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Religious Freedom, Secular Forum

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#1
Ahmad\

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Religious Freedom, Secular Forum

LONDON — Should gender segregation be allowed in Muslim public meetings? That question has created a surprising degree of political heat in Britain in recent weeks.

The controversy began after a number of hard-line Muslim student groups insisted that men and women must sit separately at their public meetings and lectures. Universities UK, the official voice of British universities, deemed such segregation to be acceptable so long as women were not forced to sit at the back of the room. The guidance caused an uproar, drawing the prime minister, David Cameron, into the debate, and leading an opposition spokesman, Chuka Umunna, to insist that “a future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities.”

For some, the debate has been an expression of Islamophobia, singling out Muslim practices for criticism. For others, the attitude of Universities UK demonstrates how many in authority are willing to appease Islamist extremists, and to tolerate the intolerable so as not to offend minority groups.

It is true that many racists have seized on this controversy, as they have done with other issues, to foment hostility toward Muslims. But that only makes it more necessary for progressives to claim issues such as this, to bend them to progressive, rather than racist, purposes. To challenge specifically Islamic practices is not necessarily to be “Islamophobic.”

The problems revealed by the controversy are not only those of Islam: The storm over segregated meetings is merely the latest in a series of clashes. From questions of blasphemy to divisions over same-sex marriage, the fractiousness of such debates reflects growing tensions between some strands of religious thought and the changing demands of a secular society. It also reflects a deep-set confusion over what is meant by “religious freedom.”

Most Western societies have, for historical reasons, come to think of “religious freedom” as a special kind of liberty. The modern debate about tolerance and rights developed in Europe from the 17th century onward, primarily within a religious framework. Questions about what could be tolerated were, at heart, questions of how, and how far, the state and the established church should accommodate religious dissent.

Today we live in a different world. Religion is no longer the crucible in which political and intellectual disputes take place. Questions of freedom and tolerance are not about how the dominant religious establishment should respond to dissenting theological views, but about the degree to which society should tolerate, and the law permit, speech and activity that might be offensive or hateful, that might challenge the state or undermine national security.

From today’s perspective, it is easier to see that religious freedom is not a special kind of liberty, but one expression of a broader set of freedoms of conscience, belief, assembly and action.

Whatever one’s beliefs, secular or religious, there should be complete freedom to express them, short of inciting violence. Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to assemble to promote them. And whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to act upon those beliefs, so long as, in so doing, one neither physically harms another individual nor transgresses that individual’s rights in the public sphere. These should be the fundamental principles by which we judge the permissibility of any belief or act, religious or secular.

Many on both sides of the debate about religious freedom fail to grasp these principles. Many secularists, for instance, insist that religious views should be kept out of the public sphere. That cannot be right, any more than it would be right to bar the views of racists, conservatives, Communists or gay activists from the public sphere.

Many believers want to retain privileges for religion. As a society, we should tolerate as far as possible the desire of people, religious or secular, to live according to their consciences. But that tolerance ends when someone acting upon his or her conscience causes harm to another or infringes on another’s rights.

So religions should have no right to prevent the publication of material believers deem offensive. Religious freedom requires that people of faith be allowed to speak or act in ways that might offend others; it does not require that others do not cause them offense.

There is nothing wrong with the American government’s requiring Catholic-run hospitals to give employees health insurance that includes free contraception: Churches are not being forced to provide contraception. In their role as secular employers, they are being asked to provide benefits that all employers must provide. To exempt church-run organizations would be to deny those benefits to a particular group of employees.

A religious institution should be free to bar women from acting as clergy members or to segregate the sexes in religious services or private meetings. But enforced segregation in a public forum is a different matter and must be opposed.

All this is not, as many believers suggest, to enforce secular discrimination against religious belief. Many nonreligious groups — fascists, Communists, Greens — could claim that their beliefs mandated certain actions or practices. Yet, it would be illegal for a racist cafe owner to bar black people, or for Greens to destroy a farmer’s field of legally grown genetically modified crops, however deep-set their particular beliefs.

There is a line, in other words, that cannot be crossed — even if conscience demands it. That line should be in the same place for religious believers as for nonbelievers.

Under pressure, Universities UK has withdrawn its advice on segregation, pending a review. Whether it has really understood the meaning of religious freedom in a modern society is a moot question. What seems certain, given continuing confusion about the relationship between the religious and the secular, is that we will see many more such controversies.

Kenan Malik is a writer, lecturer, broadcaster and the author of “From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Aftermath.”

http://www.nytimes.c...forum.html?_r=1


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#2
Sarmad

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I've been to plenty of MSA meetings in my time here in the U.S., and even girls who had abaya or niqab did not have a problem sitting at the same table with males. Men and women worked together to organize events, clean up after dinners, etc. Never had a problem. Obviously when it came time to pray, the girls would stand behind the men, but that's a much different issue since it's a religious observance. A meeting isn't. 

 

I always get the sense that the Muslim youth in UK are more susceptible to being radicalized because of socio-economic inequities, which extremist minded folks can exploit. It's sad to see, because it gives us all a bad name. I hope they can get better role models in the community.



#3
Ahmad\

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My experience is similar, whether MSA or PSA. And I hold a similar opinion about why the things are like this in UK.

 

Wish we had members from UK who can tell us better.


"But the thing about Ronaldo... Ronaldo could play for Millwall, QPR, Doncaster Rovers or anyone and he'd score a hat-trick. I'm not sure Messi could do it." - Sir Alex Ferguson


#4
lahoriii

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shocking that in the 21st century gender segregation is still a thing. Religious observance or otherwise. 



#5
maverick86

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i havee generally found the uk conservatives to be a bit more extremist - spent a year studying abroad at oxford and it was quite surprisingly evident. this is franky ridiculous. you have guys like anjum shehzad leading this kinda stupidity who work just enough to qualify for the dole and have a bunch of kids get child welfare and then propogate hate against the system feeding them. itna shauq hai to bhai jaao saudi main jaa kai parhai karo.....kya chaypana hai.



#6
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^ Loll :P Saudi bhi abh kam modern nahi hai.. log har kaam kerte hain band darwazon k peechey.

On the other hand, I dont see what the big deal is. I personally dont feel comfortable sitting next to a guy, i prefer sitting with my friends or a relative. You can say it is a mixture of free mixing of genders that Islam is strict about and a personal discomfort. I actually feel i have slight claustrophobia, i dont find sitting in a closed space very comfortable even if it is people of my own gender  :heh:
 

This ofcourse is my opinion. 

I dont think its a very big deal, if there is an arrangement where segregation is provided, people can make use of it without making headlines. Some females dont feel comfortable sitting in the same room with men, it has nothing to do with being backward but with the own comfort level. However in situations such as a classroom envrionment or business meeting etc where such things are totally beyond someone's control, there is no harm in it. I know this student at York University denied to do a group project with only girls. That was kind of unnecessary and it lead to an irrational debate. 

Its simple , if it is a Muslim event- segregation shouldnt be looked down upon and should be welcomed. Since this is what Islam encourages. If it is not, do wht you can do best..either avoid, or find someone who can sit next to you without creating useless problems for yourself and those around you 

 


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#7
Sarmad

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The issue isn't about looking down on gender separation--everyone should free to sit where they wish. The problem is that some of the youth were forcing women to move so that they wouldn't be next to the men. Forcing it is wrong in a public setting.



#8
lahoriii

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Don't see forceful gender segregation as any different from forceful racial segregation 



#9
Electric

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The issue isn't about looking down on gender separation--everyone should free to sit where they wish. The problem is that some of the youth were forcing women to move so that they wouldn't be next to the men. Forcing it is wrong in a public setting.

I agree forcing is wrong but if a setting has been set for male and female in a favorable muslim setting then is it still a matter of concern? For example an MSA meeting that we used to have , we had guys and girls sit separately.  People didnt object and I dont see anything wrong in that. 


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#10
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Don't see forceful gender segregation as any different from forceful racial segregation 

I kind of disagree. I dont think in gender segregation it is a matter of looking down upon females or males but its more like to avoid unnecessary mingling that tends to happen. Its a religious perspective in the end :)
 


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#11
lahoriii

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I kind of disagree. I dont think in gender segregation it is a matter of looking down upon females or males but its more like to avoid unnecessary mingling that tends to happen. Its a religious perspective in the end :)
 

 

Unnecessary mingling? What on earth is that? 



#12
maverick86

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The issue isn't about looking down on gender separation--everyone should free to sit where they wish. The problem is that some of the youth were forcing women to move so that they wouldn't be next to the men. Forcing it is wrong in a public setting.

this!!! this is the bleeding point



#13
maverick86

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I kind of disagree. I dont think in gender segregation it is a matter of looking down upon females or males but its more like to avoid unnecessary mingling that tends to happen. Its a religious perspective in the end :)
 

look at sarmad's post ...no one is stopping girls or guys from sitting together but it is the forcible segregation of two people who are of different genders and want to sit together that is a problem here.



#14
VolterWight

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Unnecessary mingling? What on earth is that? 

 

I'm curious to know about this as well. Also curious to understand why all the Abrahamic religions don't like it when guys and girls share some skin bro. tactile contact is a very important part of human development, FREE HUGS ALL DAY! 

 

http://www.livestron...of-human-touch/



#15
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Unnecessary mingling? What on earth is that? 

From what perspective do you want me to explain? The islamic perspective which i dont think people will agree , because that's where I am coming from here. 

 


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#16
Electric

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look at sarmad's post ...no one is stopping girls or guys from sitting together but it is the forcible segregation of two people who are of different genders and want to sit together that is a problem here.

I read it and i dont see the force here tbh. Why is it so hard to follow a seating arrangement that is being set by the host in the first place. Wherever you go, big meetings etc, there are seating arrangements set. Now if I walk into a gathering where I am being dragged to sit in the sister's place when I dont want to, that is unnecessary. But if I willingly want to follow it or I understand there is a general seating arrangement set, why is that a big deal? In the end of the day, those who want to hang out can do so in the end, an hour or 30 mins cant really take away basic fundamental rights :P


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#17
Electric

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I'm curious to know about this as well. Also curious to understand why all the Abrahamic religions don't like it when guys and girls share some skin bro. tactile contact is a very important part of human development, FREE HUGS ALL DAY! 

 

http://www.livestron...of-human-touch/

Eww.
Well I dont know alot about Abrahamic religions but we follow the Prophet SAW who never shook hands with a woman ( a non mahram). So that's pretty much it. May not  be as logical/rational to some of us here but oh well .


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#18
Electric

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I think, I personally dont see it a big deal ( segregation) because I grew up with it back in the Middle East. Later in college we had co-ed but I never found it something that felt like something where I felt degraded . Infact, I enjoyed it and I still do.  Afraid I cant say the same for everyone :)


Say (O Muhammad SAW): "Verily, my Salat (prayer), my sacrifice, my living, and my dying are for Allah, the Lord of the 'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists). [6:162]


#19
Sarmad

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I agree forcing is wrong but if a setting has been set for male and female in a favorable muslim setting then is it still a matter of concern? For example an MSA meeting that we used to have , we had guys and girls sit separately.  People didnt object and I dont see anything wrong in that. 

 

An MSA meeting is one thing--these were public meetings. Like, if you host a lecture or some other event that is open to the public, then you shouldn't start forcing women in the audience to go sit somewhere else. Sirf itni si baat hay. :) Internal MSA meeting mein of course you can have whatever rules you wish, just as a musalla does for prayer.



#20
Sarmad

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I'm curious to know about this as well. Also curious to understand why all the Abrahamic religions don't like it when guys and girls share some skin bro. tactile contact is a very important part of human development, FREE HUGS ALL DAY! 

 

http://www.livestron...of-human-touch/

 

Speaking for Islam at least, Islam doesn't seek to get rid of natural emotion and interaction (unlike the way Catholic clergy is forced into celibacy). Instead, Islam seeks to keep limits on interaction to avoid emotional and social problems. Hugging and kissing na-mahram can definitely lead to attraction and temptation, which can wreck a marriage, family, etc. Khair that's a tangent from the issue at hand, but yeah.






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