Meet the honor brigade, an organized campaign to silence debate on Islam

Jan 22, 2015

James Joyce for The Washington Post

By Asra Q. Nomani

“You have shamed the community,” a fellow Muslim in Morgantown, W.Va., said to me as we sat in a Panera Bread in 2004. “Stop writing.”

Then 38, I had just written an essay for The Washington Post’s Outlook section arguing that women should be allowed to pray in the main halls of mosques, rather than in segregated spaces, as most mosques in America are arranged. An American Muslim born in India, I grew up in a tolerant but conservative family. In my hometown mosque, I had disobeyed the rules and prayed in the men’s area, about 20 feet behind the men gathered for Ramadan prayers.

Later, an all-male tribunal tried to ban me. An elder suggested having men surround me at the mosque so that I would be “scared off.” Now the man across the table was telling me to shut up.

“I won’t stop writing,” I said.

It was the first time a fellow Muslim had pressed me to refrain from criticizing the way our faith was practiced. But in the past decade, such attempts at censorship have become more common. This is largely because of the rising power and influence of the “ghairat brigade,” an honor corps that tries to silence debate on extremist ideology in order to protect the image of Islam. It meets even sound critiques with hideous, disproportionate responses.

The campaign began, at least in its modern form, 10 years ago in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a mini-United Nations comprising the world’s 56 countries with large Muslim populations, plus the Palestinian Authority — tasked then-Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu with combating Islamophobia and projecting the “true values of Islam.” During the past decade, a loose honor brigade has sprung up, in part funded and supported by the OIC through annual conferences, reports and communiques. It’s made up of politicians, diplomats, writers, academics, bloggers and activists.


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45 comments on “Meet the honor brigade, an organized campaign to silence debate on Islam

  • Honour?

    Failing to face up to reality and your blatant faults is dishonourable in the extreme.

    This is a perfect example of how religion infantilizes, causes arrested development and creates hypocrites.



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  • I wonder what religion has against women? I wish someone would explain the head scarf to me. I see it as a sign of subservience, but is that what it really is worn for? Islam is not the only religion that hates women. Read the Bible and see how we are considered just chattel. I’ll bet the Torah is not any better. Islam is just the worst right now and the most repressed about sexual matters and women. Religion needs to grow up! I think it is time to discard patriarchal religions and if you must have something go back to the goddess religions. Seriously you repressed guys that hang around in hate groups and are so insecure about yourselves need to be eliminated. Great article.



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  • 3
    Miserablegit says:

    Honour as usual the one word Muslims use the most and understand the least. As we know their idea of honour is simply that if you say anything they disagree with, you have insulted their honour and therefore they have a right to kill you.



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  • 5
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Bravo Ms. Nomani!!

    Not only for having the courage and the vision to share your living experience with the rest of the world, but also for exposing the true face of this despicable organization that (quite ironically) calls itself “Organization of Islamic Cooperation”.

    Every time I read or hear the word Islamophobia, it never fails to irritate me. Islamists coined that word to make us feel bad about criticizing their religion and have suckered journalists into using it daily in their articles. But now, we’re getting it from the source: to the OIC, combating Islamophobia really means to repress criticism and reform of Islam among Muslims and non-Muslims. Yeah sure, the true values of Islam indeed…

    I can’t say any of what is said in this article is a surprise to me but I’m really glad to see a Muslim woman print it in a widely read western newspaper. Now go ahead and try to call her Islamophobic, you clueless journalists!!



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  • Well I admire Asra’s courage in writing this article, but presumably she still believes that fresh water and salt water don’t mix, that Allah split the moon in two and that Mohamed rode to heaven on a winged horse ?

    Still, at least with people like her, the Wahabbis won’t have it all their own way. Religious fascists.



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  • Can’t remember where I read it. It was a book in my past, a work of fiction that retold an ancient story that women brought it on themselves. A leader, somewhere in the middle east, married a woman from the mountains who was said to be so beautiful and fair skinned that she caused fights when the men of the village looked upon her beauty and the women grew jealous. The leader asked her to cover herself when she went out. It soon became a symbol of beauty to cover up because you were too beautiful to have ordinary men look upon you and every woman covered herself from then on.

    This was a woman author I am almost sure so don’t blame me for the sexism 🙂



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  • I have to be honest and say I am not sure about this. The first three quarters of the OP had my hair standing on end and almost running for cover. Especially as the Ihsanoglu mentioned ran for president of Turkey and was seen as the American backed candidate by some. Then at the end of the article it all became positive and heading in the right direction. This confused me as I saw the first parts very menacing and unstoppable. I am still confused and have yet to come to any conclusions.



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  • 11
    mombird says:

    Well in my humble opinion women starting covering from head to toe to keep from getting raped and abused by men. Even now the attitude of all too many men is that women are asking for it.



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  • I’m deeply moved by this.

    Thanks, Asra Nomani. The video you link to at the end-

    Last month, by contrast, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi acknowledged that there was an ideology problem in Islam and said, “We need to revolutionize our religion.”

    had me in tears of hope.

    Presidents like Sissi and Rohani know that things have to change but that they have to tread carefully, overlooked and often over-ruled as they are by religious/judicial infrastructures embedded deep to the bone in their societies. But if they consistently follow their steady way and get support and benefits for their efforts from outside, the balance of power may yet shift back to the people.

    The task more than ever is to tame the shamans. It is they that initiate the ideas of shame and honour that the suggestible henchmen carry into the streets and back to their homes.



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  • Hi, Just to leap in there to men’s defence.. the vast majority of men do not think women are ‘asking for it’ as in are asking to have sex just because they are beautiful, and fewer still think they are asking to be raped. So I imagine the act of a woman covering up from head to foot might feel like an oppressive presumption of his wicked intent.. to the normal man going about his normal business. In other words.. maybe segregation and covering up oppresses both sexes. I don’t know, how do men feel about it?



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  • I think so Liz. It is not about all men wanting their wives to cover up but the pressure socially and religiously. That amounts to oppression of both. It does the same in my story above. Men not wanting the beauty of their wives judged in relation to the most beautiful. It doesn’t always need religion though. Token wives AND husbands abound in ‘celebrity’ magazines everywhere.



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  • 15
    mombird says:

    I don’t know you two. I think this all started way, way back with the dominance of patriarchal religions. No wait, I think it is the nature of the beast. The male of every species is basically the same. I don’t mean this in a sarcastic way. For instance, I have a chicken coop and what do the roosters do? They have to rule the roost. They have to fight their competition. They have to protect hen family. They have to reproduce. It’s the same in essence with almost all species. I know I’m going to get a load of crap for saying all this but it’s the way evolution works. That is not to say that we can not rise above our animal natures. To a great extent modern homo sapiens have overcome those instincts, EXCEPT the throw back religions that want to keep the stone age alive and well. Ok, I’m ready, let me have it….



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  • I guess I’d say we evolved to create an image of an animal on a cave wall and then there was Velezquez. And also that the thing I tried to do when my kids were little, after explaining what was wrong, was to let them have the chance to do what was right and then trust them. We learn I hope.



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  • To Mombird:

    Let’s not forget that our own far more liberally religious culture, compared to Islam that is, still dictates differences in permitted bodily exposure between men and women. Men are permitted to walk around in public with their breasts exposed, and of course, women are not.

    While there are a few exceptions, no culture permits the public exposure of genitalia in men or women. Whether this has deep sociological origin, or is simply the origin of the word “Ouch,” I have no idea.

    I see, in Australia, Muslim men dressed in our quaint national folk costume of shorts, flip flops, tee shirts (optional) and the recent add on of baseball caps worn backwards, a garment christened by a friend as an “IQ reducer.”

    With these men are women covered head to toe in a textile letterbox, right down to the little meshed slit through which to observe the world. How these women can feel anything but oppressed, escapes me, despite hearing some arguments in their favour.
    I note that it does not take very much secularisation for Muslim women to consider a head scarf sufficient protection against divine wrath.



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  • @ mombird,

    It is a sense of perception. I as a male think about it as, in some cases, the female using the mans strength to protect herself and her eggs. I always used to think that when going to ‘discos’ in the 70s and 80s and watching women start fights that the men had to finish. The stupidity of the men was more annoying. So your cockerel strutting up and down on the fence……. He just wants a peaceful life. Not only does he worry about other cockerels but if he doesn’t do a good enough job the farmers wife will have his giblets. 😉



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  • 19
    mombird says:

    I note that it does not take very much secularisation for Muslim women
    to consider a head scarf sufficient protection against divine wrath

    .

    Well this conversation is a lot more fun than I thought it would be. As a recovering Catholic we were obligated to wear head covering and the men had to take their hats off. It’s not the case anymore apparently. Now you can wear the “low IQ” stuff in church. Anyway, to get back on track. I wonder where the idea that women’s heads and hair were an affront to God???? Anybody know?
    And good point Olgun. Maybe the oppression we women endure is worth letting the male of the species think he’s the boss and take the flack.



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  • God and gods seem to be obsessed with hair. As I watch the news you can tell which god a person worships by the way they wear their hair. Shaved and bald. Temple ringlets. Short hair but long beard. Long hair, short beard. Hair never cut and wound into a turban. Facial hair on. Facial hair off. This is particular a problem for Indonesian Muslims given east Asians have great difficulty growing a beard, which is in fact gods fault, because he designed them that way. Sheesh. Hats on. Hats off. The RC’s. Girls hair is an abomination. Cover it. Covering mens hair is a sin. Take the freaking hat off Shamus. For Gods sake, make up your mind god.

    Sound terribly OCD to me.



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  • When I was investigating Islam, they made quite a point of saying there was no clergy and no organisation entrusted with determining the dogma. Even the imam was just the person in the congregation considered most up on Islam. The idea of equality was paramount. I met the imam, a handsome articulate young man who seemed well versed in Islam. We debated for hours before I found out he was the imam. He had no special clothing. He just seemed one of the congregation. He had an air of authority about him.

    I suppose this democratic nature allows groups to form and take charge fairly easily.

    One Muslim told me that every mosque is different, so that if I did not like one, I should try another.

    These is a huge emphasis on public behaviour, respecting tradition. What you do in private does not matter much as long as you give lip service to the traditions.



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  • “What you do in private does not matter much as long as you give lip service to the traditions”

    In other words, the whole thing is just a facade, a show so other people think you’re “respecting the traditions”.

    What’s the point?



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  • The idea of equality was paramount. I met the imam, a handsome articulate young man who seemed well versed in Islam. Roedy

    The idea of equality among men may have been paramount but your chances of meeting an articulate young woman imam are limited, or non-existent. In the first place, education for women is not given priority and many will not even be literate in Muslim countries, let alone educated. In the second place, woman are second -class citizens in the Muslim world and would not get a position of authority (unless of an élite family). The lead article makes plain this inequality, even in America.



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  • Perhaps women are not more religious than men. Number of women on Earth is greater than number of men, so perhaps this notion that there is more women who are religious than men, is only an illusion. I have read it (in Breaking the spell; D Dennett, I think- not sure ) that there is a word in Koran that is incorrectly translated, like the situation with young girl = virgin in bible. In Koran there is a rule which says that women have to cover their nipples, not whole body, but this word for nipples was misinterpreted, or deliberately interpreted as women have to hide their body. It sounds appropriate to hide their nipples, but not to hide all body.



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  • Like the article. Of course, all religious are about control, and all religious organisation are a mixture of shame and guilt societies,… especially shame cultures are worried about their honour.

    You have shamed the community … Stop writing

    They need to focus their attention on honour because more important than honour is punishment (which is the aim).

    In my opinion the day will come that we “good” people will be forced to answer with violence upon violence of “bad” people toward us, because they only understand language of violence.



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  • It’s so difficult to get into Moslem Heaven. Re-arrange your genitals, cover the right amount of hair, don’t eat certain animals, pray facing the correct direction and the required number of times in the prescribed posture and in distinct gender groups, protect god/the prophet from jibes and insults, cut the heads off infidels, insist that all family members conform and cast them off if they don’t, accept that it is wrong to have sex with consenting adults of the same gender but ok if it’s with young kids of the opposite. Believe in impossible supernatural stuff.
    I bet I’ve missed loads. And all this when the reward is entirely imaginary.



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  • I think it is probably because the more you are shit on the greater your desperation for compensation if not in this life then in the naive hope of another. This may explain why African-americans are more than averagely religious. And ex-colonials come to that.
    Christianity itself first flourished among the slaves and down-trodden in the Roman World and even today when the church is over-privileged they still love nothing more than playing the “we are oppressed/offended” card



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  • Modesti Jan 24, 2015 at 3:30 am

    Perhaps women are not more religious than men.
    Number of women on Earth is greater than number of men, so perhaps this notion that there is more women who are religious than men, is only an illusion.

    The evidence from a UK survey says they are more religious than men – at least in some age-groups.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11357707/Women-keep-the-faith-as-majority-of-men-say-they-do-not-believe-in-God.html
    Women are almost two thirds more likely than men to believe in God, a major study of attitudes among middle aged Britons has found.

    Atheism and agnosticism are now the majority creed among the male population but almost two thirds of women believe in Heaven or an afterlife, according to the study which has been tracking 9,000 people now in their early 40s for more than 25 years.

    The findings also suggest that Muslims have by far the strongest faith in modern Britain, with Christians from smaller evangelical churches the only group coming close to the same levels of certainty.

    By contrast only one in six members of the Church of England or the other main protestant denominations say they believe without doubt in God.

    Just a third of Roman Catholics in the study said the same compared to 88 per cent of Muslims and 71 per cent of those categorised as evangelical Christians.



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  • Perhaps women are not more religious than men. Number of women on Earth is greater than number of men, so perhaps this notion that there is more women who are religious than men, is only an illusion.

    No, the survey referred to in the article I linked was looking at percentages. A simple count of religious men vs women would be of less interest.

    To be fair, if I was basing my comment on that survey alone I should have asked “I wonder why British women in their 40s are more religious than Bristish men in their 40s”.

    It would be interesting to see the survey repeated but selecting people born in 1990, to see how (if) the figures have changed.

    Edit. Looks like Alan has already made the point.



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  • Hmmn. Randy repressed men in very hot countries with not much going on and until very recently no TV. Think about it. Would they be able to stick to the strict rules with scantilly clad women were parading around everywhere.

    The rules were not so different in victorian times. in the UK men and women had to bathe on separate sections of the beach and wear the most rediculous costumes by today’s standard. Islam is just a taking longer to adjust as modern views are only really just starting to spread to those areas of the world. yes there is resistance, but there was also resistance to similar ideas being foisted onto protestants and catholics not so long ago.

    THe clothing isn’t so much to do with oppression as just trying to remove the temptation. even today in permissive societies if a girl is raped people still call into question if she was dressed provocativeley (I’m not saying that is right, just pointing out the similarity between islam and ‘infadels’)



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  • Matt Jan 24, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    THe clothing isn’t so much to do with oppression as just trying to remove the temptation. even today in permissive societies if a girl is raped people still call into question if she was dressed provocativeley (I’m not saying that is right, just pointing out the similarity between islam and ‘infadels’)

    This really only makes sense in repressive societies where prudery is the custom.
    In other cultures a lack of clothing has been the accepted norm for centuries

    . . . . . . . before prudery was introduced by missionaries from colonial powers.



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  • I think there is a direct correlation between the amount of bother you have to go to to follow a religion and how desperately you believe in it. If you sold a $2 magnetic bracelet with the claim that it will cure your arthritis you will not sell as many as if you sell them for $100. The more pain the more you will believe what is being peddled, the more ridiculous the belief the more ridiculous the steps required to get you to believe. This I think is why you don’t see too many religions in which you can eat what you want, sleep with who you want – how you want etc.



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  • Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m sorry it took me so long to find this reprint of my article. I was just stunned the day I was called an “Islamophobe.” What does that mean? I’m afraid of myself? My father? My mother? But I’m not. I’m just critical of an interpretation of Islam (and any religion or philosophy) that isn’t just.

    That’s when I new that there was something behind this campaign that I needed to investigate.

    Thank you for supporting my efforts!



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  • Thank you, Phil. What is fascinating is that one of the first comments I received in response to the article was an email with just a ridiculing of me in the subject line for citing agreement with Sissi’s comment. The sender: the spokesman for CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, condemning Sissi in a later email. I thought that was a very peculiar point of focus for an American Muslim organization and have added this development to my reporting.

    Big picture, thank you for the support. We will challenge ideas of shame and honor and prevail. Warmly, Asra



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  • Dear Mr. DArcy,

    One of my favorite principles in science is osmosis, and I think of progressive, secular, rational ideas as something that I hope can slip through the process of osmosis into all of society. I am hopeful. My name, “asra,” is actually the name of the journey on the winged horse, but I think of that journey indeed as mythical on a 7th century Pegasus. And I am the daughter of a scientist, and I love statistical analysis, teach my son algebra in 6th grade and raise him without religious dogma because I want him to be free of ideological dogmatism.

    So, you see my friend, we are all very complicated and the truth of us is much more interesting than the assumptions, don’t you think? Warmly, Asra



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