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August 8, 2013

A modational Muslim woman

The Canadian Charger

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Hanan Awad, an environmental studies graduate teaching assistant at the University of Waterloo, describes herself as a modational Muslim woman. She said she actually invented the word modational to describe a modern lady with a traditional twist.

“I live here in the now. I love songs from the 50's and movies. I'm a mother. I'm into high tech and politics. I studied mechanical engineering and then made a career shift to environmental studies.”

And she said being a modational Muslim woman doesn't necessarily distinguish or set her apart from anyone else in society.

“I'm no different than you are. I have my dreams and hopes, specific beliefs and values. I was born a Muslim, but I became a Muslim by choice. I read about other religions - Judaism and Christianity - and there are so many similarities to Islam.”

She added that she believes all religions are the same in many ways. “If you take certain verses from any religion out of context you can convey specific biases of that religion.”

The Sunnah – a book of scholars' interpretations of the sayings of the prophet, gives context to the Quran because in many cases one can't easily interpret what's in the Quran without knowledge of the specific events the verses relate to, Ms. Awad said.

“Prophet Muhammed said: 'What's related to religion, ask me. What's related to your lifestyle, you know better.'”

The western media often claim that Islam oppresses women, but Ms. Awad said this is not true. While readily acknowledging that in some parts of the world women are oppressed, Ms. Awad said the media often blame Islam; but cultural traditions are responsible for the oppression, not Islam.

“The concept of equality in Islam: men and women are equal but they have different roles. There is nothing in the Koran that says only women must cook, but traditionally women learn to cook from their mothers. In the Quran, it says we have the right to speak up. We must give consent to marry. Nothing (in the Quran) says we can't work. Some women at the time of the Prophet had careers. They had land and businesses, with people working for them. Some women were merchants. It's the cultural traditions that prevent women from participating.”

She added that the Quran doesn't say women must be dressed in black or dark blue. It advocates modesty. And it doesn't say, “Don't educate women.”

Ms. Awad said the mantra that “Islam oppresses women,” who thus need outside forces to liberate them, is a political ploy which plays on the hearts of people to get approval for military intervention, often resulting in the subjugation of the indigenous population.

“This has been a need throughout history. In colonial times, in the 1800's in Algeria, the French held ceremonies to take off the cover of women. In South Africa, where some women were naked, the colonialists said they were oppressed, so they clothed them.”

Before Islam, there was no limit on the number of wives a man may have and men inherited the wives of their fathers and brothers, when these relatives died. Ms. Awad said the Quran says men can't inherit wives and, although it's permissible to marry up to four wives, one is preferable.

“And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such women as seem good to you, two or three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course.” Quran 4:3

While we often hear of arranged marriages that are not happy marriages, Ms. Awad said the Quran also says a woman can make marriage conditions and she is entitled to marry anyone she chooses.

In the Quran, Ms. Awad said Prophet Mohamed orders Muslims  to help the oppressed.

“What prevents Muslims from committing crimes or oppressing others is a 'feeling of loss' . On the one hand, Islam forbids us to oppress others and on the other hand, Islam promotes justice and equality.”

In order to counter the many misconceptions of Islam in western societies, Ms. Awad started a video blog on Youtube.

“I talk to Muslims and non-Muslims and try to educate them about our beliefs. Other people talk to me with a certain picture in their minds and when I don't think in the image they have, they think something is wrong. They have stereotypes.”

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