“Outlawed in Pakistan”: A Powerful Look at Violence Against Women

FRONTLINE is one of my favorite shows to watch on television. Their documentaries are thoughtful and available to watch indefinitely online in the United States. In addition to airing documentaries, they have a fantastic online presence and provide additional commentary, interviews, and chats for each of their shows to further engage with viewers. I watched The Interrupters in 2012 for Muslimah Media Watch, when it aired under FRONTLINE in the United States. You can still watch that film online.

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I recently watched Outlawed in Pakistan, which aired on FRONTLINE in May of this year. Habiba Nosheen and Hilke Schellman’s documentary follows the heartbreaking story of 13-year-old Kainat Sumroo as she brings her gang rape case to court in Pakistan. The film portrays the systematic challenges of bringing a rape case to trial in Pakistan and includes commentary from a variety of people related to the case: her supportive family, attorney, women’s rights organizations in Pakistan, and even those accused of the crime. The filmmakers traveled to Pakistan to film the documentary over the past four years. [Read more...]

Black Muslim Lesbians Find Community in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca: Part 2

In Part 1 of this post, I introduced to you activist, artist and documentary filmmaker Red Summer. She along with the women in her upcoming film Al Nisa: Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca have been creating intentional spaces of community for Black Lesbian Muslims, where they can share and connect without negotiating the multiple and complex parts of themselves.

My conversation with Red continues as we explore what does it mean for Black Muslim Lesbians to live in the “Gay Mecca,” the political atmosphere of the metropolitan city, and the bringing together of diverse Islamic experiences such as the Nation of Islam and Sunni backgrounds. [Read more...]

Black Muslim Lesbians Find Community in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca: Part 1

Oppression works in strategic ways. When we think of who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed, as Muslim women in “the West” we often automatically think about the white liberal feminist who speaks on the behalf of “Third World” women, women of colour and Muslim women. However, what about the level of social hierarchy within Muslim communities themselves?

Last year, Chelby Marie Daigle wrote a post with the title “Black History Month, a challenge to my fellow Muslims” where she pointed out that:

“Anti-Black racism, which includes beliefs that Blacks are inherently less intelligent, more violent, lazier, dirtier, uglier and more sexually promiscuous than other races, is just as prevalent within Muslim societies as it is in the West, if not more so, because there have not been similar movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, aimed at combating these prejudices, within Muslim societies.”

Within the idea of “whiteness” as the standard that is measured by white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied norms, the black woman is often at the bottom of the social hierarchy—add being lesbian, bisexual, trans, or any other sexual “perversion” and you are further dehumanized and degenerated. Speaking within our diverse Muslim community that spans across the globe, to be queer can mean having a death sentence on your head, whether physical or spiritual death. To be a black woman who is queer is to have the multiple forms of oppression slap you over your head, not just by those who are the very opposite of who you are (white, Christian, hetero, male). Often it also means being shunned by your spiritual community (some black Muslims already experience this without adding the discrimination of their sexuality). Yet, to be shunned by those who are supposed to treat you as brother or sister under the community and unity of Islam can leave a black queer women isolated, feeling that she has to compromise all the parts that make her unique and valuable. It can lead to a woman thinking that she is the only one and that her multiple identities cannot live together, because the society and community in which she is surrounded by tells her it’s not possible.

However, resistance is always happening. People find creative ways to survive and to thrive and to build their own communities where they can bring their full selves to the table, uncompromised.

Red Summer, a documentary filmmaker, community organizer, spoken word artist and activist originally from Chicago, Illinois thought of the idea of bringing black Muslim lesbians together to talk about their experiences. One of the first questions that came to her was, “where are they?” Eventually after finding some women through networking with friends, using Facebook and online threads, she began to work on the documentary Al-Nisa: Muslim Women in Atlanta’s Gay Mecca. I caught up with Red to discuss what prompted her to do a documentary on one of the most invisibilized groups in the Muslim community and society in general, showing that women in Atlanta are coming together, they are sharing their stories and they are making themselves visible.

Here is the interview that I had with Red in a two part series. Her humour and insight on the film and on the project of building community will hopefully spread to other black queer women in the Muslim community and help further a broader conversation. Because, as she says, “a community broadens, once their scope broadens.” [Read more...]

In conversation with Pakistani Actress Saeeda Imtiaz

Movie stars have always fascinated me. We follow their dressing sense, emulate them, secretly envy them and even the most polite among us feel obliged to pass snide remarks on them as if they belong to each one of us.

In this email interview, Pakistani actress Saeeda Imtiaz, who portrays the role of Jemima Khan in the upcoming movie Kaptaan, gets candid about her career aspirations and what it’s like for a newcomer in the Pakistan film industry.

1. What attracted you to acting, other than the obvious glamour?

I enjoyed acting from my university days. I was president of the Desi Students Association in Stony Brooks University, and used to coordinate and organize music concerts and fashion shows along with my brothers. My family however, was adamant that I had to complete my education before pursuing my acting career. So that’s what I did.

2.  You portrayed the role of Jemima Khan in the upcoming movie Kaptaan. What kind of preparations did you do for her role? What part of these preparations did you enjoy the most?

We had 6 months of rehearsals prior to shooting. I was asked to observe Jemima Khan through YouTube clips of her public appearances and interviews. I had to emulate the way she spoke, her postures while she spoke in front of the media. In preparation for the role, I also had to get a total make over. I gained weight and colored my hair blonde.

The training included meditation sessions and acting classes. It was unforgettable and I consider it a great base for the start of a career.

[Read more...]

Unmasking Unmosqued: Finding a Space for Women

As many of our loyal and long-time readers are well aware of, we’ve often covered the issue of women’s space and place in mosques. Whether we were looking at Chinese female imams and all-women mosques or the effect of mosque space on women’s love lives and, well, humanity, we’ve explored the various issues of gender, sexuality and politics found between the walls of many mosques. Mosques, much like any other space, are complicated meeting points of identity, belief, and mores, with potential to inform, impact and change not only our individual lives but also our social relations and standing. For this reason, the discussion of mosque space, not just as a physical space but also as the point of arrival of Muslims into their respective communities, and the formation of their relationships with one another, remains a conversation that requires to not only be heard but amplified.

Recently, a trailer made rounds in the Muslim online circles for an upcoming documentary, entitled UnMosqued, on the role of mosques in American Muslim communities.

From the film’s website:

UnMosqued is a documentary film which aims to highlight the growing need for reform in many of the mosques found in America. The purpose of the documentary is to engage a group of people who have been disconnected from their local mosque and explore the various reasons that have led to this sentiment. (…) Masajid may not be doing enough to attract and retain the youth, which further alienates the future members of the community from using the mosque space for their spiritual growth.” [Read more...]

Zero Dark Thirty: A Tale of Bias and Burqas

This post was written by guest contributor Emaan Majed.

The scene opens on a bustling Peshawar market. The street vendors peddle ripe oranges and bananas. Decorated rickshaws bustle through busy streets as Maya, the determined female protagonist of Zero Dark Thirty, makes her way to her destination. But in contrast to actual Peshawar markets, the only Muslim women on the movie screen are two briefly seen, unnamed extras wearing sky blue Afghan chadris.

The central narrative of Zero Dark Thirty surrounds the 2011 capture of Osama Bin Laden by a Navy Seal team. In this rendering the seal team is led to OBL by Maya, portrayed by Jessica Chastain. Maya and her colleagues go through many leads, breezily torturing each suspect until he breaks. Much has been said on the graphic torture of Muslim men the movie glorifies. But what most mainstream outlets and Westerners in general have ignored is the effect this torture has on Muslim women. The devastating effect the torture, capture, and murder of Muslim men has on their wives is overlooked by the movie and by the larger American foreign policy it emulates. The American military and government are eager to wage a war on terrorism in the name of women’s rights and show kindness to little girls whose fathers are suspects. However, their brutal treatment of Muslim men threatens the families and economic situations of many of those little girls by destroying their communities. Gayatri Spivak’s famous quote “white men saving brown women from brown men” is the framework this movie operates on, but it does not seem to realize that these white men are doing brown women more harm than good. [Read more...]