Why I Try to Stay Away From the Media by amina wadud

Amina Wadud 2 I am Muslim, by choice, practice and vocation

Recently a controversy broke out surrounding a University talk I was to give in Tamil Nadhu, here in India.  That visit was to include a workshop and several meetings, including one with the all women Jamaat or STEP – the first of its kind in the context of the male dominated personal status law scenario in India).

This is how the events unfolded:  Before I came to India last year, I began communications with various Non-Government Organizations on gender and justice in Islam and with academics or others related to the study of Islam.  At that time an invitation to visit Madras University was extended to me. It took the better part of the year to get the details sorted out.  Meanwhile, I traveled throughout India, spoke at about a dozen Universities and several community organizations (including mosques), and started a book club discussing reformist Islam with interested persons in Kerala.

I also traveled outside of India for public and academic lectures and workshop.  In those cases, as a retired person, I only speak with an agreement for a minimum honorarium.  I made no such requirement to local Universities across India. In some instances I spoke after I flew into the city or area by my own means and while paying for my own accommodations.  I considered this par for the course: par for the course of my interests and contributions to Islamic thought and gender, and par for the course of the economic realities of India.

I passed the remainder of my time here very quietly, very discretely.  I traveled as much as I could to see the landscape, the sacred places, and the people.  Now I am near the end of the lease on my apartment and can think about making the transition back to my home in the US.

Then this happens.

The evening I was due to fly into Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadhu the airplane had some mechanical difficulty and we were stranded in the tiny airport awaiting an alternative.  They feed us, and while sitting in the waiting room sending text messages to update my host at Madras University who was to receive me at the other end, I get a disturbing message.  Then we talk and he asks me to hold on while he contacts others involved in this agreement, namely the US Consulate office.  It occurs to me that after 7 hours sitting in the airport that if there is ANY sort of problem, I would just as soon take a cab back to my apartment.

In the morning I respond more coherently stating my personal objection to what was explained to me: some fringe or extremist group complained that I had given a talk elsewhere in Tamil Nadhu that led to a riot.  Well, that was a lie. I had never been to Tamil Nadhu (except as a tourist for one day at the Southern Most Tip of India.)  I had certainly never given any talk there.  Furthermore, of the dozen or so talks I have given at various universities and community organizations across India, there has never been even the slightest incident.  I was appalled that a lie could be accepted as fact and a well planned university event could be stopped this way.

In my letter response I expressed dismay that my safety could not be guaranteed.  I was disappointed that a university would bow to vicious lies in making it decisions and considered it unprofessional.  Leading up to the elections, now, this became steeped in even more sensationalism that takes its own course. It rises to a crescendo with my name thrown around for good measure.  At first, I declined all offers for the media and asked them to speak with the organizers as this was a local problem and had to do with the nature of academic excellence beyond my personal invitation or contribution.

Eventually my facebook and twitter accounts became a source of “direct quotes”. I did make notice that this would be my last event in India:  no more lectures, interviews, speaking in public or meetings.  But then, that is not so strange.  I have a few upcoming commitments outside of India for which I must prepare and then the closing of my apartment.

The thing is—now that this has happened—EVERY thing I have done here in the past 10-11 months has been erased.  Nothing about voluntarily organizing a book club and meeting with them twice a month to lead discussions can ever compare to the sensationalism that says I was “silenced” “muzzled” “censored”.  In fact, those people who had been a part of the book club are probably quietly glad that it no longer meets because somehow this taints everything that I did and everything I do.  Nothing is said about my haven spoken at other universities and organizations, because well, those were just the usual boring academic exchanges or interviews. Who would want to follow up on that?!

I become an irresponsible ‘rebel rouser’. I choose those words because the US consulate officer told me pointblank that they would “never have invited” me if I were a “rebel rouser”.  Although they might have accepted then that I am not a rebel rouser, the way this event was handled in the media turns me into one.  This in turn affects how I am perceived by everyone.  People believe the hype. All that I have done quietly and out of generosity is null and void. Try as I might to stay above the chaos even well wishers and friends who have rallied to my support, mostly do so in a way that makes this and this alone mark all my time spent in India.  It’s sad really, and a shame how much people love sensation. It becomes the sole marker of all that is, making ordinary good deeds naught.

It is no wonder I try to just say no to the press.

 amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking  answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives.  Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe. 

Categories: Activism, Feminism, General, Islam

Tags: , , , , , ,

23 replies

  1. Reblogged this on TOAL and commented:
    Right on!


  2. And then again maybe some women will say: let’s arouse ourselves and rebel against injustices in our lives. We are after all rebel rousers in that sense. But it is usually no fun to be the one who is singled out. Couragio!


  3. I am so sorry this has happened to you. May the truth of your life and work shine brightly through and beyond all lies and distortion. Thank you for your work!


  4. You are surely not alone. You can’t fight the system, they say, and it’s true, at least directly, but there are creative ways around it. A religious friend, during the Iraq war with the United States, visited there, a poor village she was trying to help at that time, and brought back some magnificent drawings of the countryside and of horses in the fields, done by a worker in the midst of the mayhem. I was amazed seeing the pictures, and they woke me to the truly transcendent power, and the quiet protest possible in creative expression.


  5. How very irresponsible, cowardly, and stupid….so sorry.


  6. The group who claimed that your earlier programme had created ‘riot’ was telling a blatant lie.

    While commenting their characteristic decades ago renowned scholar Muhammed Asad said:
    “……. in that zealotic, self-righteousness orientation of feeling which concedes to no one the right to differ…..While ever since the advent of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab they have regarded themselves not merely as champions of the faith but almost as its sole owners.” (Muhammed Asad: The Road to Mecca).


    • Yes and as Khaled Abou el-Fadl said: we should NOT let them hijack our religion. but still I feel this is something which should be handled LOCALLY and not use me as a scapegoat. thanks for your support


  7. Sensation sells. As they say in the media business, “If it bleeds it leads.” I’m so sorry that you have to be one of the people that has to live through it. The whole culture needs new stories that aren’t about confict.


    • I’d like to think that sensation only sells BECAUSE we buy it. If and when we choose to rise up to a more humane and reasoned exchange of ideas we will then find this sort of stuff distasteful but alas, while I practice what I preach on this matter, I cannot raise the levels of consciousness when it just seems like too much work for people to UNDERSTAND the nuances of truth that abound


  8. When Sisiter Amina landed here, Mathrubhumi newspaper carried an interview with her quoting her to justify its stand against polygamy among Muslims (as if it was exclusively practiced among them). Journalists showcase incidents and persons purportedly to air grievance, sympathy and anger against injustice with the sole aim of making their paper an attractive commodity. Journos call us as if we are raw-materials to cook their next day’s sandwich


    • yes indeed. but then if there is no protest from those whom these newspapers claim to represent or at least from their readers, we are in affect condoning them to continue along those same lines. we must take responsibility to create the news that counts…thanks Shameer


  9. Here is a happier version of this story: When I was speaking in Australia, Cardinal Pell forbade me from speaking on RC ground. This led to me being interviewed by a number of radio stations and doubled my audiences. One person asked me: Why did Cardinal Pell do this. I responded, I don’t know, the theme of my new book is that God is love, I would have thought he would have agreed with that. Hee hee.


    • Yes, there are many wonderful examples to the contrary. I have just had the hardest time getting people to understand that while my views have stirred up controversy I am NOT at all interested in the media hype because in many ways I am far more introverted than people take me out to be. There have been many times when I was tempted to try to use the media to my advantage. learn to give the 30 second sound bite to complex theological ideas and their reasoned evidence. And inevitably when I do, something goes awry. I even remember when Chronicle of Higher Education did a spread (I made them out to be an exception) the interviewer told me: Everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame aren’t you just a bit interested in how much attention this has gotten? Oy vey. No, not even one bit, thank you very much…!


  10. I am so very very sorry that this had to happen to you in my city and university. I am deeply troubled that spaces of so-called ‘higher education’ too are embroiled in politics- local,state and national. In a state supposed to be known for its hospitality, I am sad that this kind of sensationalism has marred your stay in India. Although the media may make it out like this is what marks your stay and impact here in India, I pray that you will carry with you more positive and enriching memories. I’m also sure that once this blows over (public memory is quite short-lived!) I’m sure those you impacted during your time here too will realise the way you have impacted the way they live out their faith in the real world. Once again I’m so sorry this happened to you here in Chennai.


  11. Where can I find Amina Wadud contact email?



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