Monday, 30 June 2014

Women of Faith: in Australia and the Sudan

Susan Carland, Australian spokesperson for Islam
Meriam Wani (nee Ibrahim), Sudanese Christian  

NOTE:  This blog is posted with the express intention of alerting  young women who may be attracted by the modesty and apparently high values espoused by those who have adopted Islam, to look at the realities. 

I was prompted to make a comparison between these two women, both devout in their faith, by the reading of an article by Susan Carland:  ''Ramadan: In this Month of Fasting, I Feed My Soul". (see link below)

The plight of Meriam Wani (called Meriam Ibrahim in the press) is known through the general outrage that her imprisonment and death sentence has caused worldwide, for supposed apostasy and living in a relationship which is not deemed a legal marriage under Islamic law. The outrage, while shared by many moderate Muslim people, is by no means universal.  Meriam's guilt all hangs on the legality of whether being born the daughter of an Islamic father makes her inherently a Muslim, even though reared as a Christian. 

Her lawyers (themselves Muslims) have taken the position that she never was truly Islamic, but was always Christian. On this technicality she has been freed; had she been proven inherently Muslim through her father, then the death sentence would stand. 
This article presents her situation very clearly: "I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian". (see link below) 

Susan Carland is probably a much more familiar face to many Australians than to me, as I have not watched television for years. As a panellist on the ABC's Q&A she was described as  a founding member and presenter of "Salam Cafe" an SBS comedy program questioning Islamic stereotypes. She teaches gender studies, sociology and politics at Monash University and is writing a doctoral thesis on the ways that Muslim women fight sexism. 

The Image and the Realitiy 

Susan Carland presents a face of Islam that is atypical worldwide, and demonstrates an extreme contrast between the life of a woman under traditional Islam and the liberty of being an Islamic woman convert, married to a liberally-minded man, and possessed of an Australian education, Australian health services,  and, most importantly, Australian freedoms which not only permit her to practice Islam, but protect her rights to follow the rules to precisely the degree that she chooses, no more, no less.  Her husband and others in the Muslim community, by the law of this country, cannot enforce any aspect of Islam upon her. She is free, by the law of this country, to commit apostasy, blasphemy and marital infidelity.  Her husband or community might take it upon themselves to punish her, but they cannot have her stoned, gaoled or sentenced to death for so-doing. Of those three offences to Islam, in this country one is considered her inherent right and an essential freedom, one is widely disregarded, and the third, while generally socially unacceptable and grounds for divorce, is not punishable by law.   

Ms Carland, as an Australian Muslim, presents an extremely glamorous, and therefore deceptive, face of Islam. She covers her head, as a concession to some rule in the Quran that says that women are supposed to cover "parts" (without being entirely specific about which parts), while at the same time, defying the intention of the law, enacted throughout most of the Islamic world, of reducing her sexual allure.  Ms Carland is, in fact, an alluring and attractive young woman.  Her clothes do not reveal her flesh, but certainly reveal her figure. The face surrounded by the veil is plucked, powdered and painted. Long dangly earrings adorn her earlobes. Is this a true face of Islam?  Ms Carland would encourage us to see it as a real possibility. (Footnote 1) 

In the real world outside the protection of the Australian justice system, it is not.  It is not even a reality for many young women of Muslim families in the comparative freedom of western countries. Honour killings of young women have taken place in Australia, in Canada and the UK for perceived crimes such as having a Christian boyfriend, seeking a divorce, refusing to wear a veil, and simply "being too Westernised". 

Rania Alayed was murdered by her husband in Manchester, UK,
in 2013 for "being too Westernised".

Non-Muslim women, all over the world, are assaulted for their non-compliance with Islamic codes. Assault rarely receives publicity unless it is the rape of a minor.  The French police do not want to know that a fat old Australian grandmother was sexually assaulted on the tram to the historic Basilica of Saint-Denis or threatened with rape by a group of men outside the Church of Sainte-Jeanne in Rouen.  Even here in Australia, when a young woman attending a Carols by Candlelight service goes to the toilet block and is dragged into the bushes by a group of Islamic youths, the police respond by giving them a warning and not even taking their names down. Well, she fought them off, so it was OK, in the end, wasn't it? 

In the case of Lara Logan, (below), attacked by a dozen men during the post-Morsi celebrations in Cairo's main square,  the main newspaper of Islam, Al Jazeera, refused to publish a story on the matter, stating that they published stories by journalists, not about journalists.   

Lara Logan, US journalist was separated from her friends and raped just
 moments after this photograph was taken. The men were out in the
main square of Cairo to celebrate the overthrow of president Morsi
in 2011.  The attack was explained as being "politically motivated
to intimidate opponents". Sure!  The sexual assault of any woman who
does not comply with strict Islamic dress codes is commonplace in Cairo.

Feeding the Soul 

Susan Carland's recent article in ABC "Religion and Ethics" is about Ramandan, the time of fasting. Carland emphasises the role of fasting in removing the believer from the distractions of the world, and putting them in touch with their soul. It is a process of self-purification.  

The purpose of Ramadan is further explained here in an excerpt from an article "Return to the Centre" (July 2013), by Tariq  Ramandan, also writing for ABC "Religion and Ethics": 

"The abrupt changes implied by the fast is an invitation to a transformation and a profound reform of oneself and one's life that can only occur through a rigorous intellectual introspection (muraqaba).  To achieve the ultimate goal of the fast, our faith requires a demanding, lucid, sincere and honest mind capable of self-criticism. Everyone should be able to do that for oneself, before God, within one's solitude as well as within one's commitment among one's fellow human beings. It is a question of mastering one's emotions, to face up to oneself and to take the right decisions as to the transformation of one's life in order to come closer to the 'centre' and the "meaning." " (Footnote 2) 

On reading Susan Carland's article, published at a time when Meriam Wani was released, but re-arrested on different grounds, I was prompted to compare the situations of the two women. I have sent my comments to the ABC, but they will be screened before publication, so I decided to publish here. 

The relevant links: 

My Comments on Susan Carland's article  

I notice the subject of Susan Carland's studies is "the ways that Muslim women fight against sexism". I am wondering if this includes fight against the Islamic law that dictates that an Islamic man may marry a Christian person, but an Islamic woman may not.

Ms Cartland, to judge (rightly or wrongly) by her name (presumably that of her father or husband) was not born into Islam. It appears that she has something in common with Ms Meriam Wani (nee Abrahim) whose case has been in the news lately, both being followers of a faith by commitment.

I would dearly love to know what insight the deprivation of fasting and the exploration of her soul has given Ms Carland about the plight of Meriam, who continues to swear her allegiance to God as revealed through Jesus (rather than through Muhammad) while giving birth, shackled and half-starved, on the floor of a filthy prison cell.

If Meriam was a Muslim by commitment, as Ms Carland is, she would, by explicit statements of the Quran and the Hadith, have the right to deny her faith if her life was threatened by a non-Muslim. This is legal, in Islamic law.  Maintaining the fact of ones true commitment to another faith is not. (3)

The principle that allows a Muslim to deny their faith is "Al Takeyya". If Ms Carland, or another person of the Islamic faith needed to invoke this law, then they could clear themselves of the apostasy by the penance of feeding a poor family, freeing a slave, or by fasting for three days. (3)

On the other hand, as a Christian, Meriam was bound by her personal faith, (rather than any written law of Christianity) to maintain the truth, i.e. the actual fact of her belief. No doubt, it was her faith that gave her the courage to maintain this truth, regardless of the potential outcome of Islamic justice.  The laws of the land in which we, as Australians reside, based upon Christian principles, also demand “the truth” with no loophole for lies. Lying to save one's own neck is not only illegal, it is socially regarded as "gutless" i.e. without honour, particularly if it blames or risks other people.

The choice of adoption of any religion that sanctions acts towards human beings that Islam has sanctioned towards Meriam Wani (nee Abrahim) needs to be the subject of much soul searching by every person, before making an ultimate commitment to Islam that can, by the law of the God of Muhammad, be denied for convenience, if danger threatens, but that cannot, by any providence of Mercy, either of the God of Muhammad or the courts of Islam, be permanently revoked once made. (4)
The ruminations of Ms Carland's soul on the matter of the treatment and extraordinary courage of Meriam Wani (nee Abrahim) would be pertinent and interesting, as Ms Carland herself presents such a very attractive, serene, erudite and even glamorous face Islam. (5)


1. I am not expressing any dislike of adornment, but of the adoption of an essentially religious garment in a manner that appears to reduce it to a token symbol.  Long dangly earrings (as worn in other online photos) are a denial of everything that the headscarf represents, so why is the headscarf being worn at all?  

 2. The emphasis on self-improvement, and lack of emphasis on the role of God in the process  are contrasts with Christian teachings which will be immediately apparent to some readers.

 3. Christians, and other people in Western society who are not familiar with Islamic ethics, often make the error of attributing to Islam some concepts that are basic to Christianity, such as the nature of the "truth". It is widely presumed that being "truthful" is a characteristic of devout people of every faith.  

This is not the case, with Islam. In Islam, there are a number of defined but broadly inclusive circumstances in which it is permissible to lie: when ones life or safety is under threat, when telling a lie will promote peace among believers, family or neighbourhood; when telling a lie will aid in overcoming an enemy;  and, in the broadest sense applicable, when telling a lie will promote the cause of Islam.  In all these cases the lie is described as a "righteous lie". The implications of the concept of Al Takeyya, the righteous lie,  are far reaching.

Al Takeyya is why Ahmadinejad, President if Iran, could state publicly that the Holocaust never happened, and be praised by Muslims across the world for saying things that annoy the Western World. The fact that he so obviously was lying was immaterial in the eyes of those who praised him and saw his lies as effective and entirely righteous challenge to Western ideology.  Meanwhile, the bemused non-Muslim observers thought the man was not only offensive but also ridiculous.  
Al Takeyya is the reason why Palestinian TV programs can state that the hearts of Muslim children are used by the Jews to make bread for the passover.  
Al Takeyya is the reason why a Muslim cleric can frame an intellectually disabled child, or three women can witness that the fourth woman at the water fountain, a Christian, committed blasphemy. 

Most significantly,  Al Takkeyya is the reason why Islam can be promoted by Islamic scholars and Imans accross the world as a religion of "Peace" when all the evidence points the other way.  

 4.  In the present case lawyers were able to argue that the commitment to Islam was not made by the accused herself, but implied by her paternity; therefore she had not apostatised. 


Meriam was released and she and Wani planned to leave the country, but they were arrested at the airport. Ultimately, pressure from world governments brought about their release and departure from the country. They escaped to Italy, where they met Pope Francis who thanked them for their courage and witness to Christianity. On 31st August 2014, the family arrived in the Inited States. 
Meriam and her husband being welcomed into the US.

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