Limiting Liberty: The Recurring Collision of Free Speech and Religion
For more than a decade, I have been a public speaker and author who’s written for the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Engage Minnesota, MinnPost, and Counterpunch, and others, as well as serving as a community columnist for the Pioneer Press and community blogger for the Star Tribune. Facts and commentary have their place, and I remain interested in the issues that have always animated my work: the effects of racism, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and oppression. But I want to move beyond socio-political explanations and take my work in a more artful, creative direction.
I am particularly interested in re-telling the stories of the prophets from a Muslim perspective. I don’t want to re-tell these stories in order to highlight legal points or fatwas or religious edicts but to show the prophets as fully dimensional people who interacted with others and ultimately nurtured growth in their families and societies. These human and humane stories bypass rationalizations and stereotypes, speaking to the heart and helping us to re-see our ideas about love, projection, truth, loyalty, wisdom, guidance, gratitude, repentance and many other aspects of our shared humanity.
Stories, after all, can be shared and enjoyed across cultures in a way that facts cannot. I want to craft the prophets’ stories into a complex, multilayered art. Instead of framing stories about the prophets that are about the rules and laws of religion, I want these tales to be about understanding, connectivity, and self-knowledge. The Muslim prophets have mostly been looked at in a negative, controlling way. I want to change that view, to present them in a nurturing, empathetic light, and to bring the reader closer to their lives.
The stories of Adam, from the Qur’an and beyond, can help us ask questions about repentance and forgiveness. The prophet Abraham, for his part, sheds light on what we mean when we talk about “truth,” while Moses’s stories raise questions about power and oppression. The Qur’anic stories about Solomon and David help us think through the nature of gratitude, and Joseph’s stories raise important issues about sexual harassment, projection, and love.
Generally, we don’t look to the Qur’an—or the lives of the prophets—when we think about the contemporary-feeling issue of sexual harassment. But I want to bring these prophets into the contemporary world, and to let them shed their light, and their questions, on concepts such as a woman’s autonomy and her right to refuse a man. I intend to highlight the prophets’ stories in a way that doesn’t belittle readers, or make us feel we’re not good enough, but rather helps us move into our autonomy and independence.
Although these stories are important, they aren’t meant to be easy or inspirational in any straightforward way. As Prof. Benjamin Bratton discussed in his talk, “What’s Wrong with TED Talks,” a placebo politics can work much like placebo medicine. Inspiration, hope, and positive thinking can make us feel good in the moment. But true transformation is about facing the hard stuff, which is something we can do through stories that raise questions instead of giving easy answers.
By sharing stories of prophets in an interconnected way, I hope to illuminate the core of faith, which is mercy, compassion, and coexistence. To do this, all the stories of the prophets must fit together, helping us see ourselves afresh, layer by layer.
As a writer, it’s hard when you’re doing something about which you feel passionately, but you don’t have a community of writers who are also passionate. If you do, you can energize each other as you walk down similar paths.
The writings will be mainly by myself, Fadwa Wazwaz.
In the long term, I hope to invite other writers to share their experience and knowledge.
Areas of Focus:
• Law & Spirituality
• Faith and Values
• Arts and Culture
- “Beyond shame, violence, and terror,” Engage Minnesota 2017
- “Loyalty & cooperation are two-way streets,” Engage Minnesota 2016
- “Listening to God–Toward Healing and Reconciliation,” Engage Minnesota 2015
- “My Image, Honor, and Reputation,” Engage Minnesota 2015
- “Distinguishing free speech from hate,” Star Tribune 2014
- “Training Cops to Fear Somalis and Muslims,” Star Tribune 2013
- “Hearings on Islamic Extremism Set the Worst Example,” Star Tribune 2011
- “Israel’s 60th Is Not A Reason For Celebration,” Star Tribune 2008
- “Give Muslims a Platform,” ReligionAndSpirituality.com 2005
- “Bush Appointee Is a Bigot Disguised as a Scholar,” St. Paul Pioneer Press 2003
- “Jesus A Revered Figure In Muslim Religion, Too,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, 2003
- “Oprah Used Her Program To Propagandize For War,” St. Paul Pioneer Press 2003
- “Muslim Leaders Have Not Been Silent About Sept. 11 Attacks,” St. Paul Pioneer Press 2003
- “Muslims Must Intervene To Stop Domestic Violence,” St. Paul Pioneer Press 2003
- “Anti-Terrorism Laws Trample On Civil Liberties,” St. Paul Pioneer Press 2003
- “Koran’s ‘problem’ verses,” Jackson Citizen Patriot (MI) 2001
- “Academic Freedom And Selective Speech,” The Tampa Tribune 2001
- “Palestinian Refugees Are More Than Sad Stories,” Star Tribune 1997
Fadwa Wazwaz | \ Fəd-wə Wəz-wəz\ is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.