US Feminists’ Omission of Arab American Women Explained

20 Mar

Since the 1900’s, Arab American women have advocated for gender equity. Early Arab American feminists were first to shed light on the unique challenges of being Arab and American. They were the first in the New York City garment district to establish child care programs to facilitate the entry of women into the labor force. Today, Arab American women are highly educated, have higher labor force participation and professional representation rates than most American women, and earn higher incomes than average Americans, and many amongst them were first in breaking the gender barrier. Yet their collective contributions are glossed over and unappreciated. While this glaring omission is attributed to the deeply embedded prejudice that taints all Arab Americans, it is not the sole reason.

mai abdul rahman     March 2021

This March, Americans will again celebrate the remarkable achievements of American women. They will learn about the important role that feminists played in breaking the gender barrier and shaping the gender discourse in the US. While no one can deny the relevance of the US feminist movement in advancing American women’s rights, no credible scholar or historian can dispute that since the 1800′s Arab American women have helped expand women’s participation in every professional sector.

So the question that merits consideration is what are the reasons that could help explain why few Americans are aware of the significant contributions that Arab American women made to advance the rights of women in the US. While the Eurocentric and micro political orientation of White Americans measurably influences the US feminist movement, there are additional factors that makes it possible to ignore Arab American womens’ considerable success in breaking the gender barrier.

To date, Arab American women continue to be well represented in every professional sector and medium. However, deep-rooted implicit and explicit bias towards Arab Americans has influenced the US feminists’ leaders and followers. American attitudes towards Arab American women are an ingrained cultural perspective that reflects the racial divisiveness and biases that our country has struggled with since its inception. In July 16, 1901 Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette carried an article entitled “Don’t Like Arabs,” where Arab Americans were collectively smeared and openly attacked. It is true that during that period America’s White middle class projected a patronizing attitude towards the Irish and Southern European immigrants, Arab American women suffered more disdain than most.

Stereotypical inferences of Arab American women are one of the many factors that contribute to the historical failure of the US feminist movement from recognizing Arab American women’s narrative in the US gender discourse. Also of note, is the dynamic inter-lapping nature of US mediums and institutions that play an important role in reinforcing disparaging views of Arab American women, their women leaders, and community across every sector. This includes, the media, social platforms, the arts, academia, civil society, political organizations, public policy, and American popular culture. Each and all help to cement the deep seated bias towards Arab American women and their community. In other words, the peddling of negative stereotypes are necessary social instruments that help fortify American’s dismissive attitudes towards Arab American women. All of which makes it possible for American women to willfully ignore Arab American women’s role in advancing gender equity in the US.

Arab American Women’s Inclusive Identity Challenge U.S. Feminist’s Narrow Racial Constructs

Arab American women ancestral roots stretch from the African Atlas Mountains to the longest inhabited cities along the Mediterranean Sea, and across the Arabian Desert. Arab American women are White, Brown, Black, and represent every shade and color in between. They are atheists, agnostics, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. They adopt and comprise several macro and micro identities. Arab American women represent African, European, Hispanic, and Latin American women. For example, pop star Shakira, is Latina, Colombian, Arab, and American, and the well known Hollywood actress and producer Salma Hayek is also Latina, Arab, Mexican, and American. International model Gigi Hadid, is Arab, Palestinian, and American, and the youngest female Nascar driver, Toni Breidinger, is Arab, Lebanese, and American, The complex nature of the racial, ethnic, and religious makeup of Arab American women transcend the fragmented and narrow descriptive definitions that most Americans observe.

In addition, the historically narrow US racial paradigm is the most dominant factor in shaping US social and political structures and American’s cultural beliefs and attitudes. The US feminist movement was borne when slavery dominated and determined the values of White Americans. The influence of the dominant US colonial paradigm helped form the perspective of past feminist leaders and their followers. These values are an embedded feature of the feminist movement’s operating structural and racial constructs. They are the underlying reason that make it possible for feminist leaders to persist in dismissing the role and contributions of other American women, especially women of color. It is also the reason why the feminist movement still struggles to accommodate African American women, Asian American women, Latinas, and Native American women. Notwithstanding, the US feminist narrative has made some effort to include the above four distinct ethnic and racial classifications. However, Arab American women don’t fit well in these restrictive and simple categories. The US feminist distinct racial and ethnic identities are too narrow and limiting to capture the complexity of centric and overlapping identities of Arab American women. The US ethnic and racial paradigm is unsophisticated and outdated- and should be challenged.

Arab American Women Principled Political Orientation on Military Occupations and Wars

By and large, most Americans are inclined to accept the US government’s international policies than critically evaluate the human cost or political implications of these policies. Arab American women’s decades-long principled opposition to the Iraq war, US Middle East policie, Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories and wars on Gaza did not align with the mainstream views of the vast majority of White American women. Additionally, their disapproval of US surveillance tactics and torture practices, contrasted with the views held by the vast majority of Americans who unquestionably accepted the use of these extreme and intrusive measures. More specifically, Arab American women’s opposition to the use of US taxes to build and sustain Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, were often misconstrued as illegitimate and erroneous, and in opposition to American values. Despite their justifiable reasons for calling on the US government to genuinely support policies that would bring an end to Israel’s military occupation of Palestine, which equally harms Palestinians and Israelis.

Furthermore, Arab American women’s consistent objection to US policies in the Middle East was in contradiction with the publicly accepted position of the US political establishment, and most especially, the Democratic Party’s political elite who embraced the US feminists’ domestic political objectives. The feminist movement’s adoption of the prevailing US social and political structural perimeters helped it secure its prominence within the US establishment. Which gave US feminist leaders the credence to remain pertinent to the political establishment. It also made it politically acceptable for American feminist leaders to disregard Arab American women’s political and social contributions. In other words, the systematic exclusion of Arab American women aligns with the US dominant social, cultural and political class.

Today, most Americans believe the US Iraq war as an unnecessary costly fete, and many are aware of the tragic cost of subsidizing Israel’s occupation and expansive settlements across the Palestinian territories, but these views slowly developed and after many years of apathetic silence. Arab American women were one of a small number of Americans who stepped up to challenge Americans to assess their accepted notions. They called attention to the human and financial cost of US policies in the Middle East. All of which helps explain their conspicuous absence from the US gender discourse.

Early Arab American Women and their Role in Advancing Gender Equity

Early Arab American women were members of the Eastern Christian culture of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, Damascus, Byblos, and Beirut-their ancestral claim to these ancient Biblical cities was of no help to them or their community. While they made every effort to live and raise their families within the folds of their new country, they lived in communities that shunned them and ostracized their families and faith.

During the 19th Century, Arab American women strongly advocated for gender equity. Afifa Karam (1883-1924) an Arab American feminist devoted many of her articles shedding light on the unique challenges that shaped Arab American women’s early experience in the US. Arab American women championed and defended the rights of women, and addressed the social and economic factors that delayed woman’s progress. Many Arab American women writers documented the structural biases that Arab American women and their community faced during the early 1800′s. Their work sheds light on the evolution of the structural prejudice that influences a wide range of US social and political institutions that continue to vilify Arab American women, their leaders and community.

In spite of their difficult conditions, Arab American women made enormous contributions in breaking the gender barrier and creating the space for American women to follow. As a group Arab American women don’t neatly fit in any of the narrow categorical schemes and political constructs observed by the US feminist movement. Arab American women’s fluid and unique ability to adopt overlapping ethnicities allows them to identify with a host of social and political struggles that are often neglected by the leaders and members of the US feminist movement. 

Moving Forward

Recognized or not, Arab American women play an important role in broadening the national debate on race and gender that continue to befuddle Americans. Additionally, their macro view of gender equality that encompasses the domestic and universal struggle for social justice and equality helps Americans to question their common assumptions and expand their perspective. Most critically, Arab American women’s visceral understanding of the human cost of wars and occupation that harm both the victims and victimizers helps Americans understand the cost of wars on the natives, as well as the American soldiers and war veterans.

Christmas in Bethlehem is the Loneliest Christmas in the World

12 Dec

Christmas in Palestine is unlike any experienced by any Church in the world. Even though, Palestinians reside in the small town where Jesus was born and their fields and hilltops is where Jesus and his sheep roamed. Their orchards and olive trees shaded Jesus and his disciples, and His sermons were heard by their ancestors. Palestinians celebrate Christmas alone and isolated behind Israel’s Separation Wall. They are isolated in their walled off churches, towns, and communities. Abandoned they struggle to protect Christendom’s first churches. The biblical stories Palestinians recite are an affirmation of their connection to the first Christians. And bearing witness to injustice is the heavy cross they carry.

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Mai Abdul Rahman     December 2020

Ignored by the vast majority of Christians, Christmas season in Palestine is unlike any experienced by any Church in the world. Advent marks the birth of the faith of the Palestinian Christians and their truth. Jesus lived and sheltered in their fields. He witnessed a heartless world, confronted injustice, and defended the vulnerable. No place on earth is more callous than the Israeli occupied and militarized Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

For the Palestinian Christians, observing Advent is defined by their uninterrupted connection to the first followers of the Christian faith and shaped by their daily hardships and witness to injustice. During Advent, Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus. For the Christians of Palestine, it marks the beginning of their faith and cruel truths.

In Palestine, preparing for Advent and celebrating Christmas requires greater effort, ceaseless worry, and abundance of faith. The desperate world Jesus lived is affirmed in the daily trials of ordinary Palestinians. Almost 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in their little town of Bethlehem to bring joy to the world. The birth of Jesus is celebrated by lighting Christmas trees in distinctive town squares across the world. Bethlehem’s Christmas tree is lit right beneath Israel’s illegal wall and watch towers. Like Jesus, Palestinians live in an unjust and merciless world.

Celebrating Advent is ordinary and effortless for most Christians. But not for the Palestinian Christians. It requires special permits from Israel’s military administrators. During Advent church pastors and bishops recite the story of Jesus, his birth, life and family that hailed from Nazareth (An-Nasira)– sixty miles away from the Church of Bethlehem. For Palestinians the prospect of traveling 3,232 miles to Sweden is more plausible than clearing the 103 military manned Israeli check points that separate Bethlehem from An-Nasira.

Palestinians never take for granted the most ordinary and simple acts of faith. Advent under Israel’s unpredictable political climate and military occupation is a test of faith. Fulfilling the same customs set by their ancestors is a trial of endurance. Even lighting the first peace lamp with freshly pressed olive oil and the last peace lamp is a formidable challenge. No place on earth is like the Israeli occupied and militarized Palestine.

During Advent, the story of Jesus and the heartless world He experienced are abstractly described by bishops and clerics around the world. For the Palestinians, the heartless world Jesus confronted is an imposed conditions made possible by the mercilessness of neighbors and strangers. The life and world Jesus encountered is their living experience.

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During the last week of Advent, pastors and priests retell the story of the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks at night and were foretold of the birth of Jesus. Palestinian shepherds roam those same fields keeping watch over their flocks afraid of Israel’s settlers who at will could harm them. As an infant, Jesus promised peace on earth, ultimate and permanent peace, but the peace HE promised has yet materialize for the descendents of the first church.

Palestinian Christians celebrate Christmas within their walled and sieged churches. The tiny manger where Jesus was born is kept in the Church Bethlehem under the watchful eyes of Israel’s military occupation soldiers. Their access to their beloved church is never taken for granted.

On Christmas Day, Catholic and Protestant clerics will bear their ecclesiastical vestments that display Palestinian traditional dalmatic embroidery that was first worn by Palestinian clerics. They will quote the scripture that was elucidated by early Palestinian scholars. Yet, few if any, will utter a word of concern about the plight of the Palestinian Christians. Their daily struggle is ignored.

Jesus defended the innocent. Cruelty is facilitated in the land and fields where Jesus protected the vulnerable. By any means necessary, Christian Zionists want Palestinians to relinquish their ancestral lands to the Israeli settlers. They strategically choose to intensify the tension and conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. They scheme to empty and reshape the Palestinian landscape. By funding and expanding Israel’s illegal settlements the Christian Zionists encourage the robbing Palestinian lands, fields, and water. Their goal is to affect the life and livelihood Palestinians. In their view, Palestinian Christians are casual victims in their plot and scheme to hasten Armageddon.  

Ignored and abandoned, the Palestinian Christians live the true meaning of Advent all year long. They faithfully advocate peace for friend and foe and honor the faith of their forefathers. They speak truth to power and work for justice and peace for their own people, and their occupiers. They shoulder and carry the cross saddled upon them with grace.

APWA’s Mission and Objectives

18 Feb

American Palestinian Women’s Association 

American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA) is a nonprofit organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Virginia.  APWA is a non- political secular organization that represents American Palestinian women whether they may be Christian, Muslim, Jew, or not.

APWA’s mission:

  • Empower American Palestinian women,
  • Advocate for women’s equality across the entire social spectrums and spheres (economic, political, cultural, familial, educational, social),
  • Advance genuine change that meets the needs of all Americans of every faith, affinity, color, gender, social standing, ethnicity, sexual orientation, native born, and immigrant,
  • Advocate for the emotional and mental wellbeing of children whether they may American, Palestinian, or Israeli,
  • Support long lasting just peace among Palestinians and Israelis, and
  • Bridge and elevate the level of understanding between Americans and Palestinians.

***American Palestinian Women’s Association is a non profit, non-political, secular, tax-exempt, registered organization. APWA was established in 2004 by concerned American Palestinian women in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area (DC, VA, MD).

For more information contact: american.palestinian.women@gmail.com

Save the Date: APWA’s Annual Interfaith Iftar

4 Apr

We are American Palestinian women who give voice to Palestinian women. Since inception, we have dedicated every dollar we raise to help Palestinian children as well as American children in our midst such as the homeless youth and the children of the Navajo people. Throughout, our aim is to raise awareness about the plight of the Palestinian people and those in need at home. This year our Interfaith Iftar event will focus on the predicament of the Palestinian children refugees. It is our Hope you will attend our May 5th interfaith Iftar event.

Happy Easter

3 Apr

This Easter, Palestinian Christians honor Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and sacrificed himself for the oppressed, sick, injured, imprisoned, and poor. They will draw comfort from the words he said of those who like them (Luke 6) struggle under considerable hardships to protect their families, children, life, and livelihood, and work to achieve justice and peace.

 “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be 
  comforted. 
  Blessed are you when people hate you, when they 
  exclude you,insult you and reject your name as evil
  Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after 
  righteousness for they shall be satisfied. 
  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called
  sons of God.
  Blessed are they that have been persecuted for 
  righteousness'sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” 
  (Luke 6).
            Happy Easter to one and All!

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Holy Week: The Central Event that Defines the Palestinian Christian Experience

30 Mar

Holy Week is the quintessential Palestinian Christian experience. The vast majority of Christians relate to Holy Week in the abstract, however, for the Palestinian Christians it marks the intrinsic and central event that defines their history, character, and organic relationship to their faith and daily struggles. It is their unique and uninterrupted faith experience that has continued for more than 1,500 years. For Palestinians, Holy Week is an annual commemoration of faith, hope, and hardships that is observed and passed from mother to daughter and father to son.

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mai abdul rahman March 2021

Palestinians are the living stones of uninterrupted generations of Christians. They are linked in faith and lineage to the very first Christians. They are the Palestinian Jews who chose to follow Jesus, and to date continue to suffer the consequences of their conversion. For them, Holy Week is the central event that defines their ancestral connection to their faith. It marks their history and organic relationship to their faith and struggles. For them, Holy Week, is the most significant event that reaffirms their faith and commitment to remain faithful to Jesus’s just path.

Holy Week is the Central faith experience that connects Palestinian Christians to their past, present and future, and the quintessential cornerstone of their faith. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and concludes on Easter Sunday.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode on a donkey into Jerusalem for his last meal with his friends and faced his deceivers and trial. Palestinians follow the same route that Jesus took to Jerusalem and contemplate their organic experience and unique narrative that connects them to the very first Christians and ancestors who lived through and witnessed the countless biblical accounts that speak of Jesus and the heavy cross he carried during his last Journey to Jerusalem. And they still carry.

During Holy week Palestinians retell the story of Jesus’ sabeel (Arabic for way or path) at the oldest standing churches in Christendom (Bethlehem, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin, Taibeh, Tabarieh, Arabe’, Beit Sahour, and Beit Jala). In supplication they link their struggles to the difficulties that Jesus Christ faced from birth until his last journey into Jerusalem. They will recount how Jesus entered their cherished and tortured Jerusalem greeted by a loving crowd who waved and covered his path with palm branches. They will also recount the joys their ancestors before them experienced, and pray for the peaceful end of the innumerable hardships they daily confront.

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This week, Palestinians with an Israeli permit will march on foot and waddle through Israel’s Separation Wall, checkpoints, and soldiers while carrying and waving their Palm fronds and olive branches.

On Good Friday, twenty Palestinian men will carry the heavy cross that Jesus carried alone. Twenty representatives of the same families will place the cross on the same position that their fathers before them placed on their shoulders. They will retrace Jesus’ sabeel along the cobble stoned Via Dolorosa, reflect and pray at each of the fourteen Stations of the Cross where Jesus stopped as depicted on the ancient walls of East Jerusalem. Some will carry and clutch the same small wooden cross their ancestors carried before them. Together they will march towards the Sanctuary of Flagellation and meander the narrow paths that commemorate the final steps of Jesus. Like their mothers before them, young Palestinian women will gently release white pigeons of peace at the end of the procession in honor of their beloved and tormented Jerusalem.

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On the eve of Holy Saturday, the Holy Sepulcher will spread the Holy Fire that has been kept lit for 1,500 years to nearby churches. Before the Israel’s military occupation, Palestinians on foot carried the Holy Fire to the multitude of churches in nearby Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

On Easter Sunday, few lucky Palestinians would celebrate Easter at one of the two holiest Christian sites that mark the birth of Jesus and his crucifixion (Bethlehem and East Jerusalem). Easter at the Church of the Nativity and the Holy Sepulchre is an entire day event devoted to memorializing Jesus’s message of peace and hope. However, most would be confined by Israel’s Separation Wall, check points and visa restrictions from entering East Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In faith, they will pray for a just peace that honors the rights of the Palestinians and Israelis.

Holy Week for the Christians of Palestine is a shared faith experience of struggle and hope. It defines their unique historical Christian narrative. For them, Holy Week, is the most significant event that reaffirms their faith and commitment to remain faithful to Jesus’s just path.

An Open Letter to the Chair of Instructional Quality Commission, CA

13 Nov

Dear Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond,

American Palestinian Women’s Association is dismayed by California’s Department of Education’s attempt to suppress our children’s narrative. As mothers of American Palestinian children we ask you to consider how your commission’s decision  to ignore and muzzle their voice and narrative affects their development. How can we expect our children to develop into competent and caring citizens when they are silenced at school, and their truth and the world they intimately know and care about is shunned?

California is home to a large American Palestinian community, ignoring their right to be included in CA’s state standards is not only indefensible, it is wrong. As Americans we already know the cost of excluding the narrative of some students for the benefit of others. A mountain research exists that documents the harmful impact of past school practices that intentionally excluded the voice of Native and African Americans. These practices have severely impacted the character of our nation. The social and racial divisions we abhor and lament today, are the direct result of past school programs that promoted and highlighted the heritage and history of some Americans and intentionally excluded others.

An inclusive curriculum that respects the background of all students raises the consciousness of everyone. It is an essential component of creating an informed, compassionate, and better educated America. Inclusive schools are critical change agents. They are essential in building principled citizens and inclusive democratic societies. 

Like all other American children, our children should feel welcomed by teachers and peers alike. Regardless of their religious and ethnic background their truth should be respected. An inclusive Arab American series within the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) is absolutely critical to the well being of our children, as well as all other school children. Irrespective of the political inclination of educators, policy makers, and school leaders, the heritage and narrative of every public school student should be honored and respected by their school community. This is not only important to the individual student; it is also the correct and morally right approach. 

As parents, educators, and citizens of this country we must use every means to fight all expressions of hate and divisiveness, and we must not carry and promote ill guided exclusive political agendas. For example, reasonable Americans believe that school policies should not be dictated by those who want to erase our role in the slave trade and its brutal affect on generations of African Americans. They would argue that inclusive schools that teach and learn about our colonial past are pro America. They protect and promote our national character, values, and democratic principles. Correspondingly, ignoring the long struggle of the Palestinian people will not erase their truth or history. More importantly, it will not advance the just call of the Jewish people or the Palestinian people to be free of bigotry and hate.

We strongly support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance original purpose of tracking anti- Semitism. However, including the IHRA’s controversial “definition” of anti-Semitism that aim to mute any criticism of Israel’s right wing governments and their policies in the ESMC will not benefit anyone-not even Israelis or the Jewish people- but it will harm many. 

Kenneth Stern, the anti-Semitism expert at the American Jewish Committee, was the first scholar to articulate and define the intent of IHRA, and he says “it’s been subverted“. Stern helped unify our understanding of the world’s oldest form of hatred. Yet, he strongly objects to how the IHRA definition has become a tool to silence critics of Israel’s political agenda and its military occupation policies. To mute and dismiss the Palestinian people and narrative. We genuinely believe that denying the history and narrrative of the Palestinian people subverts the moral fabric of the Israeli people and undermines their democratic values. Moreover, when the IHRA definition is improperly used for political objectives, and especially when it is formulated and used to advance Israel’s right wing extremists, it harms Israel and the Jewish people. They are not alone. It also puts the Palestinians and their supporters in danger.

California’s educational standards often inform other state and local school districts nationwide. If the proposed ESMC is adopted, it will be copied and promoted by anti-Palestinian groups as a model for other states. Excluding the Palestinian narrative is not only suspect, it is reckless. A robust Arab American program that includes the Palestinian narrative within the ESMC is totally reasonable, and it is the right school policy. As an educator, I know you understand the merits of this letter and the importance of honoring all your students.  For all the above reasons, we are calling on you and the IQC to:

  • Educate students on the dangers of anti- Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and all expressions of hate of the other,
  • Return the Arab American lesson plan to where it belongs, within Asian American studies,
  • Stop censoring Palestinian narratives from Arab-American lesson plans,
  • Remove all definitions of anti-Semitism that fuse criticism of Israel or Zionism to anti-Semitism.

Respectfully,

Dr. Mai Abdul Rahman

President

American Palestinian Women’s Association

Overturning Roe v. Wade Challenges American Muslim Women’s Religious Right to Choose 

27 Oct

Overturning Roe v. Wade would challenge American Muslim Women’s religious rights they had secured 1420 years ago, and since 610 A. D.. Abortion is permitted to save the life of the pregnant woman; to preserve the woman’s physical health; her mental health; to protect the health of the living baby if the mother is nursing a child, and in cases of fetal impairment, incest or rape. For Muslim American Women, the intrusive intervention of the state on the female body robs them of the rights they had already secured.

mai abdul rahman October 2020

The Mulim woman is the centeral figure in deciding whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Islam gives the woman full responsibility over her body- her decision and choice cannot be dictated by the state or imam. The decision to bear a child must not jeopardize the mother’s mental and physical health. “A mother should not be made to suffer because of her child…” The Holy Quran (Surat Al-Baqara, 2:233). For that reason Islam does not criminalize abortion and holds women responsible for their action on the day of judgment.

Abortion can be defined as the termination of a pregnancy at any stage before childbirth. It is an old settled issue for Muslims, but is living topic for debate and disputation among American Christians whose religious beliefs dominate the US political class, the courts, and the social discourse. In the US, the debate about when life begins is used to challenge the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, and their right to choose when to bear or not bear a child. However, for other pre Christian faiths and Muslims in particular, this issue was settled more than 1400 years ago.

The Influence of Christianity and Demography on American Woman’s Right to Choose

The majority of Christian scholars believe that the ‘ensoulment’ (which refers to the creation of a soul within, or the placing of a soul and the formulation of a human being) takes place at the moment of conception, hence, the Roman Catholic Church, regards abortion, at any stage (from conception to birth) as forbidden and immoral.  The Church of England does accept abortion under some circumstances, but shares the Roman Catholic view that abortion is ‘gravely contrary to the moral law’. And most Protestants, believe that the fetus is either a potential human life or an actual human life that must be protected. However, Protestants allow abortion in extreme situations to preserve the life or health of the mother. 

While not all Americans are White and not all White Americans are Christians, today, the most dominant opposition to abortion is associated with White Evangelical Christians. This is a recent development that evolved after the civil rights movement had succeeded in actualizing the constitutional rights of Black Americans. Before desegregation evangelicals saw abortion as largely a Catholic issue. In fact, before and after Roe v. Wade the Southern Baptist Convention passed three resolutions (1971, 1974 and 1976) affirming woman’s right and access to abortion. 

In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” This changed when Evangelical leaders framed abortion as a threat to Christian values, and terminating a pregnancy is murder. This shift reflected worries about desegregation and immigration, which they viewed as potential risks to America’s social and racial order and demographic composition.

During the 1980’s, one specific social trend played a major role in influencing the cultural position of White Evangelicals on abortion. With the substantial growth of non-European immigrants, White woman’s right and access to abortion was viewed as a serious threat to White’s numerical advantage, and maintaining demographic controls became necessary.

This change in attitude among White Evangelists was in line with White supremacists who also viewed abortion as a direct threat to White Americans. In their view, White women’s right to choose would alter the growth of America’s White population and unfavorably shift the demographic racial structure in the US.  

Abortion is a Settled Issue for Muslim American Women

Among other Abrahamic religions (Muslims and Jews) women’s right to choose is protected based on a set of conditions. Muslims whether Sunni or Shiite, White, Black and all shades in between agree that abortion is permitted during the 120 days of pregnancy. And abortion is not only permissible, but must be performed at any stage of pregnancy if the mother’s life is endangered.  

Islam allows abortion based on a central passage in the Qur’an that describes the stages of pregnancy from conception to a ‘full-fledged’ child. The Qur’an (Surat AI-Mu’minun, 23: 12–14): describes each stage as follows: “And certainly did We create humans from an extract of clay (Alaqah), Then We placed it as a sperm-drop in a firmly fixed lodging (first stage: 14 days). Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh] (second stage: 40 days), and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh (third stage: 80-120 days); then We developed it into another creation (fourth stage: 121 days- to birth). So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.” This passage has defined and shaped the perspectives of Muslim scholars and the Sharia’ (Islamic law) on the gestational stages of a typical pregnancy.

It is also relevant to note that historically, and throughout the 18th and 19th Century, and during the Ottoman Empire, Muslims did not believe abortion is a crime. So while abortion is permitted until the end of the fourth month of pregnancy, in some cases, it is allowed beyond 120 days to protect the emotional, mental, and physical well being of women. Based on this, Muslim scholars from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran issued Fatwas (legal rulings) in favor of abortion in cases of fetal impairment. In 1993, when rape was a huge concern among Bosnian women Muslim scholars issued Fatwas that sanctioned their right to choose.

Islam also includes a central philosophical tradition of acceptance of family and individual prerogative: ‘God alone (not an imam or legislator) knows what is right and wrong when terminating a pregnancy.’ The individual conscience is considered a better guide for action, since it is ultimately the individual woman who will have to answer to God. This philosophical perspective has protected women’s rights to their bodies and their right to choose. Additionally, Islam gives exclusive allowances to the couples to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Accordingly, any prohibitive political and governmental rulings on abortion is considered an outside intrusion on an intimate matter. This position restricted the encroaching role of the state, its officials and courts from violating the right of the woman to choose.

What About Other Faiths?

In Judaism abortion is permitted in the first forty days of pregnancy. Judaism considers the mother’s life more important than that of the fetus, and the embryo to be of relatively lesser value than the living mother during a pregnancy. Abortion is also permitted for what it considers serious reasons and after consultation with a rabbi competent to give advice on such matters.  And among Dharmic religions, Western and Japanese Buddhists believe in the permissibility of abortion. India a majority Hindu country allows abortion until 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion: A Private Matter is Publicly Disputed

Unfortunately, in the US women’s right to choose is a political and legal battle waged by Christians- irrespective of their position on abortion. State legislators debate it and federal courts codify it without regard to woman’s right to her body, or her mental, emotional, and physical well being. Thus transferring the concept of the woman’s right to her body and her perception of self from that which is an intimate private matter to the public sphere. 

What is American Muslim Women Perspective on Abortion?

American Muslim women views on abortion are more complex than those advanced by other Americans. Based on their faith they are both for the right to choose and are pro life. Islam is pro-life in its protection of women’s health and well being, the living child’s health and well-being, and also protects the life of the unborn: The Holy Quran (Surat Al An’am, 6:151) “Do not kill your children for fear of poverty, for it is we who shall provide sustenance for you as well as for them.” Meaning, abortion for fear of economic hardship is not permissible. Muslim women are also pro choice. Based on clrearly defined reasons, their faith gives them the right to choose whether or not to bear a child. However, in the US, this middle ground perspective is absent.

Adding Insult to Injury

While the raging debate ignores the faith traditions of all other women, but those of the Christian faith, it also ignores woman’s right to self-determination. Disrespecting the important role women play in managing and making decisions that affect their personal well being and the well being of their families. They also challenge women’s rights to personhood. The woman’s body, her pregnancy, when and where, and whether she can choose to abort are legal arguments crafted by local and state legislators and the courts.

State’s interference on the female body challenges American Muslim women’s right to personhood, religious and constitutional rights, and citizenship rights. By robbing woman’s right to self determine, her most intimate decisions are influenced and modified by strict legal prohibitions that aim to decrease her safe access to abortion and intrude on her religious right to decide. The US abortion debate is a zero sum game that ignores the views and traditions established and practiced by others.

American Christians’ eager to deny women’s right to choose and those who want to protect it dominate the abortion debate. They overlook the beliefs and practices of other faiths. Excluding the position of other Abrahamic faiths and the views of all other faiths infringes on the established rights of countless of women whose right to choose is a religious protected right.

Muslim American women want to protect the right of women to choose and also honor their living seeds from birth to adulthood. Framing women’s right to her body as a public health and demographic issue is a perplexing problem that baffles American Muslim women wit and logic. It robs them of their right to personhood and citizenship, and the right to choose- a consequential right they had already secured.

Time will tell if the First Amendment protects American Muslim women right to choose. In the meantime, they reflect on how to effectively respond to those in the US who are eager to codify, regulate, and limit whether, when and under what circumstances they may obtain an abortion. A novel problem that was resolved 1420 years ago.

Help APWA Deliver School Supplies to 139 Navajo Nation Students

10 Aug

Mai Abdul Rahman July 2020

All it takes is just $40 to provide one student a backpack and the essential school supplies. Yet many Navajo Nation students will start this school year without backpacks or basic school supplies. Help American Palestinian Women’s Association (APWA) deliver 139 school bags and essential supplies to students attending Rocky Ridge Boarding School (KG-grade 8), where 100% of the school children qualify for free and reduced school meals

On September 16, 2020, Rocky Ridge Boarding School will welcome back its students. The school serves one of the poorest counties in the nation, where more than 38% of the homes are without running water, 32% live without electricity, and 31% of the families live without indoor plumbing. In the meantime, the Navajo Nation is struggling to contain COVID19 and is plagued with the highest unemployment rate in the nation (70%).

When families cannot afford to pay rent and feed their children, buying school supplies becomes a luxury. A modest donation of $40 will make it possible for one Rocky Ridge Boarding School student to start the 2020-2021 school year prepared and confident. Access to free school supplies increases student preparedness and participation; is critical to creating a more equal learning instructional environment; and significantly increases student self esteem.

With your help, APWA will deliver backpacks full with the necessary school supplies to all Rocky Ridge Boarding School students. We are counting on you. Please send your donation to: American Palestinian Women’s Association, 4800 ChowanAvenue, Alexandria, VA. 22312. 

Thank you.

***American Palestinian Women’s Association is a non profit, non-political, secular, tax-exempt, registered organization established in 2004 by concerned American Palestinian women in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area (DC, VA, MD).

Remembering the Stateless Palestinian Refugees on World Refugee Day

20 Jun

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day is an annual reminder that the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees are one of the most vulnerable people in the world. The COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-racism protests that have transfixed the nation’s attention have demonstrated how urgently we need to fight against privileged status, and how firm we must be in demanding equal rights for all people. The pursuit of equal justice demands building a world where no human being is made a stateless refugee to privilege another.

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mai abdul rahman            June 2020

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day is observed on June 20th.  It is an annual reminder of the  Palestinian refugees whose families were forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution and violence. They were coerced into leaving their homes, lands, and orchards to house European Jews, who moved into the homes Palestinians built and owned, and have since enjoyed the fruit of the lands their ancestors tilled since the birth of Jesus Christ.

Today, the Jews who forced the Palestinians off their land and displaced them are privileged citizens of the Israeli State, but the million Palestinians whose homes and ancestral lands Israelis claim are stateless people without legal protection, country or nationality. Stateless Palestinians do not belong to any country, and their stateless situation opens them to grave injustices. They are discriminated against, and are excluded from access to essential services, health care, education, employment, and the right to own property.

No woman, man, or child should ever again be forced to endure such a cruel and humiliating experience, unable to reclaim what is rightfully theirs, blocked from returning to their beloved homeland, and unable to seek a life free of discrimination and injustice. Committing generations of Palestinians to live in refugees camps is cruel and heartless.

It has never been clearer of the importance of actively working towards finding a sustainable solution where the rights of every human being is honored. Creating a just and inclusive world demands Israelis to recognize the pain they inflicted on the Palestinian refugees and the role they played in forcing them to flee their homeland.

The pursuit of equal justice demands building a world where no human being is made a stateless refugee to privilege another. Israelis need to begin building a world where equal justice is a right fulfilled and empathy is its common currency, and Palestinians need to be able to envision a just world where forgiveness and compassion are attainable.

Black Lives Matter

3 Jun

American Palestinian Women’s Association Stands Shoulder to Shoulder with Our African American Brothers and Sisters.

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Mai Abdul Rahman                June 2020

After the entire country (Black, White, and every shade in between) banded together to keep the COVID19 at bay, America’s persistent pandemic of violent brutality and racism reminded us that unless we eradicate hate from all our institutions we are forever morally implicated for every life hate takes.

Early March, Americans united to fight a common challenge. It was most impressive to witness Americans of all races and ethnicities work together to slow the spread of the novel virus to protect fellow Americans. COVID19 does not discriminate. By May, the United States surpassed 100,000 deaths. It disproportionately took more African American lives and left many of them jobless and their families without income. Add insult to injury, as they fought off the COVID19 to protect us and their community, they were reminded of America’s unique and persistent brutal pandemic that also disproportionally targets them. As we mourn the recent deaths of Breonna TaylorAhmaud Arbery, and George Floyd we demand police brutality ends. 

As mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers we are filled with a wide range of emotions provoked by the cold and heartless murder of Mr. George Floyd. When Mr. Floyd said that he could not breathe, our hearts ached with deep sorrow. We cried when he called for his mother. And we were filled with anger when no one responded to his pleas and came to his rescue. And we are also heartened by the ongoing battle for justice, equality, and peace waged across our nation.

As mothers, we cannot ignore the issues that are plaguing our communities. Like our African American sisters, we also have had talks with our own children on what to do when encountering a police officer. While this discussion is new for our community and became necessary after September 11, 2001, unfortunately, for our African American sisters, fear of law enforcement officers began many years ago with the birth of our nation. We cannot continue to fear the police and avoid our police departments whose missions are to protect Americans from physical harm–us and our African American neighbors and friends.

America’s deeply embedded racial legacy continues to produce inequity in all it forms, as COVID19 is clearly demonstrating. Ending America’s hateful legacy can no longer be postponed or delayed. The time to stop racism is now. For that reason, we are making a public plea for all members of our community to be the activist, leaders, advocates, and scholars that advance social justice in words and deeds, in speech, in writing, narrative, rhetoric, philosophy,  research, theater, dance, film, disposition, fellowship, and leadership.

As Palestinians, we know the struggle for equal rights is difficult, but we also know working for justice liberates the abused and abuser, the corrupt police and their victims. Staying focused on restorative justice and service we can become proactive social agents for change. Ending racism is our collective responsibility, its weight has never been heavier or more costly in life and limb than today. Our African American sisters and brothers have raised their voices and called for equal justice for all Americans for far too long.  Today more than ever they need us to join them and loudly demand an end to the chronic injustice that has marred our nation since its inception. Equal Justice for all Americans is a non-negotiable right, and absolutely yes, Black Lives Matter!

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