Islamifornia Dreamin’: Maha ElGenaidi Comes to Nashville

by Rebecca Bynum (September 2012)

I attended a lecture entitled, “Women and Sharia,” held at David Lipscomb University (a Church of Christ college) on August 23 in order to observe the latest manifestation of mass psycho-social delusion. After all, it is obvious to even the most reality averse that women are not considered the equal of men in Islamic countries all over the world. The doctrine of male superiority becomes obvious from the most cursory reading of the Islamic texts and yet there are apparently quite a number of people (over 300 in attendance) who are willing to set reality aside and suspend critical thought in order to believe a comfortable lie; men and women are “absolutely equal under Islam” and that “Muslim women actually enjoy more rights than American women.” This was the thrust of Maha ElGenaidi’s talk delivered in a soft voice tempered by a slight New York accent. She had come with her parents from Egypt to the United States at the age of seven and now lives in “the Bay area” which must be uttered with proper reverence given its status as the progressive capital of the known universe, second only perhaps to Boulder, Colorado. Mrs. ElGenaidi is the CEO of something called the Islamic Networks Group (to which she devotes a grueling 6 to 8 hours a week) and speaks under the aegis of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Ingrid Mattson, the current President of ISNA, provided the talking points for ElGenaidi’s power-point presentation, or so she said.

The Family of Abraham organization which sponsored the lecture was formed in response to what they perceive as the alarming growth of “Islamophobia” in Nashville due to the widespread opposition to the Murfreesboro mega-mosque, educational conferences held here (two of which were NER’s), legislation designed to limit the influence of Sharia in Tennessee courts, and the fact that these issues came up in political campaigns, facts they consider to be utterly deplorable.

The first thing we were handed was a paper put out by the Center for American Progress entitled “Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives’ Skewed Interpretation Needs Debunking.” This was an unapologetic attack on the Center for Security Policy’s Team B Report, “Sharia: The Threat to America.” Authors Wajahat Ali and Matthew Duss argue that Sharia is fluid, ever-changing and ultimately no more a threat to anybody anywhere than the old Testament’s more unsavory passages. Of course, to believe this, one has to ignore all the resurgent, expansionist Islamic movements active all over the world today on every continent, or alternately, that there are suicide bombers blowing people up on a weekly basis while yelling, “Jesus Saves!” Jews used to stone adulteresses too, you know, and what about those Crusades?

Mrs. ElGenaidi gave the strong impression that Islam is in the process of a great renaissance of change, that female imam’s are just round the corner and in fact, there is a mosque specifically for homosexuals in her hometown. Along with many other dubious assertions, she actually said that homosexuality is an entirely private affair under Islam and Sharia law has nothing to say on the matter.

Another rather revealing moment occurred while speaking about all the great Muslim women leaders past and present, she choked up while quoting Asma Mahfouz, an Egyptian blogger who helped foment the revolution in Egypt which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. “Come with me to Tahrir square and you men, if you are men, you will come and protect me.” Of course this gave the lie to ElGeniadi’s previous assertions that Muslim men are totally respectful of their “sisters” and that the hijab acts to take sex out of the picture as far as relations between men and women are concerned; they are all brothers and sisters holding each other in the greatest non-sexual esteem. The rash of gang rapes and sexual assaults that were perpetrated against idealistic and naïve young women (including several Western journalists) during the revolution in Tahrir Square speaks for itself. In addition, numerous accounts exist from Western women who have lived and worked in Muslim countries testifying to the extreme sexual harassment to which they were subject. “A degraded sensualism,” observed Winston Churchill, “deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity.”

Of course I must be mistaken, but it seems to me that this stems from the view of women as Satanic seductresses and men as beasts with uncontrollable sexual appetites as given in the Islamic texts. But, like Jack Silverman of the Nashville Scene says, we shouldn’t actually read these things on our own willy nilly without the proper guidance and interpretation, such as that provided by Mrs. ElGenaidi. One might accidentally turn into an Islamophobe and be shunned at all the cool gatherings.

Rather comically, Mrs. ElGenaidi expressed how concerned she had been and how concerned her co-workers and donors were that she should visit such an obviously bigoted southern red-neck town as Nashville. She expressed great relief after Mayor Karl Dean (yes, the mayor), personally welcomed her to the podium: Nashville is a welcoming city which celebrates diversity and how proud he was to have helped defeat the “English Only” initiative and how he attended the Eid celebration at the Somali mosque just to show how open minded he is (applause).

Yet, here we are (imagine!) with 81 percent of Americans under the utterly mistaken impression that men and women are not equal under Islam. How ashamed we should all be, except of course for those lucky few who choose to believe Mrs. Elgenaidi (instead of their lying eyes, that is). She claimed that any oppression of women was entirely due to the action of a “few stupid Muslims” who obviously don’t know a thing about their religion. Presumably these “stupid Muslims” include the Ayatollahs of Iran, the scholars of Al Azar University in Egypt and the Wahhabi scholars in Mecca. Those wizened old codgers who have spent their entire lives studying Islam and issuing fatwas to guide the faithful just don’t have a clue. In fact, Mogadishu, Kandahar, Riyadh and Islamabad would be feminist paradises if they would just listen to Mrs. ElGenaidi and understand the true version of Islam in which men and women have “absolutely equal rights.” Oh how wonderful the world will be then!

Astonishingly, most people in the audience seemed more than eager to believe this. Perhaps they haven't ventured out of the local section of the newspaper for some time. It's not hard to surmise most have probably never assayed into the Arab press.

At the end of Mrs. ElGenaidi’s presentation, Reverend Judi K. Hoffman of Edgehill United Methodist Church told us how important it is to “dispel stereotypes” and how difficult it is to “separate religion and culture.” How there are “extremist Methodists” out there we should be on the lookout for and we should “honor our similarities.” However, if we “explore our differences” we must only do so “through the eyes of the other.” And now that she sees the hijab through ElGenaidi’s eyes, she sees it as “liberating.” Turning to ElGenaidi she said, “Your understanding of God enriches my understanding … I need you for my fullness and my wholeness.”

Isn’t that special? Don’t you wish you were there? All that was missing was a group hug at the end.

So if we are to believe Mrs. ElGenaidi, the Family of Abraham folks, the Mayor of Nashville and most of the Obama Administration, human motivation leading to objectionable action can never be found in the core beliefs about the nature of reality stemming from religious indoctrination. Anything we might find objectionable, such as the cruel mistreatment of women and children or the torture of dogs for example, must come from “cultural practices” which have no relation to the world view given by Islam. And so the fact that we find similar attitudes and behavior across continents and across time in Muslim communities must be due to our own judgmental and prejudicial attitudes. To suggest that the core beliefs which lie at the base of all cultures might have some influence on cultural practices themselves is out of the question. Get thee behind me, cultural anthropology!

Some may further argue that our willful misapprehension of Islam has caused or aggravated two disastrous wars with no end in sight to the killing and maiming of our best and brightest young men along with the draining of our national treasury. An authentic Islamophobe might further caution America from going down the path of Europe and Great Britain which have allowed mass Muslim immigration on the optimistic assumption that whole-hearted belief in Islam is fully compatible with complete assimilation into Western society.

But isn’t it so much more pleasant to listen to Mrs. ElGenaidi and others like her? Don’t we all worship the same God and revere the same prophets? Are we not one in soul and mind and heart? Do we not honor one another equally in love and respect and kindness? Anyone who thinks differently must be a horrible, intolerant reactionary, right?

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Rebecca Bynum's latest book is Allah is Dead, Why Islam is Not a Religion.

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