Tuesday, 1 April 2008

it's not a dirty word

i gave a speech last night to the hamilton theosophical society. this is an organisation that's been around for almost 100 years in hamilton, and they convene weekly to discuss matters of religion and philosophy. when they asked me what topic i'd like to cover, i decided this was an opportunity for me to claim back a word that is precious to muslims, but has become pretty much a dirty word in the west. that word is jihad.

i don't propose to go into a lengthy discussion of that topic here. it's one that is difficult to cover, given the amount of discussion and debate about it within the muslim world, over 1400 centuries.

what i found most difficult, when doing the research, was the amount of nastiness that's out there on the web. of course, i know some of the sites to avoid if i want to save myself some grief, but others are hidden in urls that are seemingly innocuous. jumping into the site is like jumping into a pool of hatred.

there were two groups, both extremist in nature, which i found difficult to deal with. the first were non-muslim groups that would take quranic verses out of context and put the worst possible interpretation on to them. the other were muslims who were doing exactly the same thing. both were frightening to read, and depressing too.

it took a while, but i did manage to find scholars who'd take the middle path, as the quran requires us to do. of all the various things i read, this one was one of the best, by tariq ramadan. it's heavy going, and the formatting is not good, but the ideas were very close to my own understanding of jihad. it's a struggle i make every day, and it's a concept that's precious to me, as it is to muslims around the world.

the best jihad for me is the opportunity to speak to groups like the theosophical society. it's the ability to engage with people, even if only 15 or 20 at a time. the ability to express my beliefs on my own terms, and to let them see that i'm not a threat, but just one of them. this is the kind of jihad that will overcome the extremists, and will help each of us to reclaim what is most precious: harmony and balance.

it would be remiss of me not to mention the nz census of women's participation, released today by dr judy mcgregor of the human rights commission. it reminds us of what we already know - that there are far too few women in leadership positions in the private sector, and in some cases, the situation is getting worse, not better.

what the report doesn't provide are the reasons why women aren't making it to the top levels. we could guess it's because women aren't in the right networks, they have to take breaks from their careers due to child-bearing, and that on the whole, they are still taking more of the responsibility for child-rearing.

another factor i'd throw in would be the lack of appreciation of our women achievers. there is still the notion that for women to be out there achieving is somehow an attack on "family values"; that such women can not be putting in the required level of effort at home; and that there failure to do so is the cause of the breakdown of society. under such a burden, it's a wonder that women achieve at all.

and i'd go back to my bimbo post - it's also difficult to achieve in a society where women get most attention for reasons other than academic, professional or sporting achievements. when you can get instant fame and attention without all the hard slog involved in struggling to the top of the corporate ladder, what's the incentive to take on that long haul?

there's a cultural shift that's required, but fewer poeple seem to want to take on the task of pushing for it, and many who no longer see the effort as important. there's a sense that the battle is already won, when the figures clearly prove otherwise. here's another jihad, one that's really important for our country. i hope you'll take it on.

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