The mysterious two sides of Islam

The International Herald Tribune, which is the global edition of the New York Times, has this absolutely fascinating story about a Muslim woman whose father, brother and husband have all been involved with Islamic terrorism. Written by Souad Mekhennet, it's headlined "Stuck Between 2 Sides of Islam." Here's the lede:

Mariam Fizazi arrived in this north German port city five days before Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 terrorists changed the world.

Since then, this cheerful, 34-year-old woman has, she said, had her patience constantly tested by Allah.

“I have had it all — a brother who had been in a training camp in Afghanistan, then he and my father arrested for supporting terrorism in Morocco and then my husband, who decided to travel to Waziristan,” she said in her first media interview. “I think that is quite a lot to deal with for 10 years.”

She appears to bear little bitterness — neither toward the men whose actions have scarred her life, nor toward the authorities who have punished them.

“When I came here, I thought those who have another belief would be against us and not trustworthy,” she said. “But I have learned that there are good and bad people everywhere, no matter which religion they have.”

Talk about an interesting interview subject! The story is full of interesting tidbits about her brother, father and husband. But read it and tell me if you don't have a few questions.

We get some information about what it's like to have a husband leave you and your two children for jihad. We get some interesting details from her. She was previously married and had a daughter with her ex-husband. That child lives back in Morocco with her parents because her ex-husband would not let her leave when she moved to Hamburg. She has a six-year-old and seven-year-old child with the husband who left. She won't wear her wedding ring any more. Here are some more details:

Ms. Fizazi has become what she calls an activist for her religion. “So many people have a wrong idea about what Islam is, and the converted women are the worst,” she said.

Because her father is an Islamic scholar, women seek her advice when they have problems — with their husbands, with Islam, she said.

“Islam has given women many rights, but very often women have no idea. They think Islam teaches them to say what their husband says, to follow what their husband wants them to follow, that is all nonsense,” she said, speaking in Arabic and emphasizing each word with her right hand.

The Internet is one platform where she discusses what she considers the right and wrong interpretations of Islam. “It’s important to be open toward the society we live in,” she said. She tells other Muslim women: “Don’t cut your children and yourself off.”

But it all seems kind of confusing to me. What does her view on women's rights have to do with the situation with her first child? And is her father a respected Islamic scholar or, as we're told later, identified by Western and Arab intelligence "as a preacher for jihadi movements." Or both? We're told his writings were found in the homes of many men who "went to Afghanistan and Iraq" and "gave young people legitimacy" for terrorist actions. He was the preacher at Al Quds Mosque in Hamburg when Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 plotters attended it.

And the two sides issue is conflated, again, when Ms. Fizazi reports that Hamburg Muslims were unhappy about 9/11 "but that all changed with the 2003 invasion of Iraq."

I mean, what changed, precisely? And are there still two sides or not? We're told that her father "and scores of other Islamists" were accused in attacks that killed 45 people in Casablanca. But in prison, her father started distancing himself "from some of what he had preached." His sentence was reduced and he was released.

It ends by noting that the husband wasn't killed, apparently, in a recent drone strike.

OK, like I said, it's a really riveting read.

But considering that the whole premise is about a divide between two sides of Islam, I could have used a lot more explanation of what, precisely, those two sides are. I'm familiar with the template of "good Islam" vs. "bad Islam" but those stories need details, even if reality is much more complex than that. This seems like it could have been a great story for explaining divisions in certain teachings and how they manifest in different life choices. Even just an explanation of what, precisely, the father distanced himself from would have been helpful.

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