashrawi and the highly respected and influential scholar Edward Said. Most mainstream churches, even in the United States, recognize these facts and call upon Israel to obey international law. The Episcopal (Anglican) Church, has passed many resolutions affirming Palestinian rights. Bishop Desmond Tutu has condemned the “Apartheid in the Holy Land”. Former President Carter, who has taught Sunday school for decades, courageously spoke truth to power in his book “Palestine, Peace not Apartheid”, which brought the full weight of the pro-Israel lobby upon him. And so on.

    Yet when one visits the Barnabas Fund web site, there is scarcely any mention of these persecuted Christians, and absolutely no mention of the great injustices Israel has heaped upon them. In those rare instances where he does mention them, he awkwardly portrays them as nothing more than bystanders caught in the crossfire — as if his congregation is so ignorant and so gullible as to be totally unaware of what is happening there. This clearly shows that his disdain for Muslims is stronger than his love for his fellow Christians and their individual rights, and stronger than his concern for the truth.

    Which leads me to one last point. The Sookhdeos have, strikingly, produced nothing of beauty, nothing that shows why faith — any faith — is worth having. (This is not a slam at Christianity, for there are still many Christians who do still emanate beauty.) Virtually all of their output is dedicated, politely but pathologically, against the Other. This is a clear sign of weak faith. Sookhdeo is not striving for God, he is striving against his inferiority complex.

    In contrast, none of the educated, traditional Muslim converts I’ve met — Abdal Hakim Murad, Sarah Joseph, Aysha Governeur — have taken this route. They don’t waste all of their time railing against Christianity; they are focused on the Absolute, and have produced much beauty that people of all faiths can take inspiration from. They realize that Muslim-Christian battles are, in the current context, deleterious to faith generally, and what our secularized world needs are people of faith who remind us of God, not of our own insecurities.

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  7. The Guardian is now reporting on the entertainingly nutty responses from Sookhdeo supporters to the review I linked to on Fulcrum: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2009/feb/20/fulcrum-anglicanism-sookhdeo

    I have not read that 700 page book, but the book appears to be a lengthy regurgitation of ideas Sookhdeo has published earlier, which I have read. (For example, “The Myth of Moderate Islam” essay which he published on the ridiculously right-wing Frontpage magazine site, and the interview he did with the far right wacko Pamela Geller — described as “a few chickpeas short of a falafel” by Chris Selley in today’s newspaper — which I linked to earlier.) If I’m going to devote time to a 700 page book, I make sure it has a plausible chance of teaching me something I don’t know.

    The sad thing about religion, especially protestant forms of religion (Christian and Muslim) is the lack of intellectual rigour in many debates. Fools can pretend to be ‘experts’ on a subject, so long as they pander to the egoistic longings of enough people. I’m glad that a Christian of apparently sound integrity has exposed Sookhdeo for the intellectual fraud that he is.

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  8. Hello Cath and Caroline
    I have enjoyed reading through your posts after reading two of Rosemary Sookdeo’s books. Reading the books and now reading your commentaries have opened up a world to which I was so very unfamiliar. Even as I read SBtB I knew that so much presented was a mere slice– grim though much of it was- of Islam. Whether the rights of women are trodden upon by Muslims or Christians is irrelevant, for human nature, I believe, has the propensity to fuck things up despite the most enlightened doctrine. I say this as a devout Christian who seeks truth, salvation, and sanctification through Christ. What is of import is our response in our community. As James the brother of Christ wrote in his epistle to the churches, (James 1:27) ” Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Faith without works is dead. What I do appreciate about R Sookdeo’s apparent life mission is her care for those who are downtrodden, skewed though it may be by a the lack of a fuller account in her writing and research of Islam.

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