Tag Archives: religion

Book Club: Episode 4!


Somehow, I feel as though now I’m not halfway across the world, I’ll be doing more Book Clubs in a desperate attempt to infuse my new (old?) daily life in California with the Excitement and Exoticism that characterized my life in Morocco. Nope, I haven’t learned anything, especially not that the whole Exoticism thing is stupid and shallow. Why not? I dunno, I’m too busy distracting myself with BOOKS like

The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s childhood pal

by Christopher Moore.

(The title looks awesome when it’s Centered.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I was raised so Catholic that I practically farted incense (and I’m hell-bound for that one), except that from a tender young age I believed most Churchgoers were trapped reciting the Nicene Creed by alien mind-control and that the infallibility of the Pope had to be some kind of dogmatic mistake (I let transubstantiation go, though, so give me a break).

I generally pinpoint my break with being Officially Catholic around the time of my Confirmation at the end of 8th grade (I find this fabulously ironic, but that only boosts my ego), which coincided with a Newfound Freedom from my parochial school’s clutches (8th grade graduation), the end of forced confessions and penances (though I found 7 rosaries in my bedroom yesterday, there must be some symbolism in that), and the many opportunities for wanton sinning in the Dionysian pits normally referred to as High School (SINbolism? No. Embolism? Causing many, probably. I really hate excessive use of parentheses, don’t you?). I generally regard religion from a safe, comic distance, and I’m a sucker for a comedic rendering of all things Biblical.

So you can imagine my delight reading Moore’s book, Lamb, in which the Messiah’s best friend Biff, resurrected from the dead 2,000 years later, writes his own story from a hotel room, with a TV-watching angel and a Bible in the bathroom for company.  You know, I’ve always suspected that Jesus was pals with the Abominable Snowman. It’s funny, it’s poignant, there are crazy people and lepers and Chinese concubines, and it’s a great story.

Christopher Moore wrote some other books, too, but I haven’t read them yet. Am going to, probably.

You’re welcome for the plug, Christopher Moore.

Anyway, apart from Books, how am I doing with the whole transition thing? Great, I’m pretty sure. I’ve been eating bagels and chocolate chips compulsively, just got so sunburned that I radiate heat to the entire neighborhood, and am giving away piles of Clothing and Other Shit that’s just been buried in my closet for centuries. That’s how I found those 7 rosaries. Seven. I was going to run a 10k with my mom this morning, but my legs were so sunburned it hurt to walk, so screw that. I found a place to live for next year and am moving in around June 16, so if you live in Seattle and want to help move my only piece of furniture (a couch), hit me up!

I’m chatting with some friends and stuff, though I haven’t quite grasped the idea of inserting myself back into the School and Social Life bubbles yet. That’s fine, because I’m really not too worried about it anyway. I’m too busy cleaning, watching John Hughes movies, and trying to get over Judd Nelson’s nostrils.



Book Club, Episode 3!


Yeah, because I haven’t published Episode 2 yet. It’s decomposing in the pile of half-baked drafts and ideas that I haven’t gotten back to, so I’ll probably just publish these all out of order. WOO!

Anyway, if you’re into gender studies, feminism, Islamism, or anything to do with gender discourses in Morocco, you should TOTALLY read Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco by Zakia Salime. It’s a fairly new book and Zakia Salime’s first, but it’s great. The following is what I have to say about it, and a rather detailed summary of what’s in the book. It’s no substitute for reading it, but it’ll sound pretty impressive because I got into Academic Writing mode. Here we go!


Morocco’s triumph in achieving independence in 1956 seemed to herald a new era for women: girls were permitted to attend French schools, women were seen walking around the streets of Moroccan cities, and the secular, liberal feminist movement gained popularity and legitimacy in the public eye. Princess Lalla Aisha’s public removal of her veil during her controversial speech in 1947, the prevalence of what would become the liberal feminist movement even among sequestered women, and the gradual decline of the segregation of the sexes all pointed to a more open society for women. Moroccan women looked on as Tunisia revolutionized their family law in one fell swoop, guaranteeing rights for Tunisian women that would take another fifty years for Moroccan women to achieve.

Since then, however, the movement to liberate Morocco’s women has accrued a formidable set of political, social, and religious complexities that must all be taken into account in any discussion about gender equality in Morocco (and, indeed, Tunisia, though I use Tunisia merely as an example to set the stage, and will not further explore that particular episode in the history of gender equality in North Africa). Women’s issues, let’s just say, informed every aspect of Moroccan society.

In contemporary Morocco, particularly in the recent years following the second major revision to the family law, these issues have become all the more complicated and inflammatory. Controversy still surrounds the reaction of Morocco’s only female minister to the story of Amina Filali, who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist; the minister voiced the opinion that the law allowing that marriage is a just and viable solution to the problem of rape. The fate of disowned single mothers throughout Morocco remains the arena of NGOs willing to stray from societal traditions and laws that would leave these mothers uncared for. Unbiased discussion of gender issues in Morocco is next to impossible, while heated partisan debate on the subject permeates every facet of society, from everyday talks about catcalling to public forums on abortion. It is into this rapidly changing, clamoring throng of opinions and scholarship that Zakia Salime has cast her first book: Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco.

General Information, Reviews, and About the Author

Salime, Zakia. Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis/London: 2011.

This book presents an insightful examination of the relationship between the two major discourses concerning gender equality in Morocco: the liberal feminist and the Islamist movements. Salime uses in-depth ethnographical analyses of three “movement moments,” or benchmark events in these movements’ mutual history, to illustrate what she calls their “interdependent trajectories.” Rather than rely on the default binary interpretation of these two discourses, which hinges on the polarization of the two movements’ ideologies, Salime argues that the two are mutually influential. Ultimately, her book aims to show how the movements’ interaction over the past twenty years has resulted in dramatic changes in both Moroccan Islamism and Moroccan feminism.

Salime’s methodology is central to understanding her thesis. She uses an ethnographical approach, which is a qualitative research method that aims to explore cultural phenomena through the perspective of the cultural group in which it occurs. Thus, Salime avoids the common pitfalls of postcolonial, Western, or Islamist biases in her approach to writing this book. Furthermore, she investigates with great depth and detail three specific movement moments, which makes her book a focused and incisive study, rather than a generalization of women’s issues or a survey of feminism in Morocco.

This book is recently published, so there are few reviews to be found on it. However, I predict that it will make a lasting impact on the way that gender equality in Morocco is studied, because it challenges conventional ways of interpreting and understanding the relationship between the liberal feminist and Islamist movements. The few reviews I found on the University of Minnesota Press website echoed my own sentiments about the book, including positive reviews from Saba Mahmood, author of Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject and Lila Abu-Lughod, author of Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East. Salime’s approach to writing this book is academic and methodical, and maintains an at-once professional and personal engagement with the issues addressed. Between Feminism and Islam is an altogether formidable first publication, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.

Zakia Salime is a Moroccan sociology professor at Rutgers State University in New Jersey, and received her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2005.

Thesis & Content: Movement Moments and the Gendered Lens

Introduction: Struggles over Political Power: Entangled Feminist and Islamist Movements.

In the introduction, Salime identifies the major issues and events that characterize the liberal feminist and Islamist mobilization through a gendered lens. She introduces the traditional, binary approach to talking about these movements, and then moves into a discussion of her own methodology, which reverses the conventional method and studies the enmeshing ideologies that shape these movements.

She introduces also the three movement moments that will form the body of her work. The first is the One Million Signature Campaign that took place in 1992, which marked the first mass mobilization of feminist groups to reform the mudawwana, or family law. The second is the Islamist mass rally of 2000, which marked the decisive entrance of Islamist women into the political arena. The third and final movement moment, a momentous one for both groups, is the terrorist attack on Casablanca in 2003, which she uses to discuss the centrality of gender in Morocco’s changing position in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror.

Salime also addresses the problematic terms “feminism” and “Islamism,” and the colonial, post-colonial, and identity politics informing that terminology throughout the history of North Africa and the Middle East. Liberal feminism carries the added stigma of encroaching Westernization, while Islamism carries the stigma of the wholesale oppression of women. Vilifying Islam and its perceived subjugation of women was central to justifying the colonial agenda. In recent years, scholarship has also addressed these connotations of a “monolithic, ahistorical Islam and a normative Western modernity” (Salime, xxiii), recognizing their problematic etymologies and the way those etymologies inform the identities that surround those terms. This is not a major focus of Salime’s work, but an important side-note as we delve into her scholarship.

The rest of the introduction she spends summarizing her chapters, and then begins her study in earnest.

Chapter 1: Gender and the Nation State: Family Law, Scholars, Activists, and Dissidents

In this chapter, Salime outlines the major players in the movements: the monarchy, the ‘ulama, the Islamists, women’s groups, and political parties. She talks about how questions of political legitimacy, democracy, and access to political clout are all part of the gendered space of social discourse. The patriarchal hierarchies that inform the political system of Morocco limited the range of freedoms afforded women both in the public and private spheres, and Salime identifies the political parties and women’s groups that both challenge and propagate these structures.

Chapter 2: Feminization of the Islamist Movements: The One Million Signature Campaign

Chapter two explores the One Million Signature Campaign of 1992, which mobilized women’s groups and liberal feminists across Morocco in favor of the reform of the mudawwena. Salime identifies the global economic shift, the focus on state liberalization in the wake of the Years of Lead, and the rise of Islamist radicals as a political force in Algeria as important forces influencing the One Million Signature Campaign, and talks about the opposite effect of the campaign in setting the stage for the 1995 Beijing Conference. In this way, the campaign marked strides for both the liberal feminist movement and the Islamist movement with regard to women’s issues.

Salime also talks about the “feminization of the Islamist women” in this chapter, examining how Islamist women endorsed a discourse of women’s rights and repositioned themselves within the feminist movement, and began to take decision-making positions in Islamist groups.

Chapter 3: Reversing the Feminist Gains: The Islamist Mass Rally of 2000

The second movement moment that Salime discusses is the Islamist Mass Rally of 2000, in which the Islamists in Casablanca put forth an overwhelming show of force in response to the liberal feminist march in Rabat on that same day.  This chapter challenges the reader especially to reexamine the way the march is conventionally interpreted; rather than a march against women’s rights, Salime points out the other vested interests and motives behind the liberal feminist agenda, and talks about how the march decidedly marked Islamist women’s entry into the political arena. Islamist women had easy access to grassroots activism, were effective organizers and demonstrators, and formed a formidable political force hitherto unseen.

As a result of such a strong showing of Islamist women, Salime argues, one can see an Islamization of the liberal feminists developing in the wake of the march.  The liberal feminist movement was forced to adjust their discourse in order to keep their movement alive, and this included an adoption of both feminist and Islamist policies within feminist groups. This included redefining Sharia to fit feminist ideals, incorporating the ‘ulama in feminist activities in order to legitimize their ideals, increased interaction with the male-dominated political parties, and a greater role of grassroots organizing.  Though the liberal feminist movement remained grounded in the secular UN basis for human rights, this movement moment was important in legitimizing both the liberal feminist and Islamist discourses for the future.

Chapter 4: Feminism and Islamism Redefined: In Light of the 2003 Terror Attack on Casablanca

Chapter 4 identifies the major challenges set before both movements in the wake of the 2003 terror attack on Casablanca, particularly in light of 9/11 and the War on Terror. Though these are not normally events one associates with gender issues, Salime talks about the way these events shaped gendered discourse, particularly as (since the rally of 2000) feminist movements were seen to have lost steam. The Casablanca attack “undermined the legitimacy of political Islam…and provided feminist groups with their missed opportunity to reposition themselves as the agents for the new era of fighting ‘terrorism’ through ‘state feminism’” (Salime, xxix). Thus, feminists were able to associate themselves with democracy and modernity when contrasted with radical, old-fashioned Islamic extremists.  In response to this, the Islamist groups also had to redefine their movement, and attempted to position themselves as the moderate group between religious extremists and liberal feminists.

The position of Morocco in the global arena is important in this chapter as well; the close friendship between the United States and Morocco put Morocco in a precarious position during the War on Terror. On the one had, Morocco was a member of the Arab-Muslim world; on the other, Morocco provided a doorway into that world for the United States. Salime explores what happens to the formulation of Moroccan identity in such an explosive situation through a gendered lens.

Chapter 5: Subversive Veiling: Beyond the Binary of the Secular and the Religious

The final chapter identifies how the traditional binary is now blurred, and uses veiling as her main example. Moroccan women today choose to wear or leave off the veil independent of their political or religious identities; thus, veiling has become a gendered area of Moroccan life in which the secular and the religious overlap. In this chapter, Salime points out that these two movements are indeed intertwined, and yet still divided along ideological lines.


The book is heavily academic and rich in detail, and so if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a great introduction to many themes that I’ve been studying this semester: the politics of liberation, the interplay of religion, gender, and politics, the significance of the veil, the gendered space in all areas of Moroccan society.  Salime is a Moroccan author with a personal interest in the issues researched as well, and I believe that this lends her writing credibility and authenticity.  She is able to apply a personal familiarity to an apersonal qualitative research method, which makes the book altogether more readable.

On the whole, I would recommend reading this book. I believe it should become a standard text for anyone wishing to study and understand the dynamics of contemporary gender issues in Morocco, and even as time passes, the book will serve as a valuable historical resource, an important methodological study, and an excellent exploration of the varying discourses that inform the debates surrounding gender issues.  I think this is an important book, rich in detail, factual evidence, testimony from many of the major leaders of these movements; the book is well written, and will hopefully have a positive influence on these movements and the scholarship surrounding them in years to come.





The Heather Post

This is probably a crime against poetry:

My Bodhi tree has garbage leaves, and I’m in love with soup;

Siddhartha is my nose, and I’ve been meditating as I poop.


The I’m No Good at Spirituality but I’d Sure Like to Figure it Out Sometime Post


This is sort of stupid, but whatever. It’s my Heather post. It all got started when, in our intensive Darija class, we were instructed to write a paragraph about a friend. Heather! I thought, I’ll write a beautiful, eloquent paragraph about Heather’s awesomeness in Malawi and stuff!

This is great. If you don’t speak Darija, this looks really cool. If you do, you’re lolling because it’s kindergarten talk:

Roughly translated, it says: “My friend’s name is Heather. She is working in Malawi, where she is helping women. She is good and kind. She lives in Seattle with me, and I LOVE HER!”

Then, I remembered how Heather and I eat pho all the time in Seattle and started really craving pho, which I don’t think they have here.

So, Heather, I thought of you today. You are in Malawi. You are great. Let’s get pho.

Also, spirituality. This is an idea that sparks in my brain every so often, as it did today. Late-night brain sparkler:

I remember writing somewhere that I hoped this trip would help me to restore a little faith in the world. Whose, though? Mine? Other people?  Who needs faith right now? In what? Do I?

I can tell a lot of funny and weird stories from growing up Catholic, like this one. I think they’d call me a baggaged Catholic; I’d call me (I dunno) an atheist? A humanist? A whateverist? I like that. I’m a whateverist. Still, though, as I passed one of my host mothers praying as we left for school this morning, my thoughts turned to the dry and silent riverbed of my own faith journey.

No matter how cornered the once-Catholic or how cynical the once-pious, I don’t think that faith is quite useless; but I’m not sure what to do with it, either. It would just curl in the palms of the unbeliever, to be dropped unnoticed on a sidewalk or (more likely) slipped into a pocket to be never quite forgotten. So here I go, clutching bits of pocket-lint faith, heading toward the sound of running water. Faith? Spirituality? YOU GOT ME JESUITS. I’M POKING IT WITH A STICK CALLED STUDY ABROAD IN A VERY RELIGIOUS COUNTRY.

There’s just something about people that have figured out their spirituality ishs that invites calm and confidence. I have a lot of ish where stuff like that is concerned, and generally steer clear; that’s probably a sign that I should explore the ish a bit more. Just a thought.


Oh, yeah. I was going to talk about enlightenment. Derp. Whatever. WOO!

Tomi the Drooly Kitty, and Other Stories


Or, Morning Edition

Tomi the Drooly Kitty and Rime the Pregnant Kitty sleep on my bed every night and growl when I move. Really growl. Growl.

Here in Morocco, everyone lives with their family until they’re married, or something else happens and they move out.  Though there’s really not a status quo with cultural stuff in the US, many Moroccans find it bizarre that we moved out of our parents’ houses at 17 or 18 to make our own way in the world, and find it even more bizarre that we don’t plan on coming back; that we might not get married at all.

Including Alexandra and I, there are around 10 people living in a house behind the blue walls, tucked away in a corner of the labyrinthine Kasbah: five middle-aged siblings, 3 kids, and the two of us. THEY ARE AWESOME. You’d never guess that the house was small; from the rooftop terrace, it feels as though you have all of Rabat and Salé and the Ocean to wander to; you’d never guess that money’s scarce, because laughter isn’t.

Oh. So we get up before the sun rises, and this is what we watch out the tiny kitchen window as we eat breakfast. Like, whatever.

The family is very traditionally Moroccan, but not at all religious (that means something very different here than it does in the States; I mean only that they don’t pray each time we hear the calls to prayer rise from the mosques surrounding the Kasbah. Maybe they pray in their heads, who knows? I’ll have plenty of time to tell you about religion, religious language, etc…anyway); they sleep, as I mentioned, on the couches bordering every wall, and share one big closet. They all speak Darija, Fous7a, and French, they eat in the traditional Moroccan fashion, they watch ridiculously fantastic Arabic soaps. The house is always occupied, always lively, always loud, never lonely. Neither of us really have any problem communicating, this family are experts at bouncing between languages, encouraging us to speak and explain things to each other. Abir and Wided are our wonderful, 12-year-old fraternal twin host sisters that we can ask about anything, Jalel is their 14-year-old brother upon whom we are planning a good practical joke to get him back for spraying us with water from the roof yesterday.

That’s another one watching the sun rise. The BOATS. AAAAAH.

Jamila, Farid, Boushra, Abdnmabid, and Huria are the siblings living here. I’m not sure what all their stories are; some widowed, some divorced, but it’s not unusual here for siblings to just keep living in the family house after their parents die. This family has been in l’Oudaya forever, I’m pretty sure.

People are starting to get to know Alexandra and I, which is nice; maybe soon they won’t try to rip us off at the hanout because we’re foreign, which requires us to overcome our paralyzing fear of haggling with a local shopkeeper (yeah, that is exactly what we came here for. Cultural whatnot. I suppose we’ll get there).

Also, people stare. ALL THE TIME. I’ve never been so conscious of being so white. SO WHITE! SOOOOO WHIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTE ALL THE TIME. SO WHITE AND PRIVILEGED. I think about it all the time. Every time I go out and catch 8 people staring. I wonder if I’ll get used to that.

Also, you think Seattle is well-dressed? Come to Rabat. One Thing I did Not Expect from This Experience: Learning about fashion. Moroccans dress SO WELL, it’s a fashion show every time we step in the street! On the other hand, they immediately change into all-sweats inside the house. It’s two completely different realms, the street and the house. The divides between private and public, female and male, h’shuma and proper—all these I promise to enumerate in more detail over the course of my stay here. There’s a lot to talk about.