Seeking participants for a study on Muslim women’s marriage to non-Muslims

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Beloved readers,

Some of you know I’ve been working on a research project on Muslim women’s marriage to non-Muslims for the last some years. (It was a chapter in my dissertation and my favorite one, and I’ve written on it on my blog – see this one on interfaith marriage in the Qur’an and a follow-up reflection on the responses to that post.) I’m interested in both textual traditions and the application of those texts/scriptures, their interpretations, how humans negotiate with texts to find meaning in them and extract meaning from them. The first part of my project, ultimately a book, is therefore a textual/scriptural analysis. The second part is ethnographic, involving conversations and interviews with real, actual Muslim women who have been in interfaith marriages/romantic relationships. And this is where I need y’all’s help!

What I need / who qualifies

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Dr. Shehnaz Haqqani and Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini: on “Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam”

This script to my latest video on What the Patriarchy?! is barely edited, so please read at your own risk. I hope to get the time to edit it more later, inshaAllah.

The video is available here, script below.

Assalamu alaikum, everyone! This is Shehnaz! Welcome to hashtag what the patriarchy my youtube channel where we work on uprooting the patriarchy through islamic feminism thank you for being here i did an episode a few months ago or a couple of months ago with Dr. Ziba Mir-Hosseini on her latest book Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam, and i promised in there that i have a conversation slash interview with her coming up soon and this video is going to provide that interview to you this discussion was originally hosted for the new books network podcast specifically the channel new books in islamic studies for which i am one of the hosts and i will provide a link to that in the description of this video thank you so much for watching and i hope you enjoy this as much as i did!

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Summary of “Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam” by Ziba Mir-Hosseini (video script)

Here it is!! My latest video on What the Patriarchy?! Conversation with the author coming up soon. Script below the video.

Hello, salam, and welcome to What the Patriarchy, where we work on destroying the patriarchy. Which I know sounds very ambitious, but we got this!

Today, we’re going to talk about this wonderful exciting new book by Ziba Mir-Hosseini called, Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam, published in 2022 with OneWorld Publications. If you’re not familiar with Ziba’s other work, I highly recommend it! She’s author of other books, like these two I have on my bookshelf, Islam and gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran, and she’s editor, co-editor, of Men in Charge? [with a question mark!]: Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition. I have a review of the latter book on my blog that I’ll link to in the video description here.

So what I’m going to do here first is to give you a brief intro to the book, some of the main themes covered, and then in the next video, you’ll get to hear from the author herself.

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Same-Sex Intimacy / Homosexuality in Islam: A Summary of Ch. 5 of Kecia’s Ali’s Sexual Ethics & Islam | What the Patriarchy?!


My latest video is up! Script below the video.


In this episode, we discuss chapter 5 of Kecia Ali’s book Sexual Ethics & Islam, which is on same-sex relations/intimacy in Muslim thought. I do share some of my own opinions and interpretations on homosexuality/lgbtq+ justice in Islam, but to keep this short, I didn’t very much – so we’ll be back!

I’ve written a lot on this topic on my blog. Here are two such links:

– Islam, Homosexuality, and Pederasty: what does Islam really say about homosexuality?

To Muslims who condemn homosexuality

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Video Script: Menstruation & Islam: prayer, hajj, & fasting while on your period

Below is the script for my YouTube video on menstruation.

Hello, everyone! And assalamu alaikum warahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu! Welcome to #WhatThePatriarchy where we are planning the destruction of the patriarchy from its roots. Thank you for joining me today.

This is Shehnaz, and today we’re gonna talk about menstruation, period. From the Sunni perspectives, though, because I haven’t looked too much into the Shi’i perspectives yet, but I do plan to record many more videos on menstruation in the future because this is an important and relevant topic and I love talking about it. I struggled a lot with figuring out how to address this topic. There are so many layers to this conversation – there’s so much wrong with the way that we talk about it and the way that we treat menstruants, or people who menstruate, most of whom are women. We could have a long
conversation on how the community, the Muslim community treats, or sacred spaces treat individual women when they are menstruating. But I finally decided that the starting point should be one where we talk about privilege. Privilege is when you don’t have to think about something or the impact of something because it doesn’t affect you. The way that I’m gonna do this is by highlighting the subjectiveness of the rules and the laws of menstruation that are created by people who never

menstruated. They have/had the privilege to have this conversation authoritatively without thinking about the impact of the rules that they were coming up with. These rules were not gonna be affecting them in any way; these ruins were not gonna be affecting their spirituality, their relationship with Allah, their relationship with the mosque, or with other sacred spaces, or with the community and
so on. So some sub themes of menstruation that we’re gonna cover today very briefly, not extensively – this is just an intro to these sub themes, really – include the following: I’m gonna make a case for the subjectiveness of the rulings on menstruation and highlight the privilege of those who created and developed these rules on menstruation by discussing five different points that challenge the patriarchal assumption that menstrual blood or postpartum blood is impure and that we are prohibited (not

exempt – prohibited!) from praying while on our period.

What even is menstruation? What answer do people typically give when we ask why can’t we pray and fast while we’re on our period, whether because of menstruation or postpartum? spoiler alert – while people tell us typically that it’s because all blood coming out of our body is considered impure, that is not true. I’ll also talk about how these ideas of menstruation affect our spirituality and our relationship with Allah and with ourselves and our faith especially during Ramadan. And what about managing the blood? If we choose to for example, use a menstrual cup, can we pray while on our period then since the blood doesn’t leave our body right away? This calls for a new fiqh of menstruation, by the way, a feminist fiqh ideally but it certainly calls for a new, a revision of the existing rules of menstruation. Now, what about hajj? Can we perform hajj or umrah while we are menstruating? The patriarchal answer is that sure, yes, you can but the tawaf, or the circling around the Ka’ba seven times can only be performed when you are not menstruating, when you are considered to be in a state of purity. I want us to pause and think about what this means for those of us who menstruate.

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Video Script: Summary of Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics & Islam – Chs. 2 & 3: Divorce and Slavery in Islam | What the Patriarchy?!

The next video in this series (on Kecia Ali’s Sexual Ethics & Islam) is up finally! Script below the video:

Bi-smi llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm.

Hello, salaam, and welcome to #whatthepatriarchy?! where we are working to completely uproot the patriarchy from Islam. #inshaAllah #onebookatatime. One feminist book at a time.

Today, we’re continuing our discussion of Kecia Ali’s classic Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence. This isthe 2016 edition. Originally published in 2006. I recommend the 2016 edition because it’s more updated and revised. You’ll recall, of course, that I promised to do a few episodes on this book instead of just one like we’ve been doing with the last few books that we’ve done so far. So in the last episode, we talked about the main points of the book, the Introduction, and Chapter 1, which was on all things marriage. In this episode, we’re going to cover chapter 2 on divorce and chapter 3, which is on slavery and slave concubinage or sexual slavery or just the idea of a man being allowed to sleep with a woman that he is enslaving, formerly known as “his female slave” but we don’t use that language anymore.

Now for chapter 2, again on divorce. In this chapter, the author highlights the inequities of divorce laws in the fiqh and the ways that these inequities are part and parcel of the whole system of marriage that the classical and historical jurists, Muslim jurists, the fuqaha’, designed. We read about the many kinds of divorce that the fiqh allows Muslims. There’s talaq, which is a unilateral type of divorce conveniently available to men only for whatever reasons whenever he feels like it; khul’ which is available to women only; faskh or judicial divorce, which also available to women only; and a divorce a woman can initiate based on the conditions of her marriage contract.

Now, let’s begin with one of the most ridiculous types of divorces – triple talaq, when a husband says I divorce you THREE whole times and voila the wife is divorced just like that (oh, beeteedubz, you know how they say women are emotional and men are so logical, which apparently is the opposite of “emotional”? Yeah, that’s said by the same folks who invented the idea of triple talaq, which allows a man to divorce a woman for whatever reason he wants in a whim just like that. And triple talaq is absolute, meaning the husband can’t take it back during the waiting period or the iddah that some other types of divorces can be taken back in. It’s considered makruh but not haram, so it’s disliked or reprehensible or something that you shouldn’t do but its not haram. This is only the Sunni view. For Shia jurists, all divorces require witnesses, so no divorce is valid without a witness, AND only one pronouncement of divorce is valid at a time, so therefore triple talaaq is completely unacceptable and haram.

Oh and did you know that Muslims are also starting to ask questions like, Muslim men are starting to ask questions like, hey can I divorce my wife over text msg? Or is my divorce valid if I do it via text? Lemme answer that question for you: if it’s unethical, it’s objectively un-Islamic so no, not Islamically valid. I don’t care what the patriarchy tells you, whatever is unethical cannot possibly be Islamic, it cannot possibly ever be okay with God. Folks, we have got to revise our understanding of Islam if we can say with a straight face that something is unethical and STILL view it as Islamically acceptable. That’s not Islam. That’s patriarchy – that’s you.

Okay, so, of course, Islam does recognize divorce as a necessary thing that exists. Not as a necessary evil, by the way. That’s really really important – divorce is not an evil thing in islam. The Qur’an explicitly permits it. all Islamic sources recommend reconciliation whenever possible and more appropriate, but divorce is an option that’s available to everybody, all Muslims. And do not trust people who say it’s not encouraged or that it’s, again, a necessary evil – as Asifa Quraishi-Landes shared in a FB post a couple of years ago, it’s not khul’ or a woman’s divorce that’s discouraged but talaq that’s discouraged, and that’s because of the very unethical nature of talaq. [Not in the video but an imp side note: all of this is assuming that that hadith saying the most hated thing allowed by God is talaaq is even authentic or legitimate to begin with! We’re saying here that IF that hadith is valid, then let’s be clear about the language it uses. It’s not talking about divorce of just any kind but talaq.]

Because you see, the English word divorce isn’t a good equivalent of the Arabic Talaq because in the fiqh (not in the Qur’an), talaq is very specifically the husband’s choice to end the marriage. And the husband can do it whenever he wants to regardless of his reasons, again, because the patriarchy allows men to act on their emotions, and the wife gets absolutely NO say in it.

When a man talaqs his wife, she gets to keep her mahr, the dower that the wife is entitled to at the time of her marriage. Theoretically she gets this; she doesn’t always get this (in practice). We talked about this in the last episode, the connection between mahr and marriage and divorce. Hopefully you remember, but the patriarchal logic is that mahr is the price that a man pays his wife for sexual access to her, and so when he chooses to let go of that access, then she has to keep the mahr; if she chooses to deny him sexual access by wanting a divorce, by wanting to leave him, then she has to return the mahr. That’s the important connection.

BUT! She doesn’t always have to give back the mahr in every divorce. Another type of divorce is a judicial divorce, which is more preferable than khul‘ because the wife gets to keep her mahr this way. The wife can dissolve the marriage through the court so she has to involve a judge in this, if she has what are considered legit reasons – again, legit according to the patriarchy. Whereas the fiqh, again conveniently, allows men to divorce for whatever reasons at any time, the woman can divorce under certain “reasonable conditions.” Reasonable according to whom? You guess it – according to the patriarchy. So something like not liking your husband doesn’t count – according to fiqh, not according to Islam, which explicitly contradicts a hadith on divorce, one of the many hadiths we have on divorce, in which the prophet Muhammad s. does allow a woman to divorce her husband, whom she recognizes is a good person, a person of good character and everything but she JUST isn’t attracted to him! And so he tells her okay, you’re divorced, just give him back what he gave you for mahr. The fiqh, however, says, no, no, no, you can’t just divorce someone just because you don’t like him.

These reasons vary from school to school, so for some schools, for some madhahib, something like husband not providing for his wife or family is legit grounds, abuse is legit grounds, sexual impotence is another ground, the husband’s imprisonment or disappearance is another grounds… but the Hanafi school is interestingly the most restrictive: if the marriage has been consummated, according to the Hanafi fiqh, then the wife has almost no “legitimate” reasons to get a divorce.  Not abuse, not life imprisonment, not lack of maintenance, the husband not taking care of her, not providing for her, nothing that the other – even the sometimes seemingly strictest schools like Hanbali – considered legit reasons. It’s so ridiculous, folks, that if her husband goes missing or goes to jail, according to the Hanafi fiqh, she’d have to wait until he’d either die naturally or until he’d be 104 years old before she can be considered divorced. Patriarchy is unreasonable like that. The author finds that Maliki law offers the most generous grounds for divorce for women, including non-support, so the husband not taking care of his wife, abandonment, and injury – not abuse, but injury! Physical or otherwise.

Khul‘, again, is a type of divorce initiated by the wife, requires the husband’s permission/consent, she has to return the mahr in this case, it’s considered absolute by almost all the jurists, meaning that the husband cannot take her back during the waiting period.

In another type of divorce, a wife can divorce her husband because she’d stipulated in the marriage contract that if X happens, whatever X is that they agreed upon in their marriage contract, then they’ll be divorced automatically. In this case, you don’t have to involve the judge or the court.

The author notes that while there are benefits to these kinds of stipulations, these conditions we can put in our marriage contracts, they’re not the solution to the inequities in divorce laws in fiqh, and they certainly don’t restrict the husband’s right to a unilateral divorce. The assumption, the default remains that the husband can do any of this stuff any time he wants. So he can still get a divorce whenever he wants. But for the wife to do it, she has to put it in her marriage contract. That’s not a privilege. Why do I have to say it in my marriage contract? Why can’t it be assumed that I have a right to something that my husband also has a right to? And it should not be unilateral for anyone. Unilateral anything should be prohibited because it’s an exploitation of someone’s vulnerabilities in most cases.

BUT the author is careful to note here, as she always is, that while these theoretical ideas, these rulings and all, can sound very bleak for Muslim wives, they’re not necessarily reflective of the reality of divorce in practice. We have plenty of evidence for example that these rules are flexible in practice – and some research even suggests that they were perhaps more flexible in the past. Judges and courts were more flexible when it came to women’s divorce in the past, than they are today. But, of course, that varies from place to place and situation to situation and context to context.

Oh and fun fact: did you know that Abu Hanifa said that a woman should and may, Islamically speaking, kill husband if the husband continues to seek sexual access to the woman once she has divorced him? She shouldn’t kill him aggressively or using a murder weapon – because hello, that’s not feminine – but she can use poison or drugs or something more feminine, less aggressive.

Now, you’ll recall from our previous episode on this book that one of the main points of the book is that so many of the rulings on marriage, sex, divorce, family IN FIQH, not necessarily in Islam, do not apply to contemporary Muslims. You normally expect religion to provide you with ideals that you can work toward, but if these, if the stuff that’s in fiqh, are our ideals, then God help us all. Many Muslim countries have sort of acknowledged this, the fact that the fiqh is problematic when it comes to gender and marriage and divorce and so on, and they’ve responded to it in different ways using the language of “reform.” In this chapter, the author discusses current prospects for reform, the ways that Muslim-majority countries have attempted to modify these ideas. So for example, some have tried to totally illegalize triple talaq, or require that the court intervene in divorce cases; or there are financial penalties for divorce on husbands who have no legit reason to divorce the wife, or not requiring the husband’s consent for khul‘ if the wife returns her mahr. But the author notes that these are all methods that only attempt to curb men’s impulsive and extra-judicial use, or abuse, of talaq – they don’t address the root cause of the problem. So for example, these reform efforts still treat these privileges, like male-initiated talaq, as Islamically legitimate; they think that it’s valid that the man has this right to begin with, and they’re not working to get rid of the connection between marriage and ownership. And the fact that, with some exceptions, the wife has to return the mahr in order to initiate a divorce is also an obstacle for women.

All right, so that’s chapter 2, and now we’re gonna talk about chapter 3, which is on slavery and concubinage. So in this chapter, we learn a lot of disturbing stuff that makes us wanna break a lot of other stuff. Like the rules of concubinage – oh, a concubine is a woman that a man gets to sleep with, or rape because enslaved people were not allowed to consent in sexual relations, without marrying her. A concubine’s primary role is sexual, but the man, according to fiqh, is also entitled to sexual access to any woman that he “owns” or has purchased or enslaves. Enslaved women generally weren’t the same as concubines; not every enslaved woman was a concubine; and concubines were given extra special privileges that other enslaved people weren’t given – like better food, better clothing, and sometimes not having to do household labor at all. Yeah, so much for the whole “no sex before marriage” or “no sex with anybody you’re not married to” crap that’s shoved down women’s throats all the time!

In the fiqh, a man is allowed to have as many concubines as well as to have sex with as many women as he wants to that he has enslaved in addition to four whole wives. And, folks, the scholars’ evidence for allowing men to have as MANY concubines as he wanted? That the Qur’an doesn’t limit this number. Yeah! That’s their evidence! And side note: When Muslim feminists today use a lack of quranic prohibition on something or a lack of a specific claim in the Qur’an for something, and then we argue that it should be allowed because the Qur’an doesn’t prohibit it, we are laughed at because apparently that means we don’t know Islam. Do you see how patriarchy gaslights and manipulates women? On the one hand, the Qur’an’s supposed silence on the number of concubines a man is entitled to means that a man can have as many as he wants; but on the other hand, when Muslim women or egalitarian Muslims say oh the Qur’an is silent on this issue so maybe that’s silence is permission, the patriarchy says no, no, no, silence in THAT case means prohibition! What I never understood here is why there’s a limit on polygyny at all, then. Because, really, ethically speaking, there’s absolutely no point to limiting polygyny if the man can then turn around and be like ok since I want more than 4 wives and can’t have them, I’mma go have 86 concubines instead. And I get that a part of the answer here is that the status of the wife and the concubine isn’t the same, I get that. But my question is not simply about permission but about ethics here. How ethical and unethical is any of this? If limiting polygamy was supposedly a question of ethics, what’s happening with concubinage then? I mean, there were dudes among these misogynist who legit claimed that it was DISBELIEF – it was kufr – if a dude wanted to marry 4 women AND have a thousand and one concubines and someone dared to criticize him for doing so. The critic, according to these dudes, is the one committing kufr, not the dude having these concubines, just for pointing out to the sexual exploiter that you can’t be doing unethical shit like this man, man.

The Qur’anic verses granting a person sexual access to the person they have enslaved are not gendered. But given that men like to pretend they are the ultimate audience of the Qur’an, they did decide that God is talking only to them. Oh but actually, there’s a very powerful anecdote that Kecia Ali talks about in her other book on marriage, called Marriage and Slavery in Early Islam, where a woman does argue and she insists that she qur’anically is allowed to sleep with the men she is enslaving and ‘Umar, the khalifah Umar, is like yeah something must be wrong with you mentally if you think this is allowed to you.

Now the ways that Muslim jurists in the past or historical Muslims talked about slavery or sexual relations with enslaved people isn’t something too unusual, since slavery was historically common and officially illegalized only very recently. Viewing women and girls as sexual commodities wasn’t treated as a condemnable thing in the past – by enslavers, though, becasue the enslaved people did find it condemnable. But also the fiqhi idea of milk al-yamin, or ownership by the right hand, comes from the qur’anic maa malakat aimanukum (“those whom your right hand possesses”).  Some contemporary Muslim scholars like to pretend this never happened and that a man could only sleep with his slave women IF he married them first, but this isn’t the case according to the men of fiqh AND I’ve even heard some contemporary dude-scholars explaining it as: “Well, why would he marry her since he purchased her and that serves as the mahr essentially!” In other words, through mahr a man buys his wife just like a man buys a woman he will enslave and has sexual access to by paying another person. The link between mahr/dower and the purchase price isn’t unusual for pre-modern Islam, and we talked about this in the previous episode, but when contemporary Muslims, or contemporary Muslims preachers, use this argument, it’s especially disturbing.

The prophet s. had at least two concubines, Mariyya Qibtiyyah or Mariyya the Copt being the more famous one, although some Muslims today think that’s not the case. Humans of the weird human species like to re-write history like that.

Oh, also, did you know that some Muslims were legit not cool with abolishing slavery – which is why it took a really long time in certain Muslim-majority countries – because how dare we forbid something that God didn’t explicitly forbid? And the arguments in support of slavery in Muslim contexts, btw, are SO similar to those in Christian contexts that I    t’s almost as if it’s got nothing to do with God or religion or scripture but … with … people’s egos and privileges.

Muslims in fiqh are prohibited from enslaving other Muslims, but what’s interesting here is that conversion to Islam did not grant one freedom. I can’t imagine what kind of a world we’d be living in now if we HAD freed people through conversion, if conversion to Islam meant freedom from slavery. You see, the scholars had this option – they could make this a ruling, they had the option to make this possible! I mean, it would’ve been so easy! And greedy people who want more converts to their religion would’ve gotten what they wanted, a higher number of followers of their religion, and slavery would eventually have ended much faster than it did in reality. But then again, if that were the case, if we didn’t have slavery anymore, who would feed the greed of the dudes who benefited from slavery?!

The author here points out that the Qur’an does acknowledge slavery as a reality and also offers several ways for freeing enslaved people. For example, freeing a slave is required as expiation for certain sins. Which suggests that the Qur’an does not expect a person’s status as enslaved to remain permanent & it expects it to change. And also that the Qur’an doesn’t seem to think that slavery is just.           

Now, theoretically, there were certain rules in place for how one was supposed to treat the enslaved. E.g, the fiqh tells us that if you mistreat the person you’re enslaving, they would be freed with no compensation to you as the enslaver. Slaves were entitled to marriage; they could be married off by their enslavers, and an enslaver could not simultaneously enslave a woman who was his wife. If an enslaver slept with his female slaves, any children born from that were to be free and were considered legitimate children of the mother’s enslaver, of the “master”; these children, theoretically, had the same status as any “free” children born to the man’s wives. The woman could no longer be sold to anyone else, and upon the death of her enslaver, she was automatically freed. She and her kids were both automatically freed.

You should know that too many people like to use examples like this to say, See, Islamic slavery was better than, say, American slavery and that’s why it’s not haram, if done right it’s not haram, it’s not immoral. But this kind of apologetic isn’t ok because it totally misses the point.

The author, in this chapter, talks about some of the different ways Muslims today deal with this problematic part of our past. So, for example, some Muslims totally deny that slavery ever happened or that it was ever allowed in Islam, or that the fuqaha’ ever allowed it. Others talk about slavery as if it’s not abolished, as if it’s still happening and it’s still acceptable morally. And then there are those that explain it and justify it defensively and apologetically. E.g., when God gives permission for sleeping with enslaved people, it’s just to make sure that slaves are integrated into society. Or that the man is only allowed to enslave people so that he can be responsible for them financially and otherwise. The author points out that these apologetics aren’t sufficient for internal Muslim reflection, and in my opinion, not in the author’s opinion necessarily, it’s total crap. Because why do you have to enslave someone to ensure that they’re integrated into society? Why do you have to sleep with them to ensure that? The author does an excellent job showing how these contemporary/modern views, or these modern rationales that we provide for slavery, are in clash with historical Islamic ideas. Do we accept these past ideals and ideas as Islamically acceptable just because they happened? Just because that was the norm for a certain class of people in the past, from the enslaver’s perspective? What are the implications of the Prophet Muhammad s.’s and his companion’s practice of capturing people and enslaving the women and giving permission to men, to the capturers, to essentially rape the captured women? What are the implications of all of this for contemporary Muslims? Is it binding because the Prophet permitted it or did it himself, like say having a concubine, or can we reject it today? If it’s not binding today for today’s Muslims because times and contexts are different, what does that mean about what ELSE we’re allowed to disagree with the past Muslim scholars on just because today our standards, our ideals are different than theirs? Because you see, it affects the way they define the word sunnah or think of the Prophet Muhammad as a model for Muslims everywhere at all times but clearly with exceptions? And that, it turns out, sometimes means revising his life to fit our own contemporary ideals so that we end up projecting onto Islam, onto the Qur’an, onto the Prophet Muhammad s. things that are important to us.

So the chapter, like all the others, also points out that the like the other topics discussed in the book – marriage, divorce, same-sex relations, and so on – in the discussion on slavery, the main problem at hand seldom gets serious critical consideration. People talk around it, and very few actually confront the problem – that of the Qur’an’s, sunnah’s, and fiqh’s acceptance of slavery as a legitimate thing, the fact that none of these sources ever really explicitly condemns slavery, including concubinage. And the remnants of the legal practices of slavery universally continue to haunt us especially in the context of gender relations. And this scriptural acceptance poses problems for us, even as most of us today condemn slavery. But, as usual, the author offers productive ways for us to think about these issues. And for Muslims who want to use Islamic arguments against slavery, here are two: the Qur’an implicitly does seek to abolish slavery, and the men of fiqh didn’t interpret these verses as calling for abolition because of their implicit biases (we all have them) – and I would also argue explicit biases of theirs. There are reasons to believe that the Qur’an itself does not permit sexual contact between the enslaver and the enslaved if we look at certain verses carefully. And I discuss some of these in my dissertation, in the chapter on slavery. Slavery was never intended or designed as a permanent reality, and this is clear from the way the Qur’an talks about slavery. It’s possible that the Prophet Muhammad s. did not directly explicitly abolish it, even though he had the choice to, yes, because of the limitations that were posed on him as a prophet. He wasn’t all-powerful, and he had a mission to spread Islam. Fatima Mernissi, in the episode that you recall we did on her book The Veil and the Male Elite,discusses the restrictions that Muhammad s. faced as a prophet when it came to dealing with women and marriage. Really, for the most part, the obstacles he had to overcame were mostly powerful, elite, insecure men, some of whom unfortunately are given the title of sahaaba (“companions”). These arguments do have valid points, the author acknowledges, but they’re not sufficient and certainly don’t answer the question: where is God’s justice in permitting an injustice like slavery IF slavery was indeed an injustice? And the Qur’an talks about it like it is an injustice.

The author’s very clear about the purpose of raising these questions and having this whole discussion: they’re relevant to larger issues of ethics. Again, the title of the whole book is Sexual Ethics & Islam. She asks, “How can one reconcile God’s justice and goodness with the injustice of slavery, or does viewing God as just and good necessitate acceptance of slavery as part of the divine plan for humanity?” I don’t have the page number for this. Opps. [Checked: p. 66 in the 2016 ed.]

All right! I’m all fired up, and I have to go to my Tae Kwon-Do class so I’ll have more for you next time. Probably in a few months, inshaAllah.

Stay feminist and stay kind!

 Salaam!

My Interview with Ayesha Chaudhry on The Colour of God (Oneworld, 2021)

If you haven’t read it yet or heard about it yet, there’s an excellent book by Ayesha Chaudhry that just came out. I had the complete joy of interviewing her for it for the New Books Network. It’s the only book I’ve ever read that I could connect so wholly with. It’s relatable in so many ways, and it was such a necessary read for me at a time when I’m working on healing from so much that’s happening in my short life. If you’re a Brown girl, Muslim, immigrant, religious person, a feminist, anti-white supremacy (or anti supremacy of any kind), justice-loving person, this book will speak to you. It’s so real, so unapologetic, packed with wisdom and brilliant insights on every page, answers to questions about how to live a feminist life, how to live a religious life.

I’m pasting here the description of the book I wrote for the website I do the podcast with. I hope you all enjoy the interview!


In today’s episode, we speak with Ayesha Chaudhry about her new book, The Colour of God (Oneworld Publications, 2021). The book describes Chaudhry’s personal, spiritual, and professional journey as she navigates her life as a South Asian immigrant Muslim girl raised in Canada. Rich in its analysis of its major themes – such as patriarchy, religion, colonialism, Islamophobia, the family, grief – it pushes us to think more deeply about the choices we make in response to various traumas, such as death or the violence of racism. Readers will appreciate the unapologetic rawness, its very personal but also academic nature, the ways Chaudhry weaves Islamic and Qur’anic themes and narratives into her own. Written in an accessible and engaging way, the book will interest academics and non-academics; it will make for an excellent read for both undergraduate and graduate courses in Women’s and Gender Studies, English courses, Islamic and Religious Studies courses, any courses on Migration, and Theory and Methods Courses, among many others. Chaudhry’s ownership and embrace of an Islam that values her humanity and her opposition to the oppressive, patriarchal Islam that she grew up with makes it an essential read for those seeking an Islam rooted in compassion and love.

In our discussion, Chaudhry shares the origins of the book and its usefulness as a teaching resource. We also talk about puritan Islam and the toll it takes on our humanity and the intersection of patriarchy and Islamophobia, highlighting the complexity of telling a story parts of which may fulfil stereotypes about Muslims and the negotiation that the process of telling such a story entails. Chaudhry also shares her ideas on who the intended audience of the book is and her relationship with that audience, the advice she would give to others interested in writing in this genre, and so much more.

Link to the interview: https://newbooksnetwork.com/the-colour-of-god (you can also listen to it on any podcast app).

Script: A Feminist, Intersectional, Inclusive Introduction to Ramadhan | What the Patriarchy?!

This here is the script for my video on Ramadhan on What the Patriarchy. (Script is below the video.)

Hello, salaam, and Ramadhan Mubarak!

In this video, you’re going to learn about the basics of Ramadhan, what it is, why it matters, how do we celebrate it, how does fasting work, and so on.


So the month of Ramadhan has begun. It’s the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which is lunar, it is the most sacred of all the months.

Why it matters

So why does this month matter? The Qur’an reads: “The month of Ramadhan is one in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for humanity with clear signs. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let them fast; and whoever is ill or on a journey (if you’re traveling) – then an equal number of other days (outside of Ramadhan). God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship ….” This is verse 185 of Chapter 2 of the Qur’an where we get some information on fasting.

So this is the month that the Qur’an, the most sacred text of Islam, was first revealed in to the Prophet Muhammad. This month is so special that Muslims believe that every good deed that you practice or do is multiplied hundred and thousand folds, your blessings and rewards from God for all good intentions and actions, including fulfilling religious and other daily obligations, are multiplied. And for this and other reasons, Muslims are esp more generous in Ramadhan.

THE RAMADHAN GREETING

Before I get into the details of fasting, if you’d like to know how to greet a Muslim at this time, or if you wanna know what the greeting you’ve been seeing all around social media is: Ramadhan Mubarak. It means have a blessed Ramadhan. The English equivalent is Happy Ramadhan. This is probabluy the mos common greeting that you might come aacross, but you have other options too, like “Ramadhan kareem” (which is a greeting that’s welcoming the generosity that comes with Ramadhan – it means something like have a generous Ramadhan? May God be generous to you during Ramadhan? May you be generous during Ramadhan? The word kareem in Arabic means generous). You can say it English too: happy Ramadhan! Or “(have a) blessed Ramadhan.”

And if you’re not Muslim, you should totally feel comfortable saying it to Muslims in your life because it’s wonderful to feel seen as a minority, so if you’ve a Muslim friend, greet them with this, even if they’re not fasting. Speaking of which, I advise against asking about their fasting because some Muslim struggle with it, some aren’t able to fast, some don’t want to fast and feel guilty, some have a complicated relationship with the religion or with God or with their community and therefore may not fast currently and there’s social/religious stigma against not fasting if you’re deemed able by others, and so the question can be triggering for them or they may feel uncomfortable sharing with you that they’re not fasting.

And, btw,  Ramadan = Ramazaan = Ramzaan. You might see Ramadhan spelled with a z, or a d, or a dh. They’re all the equivalents of an Arabic letter called dhaad (ض) and it’s just pronounced differently in different languages. All are correct because languages are a wonderful like that.

Now for some general information about Ramadhan and fasting.

WHEN DO YOU FAST?

It’s not just from sunrise to sunset that we fast – it’s from dawn to sunset. And fun fact? “Sunset” is debatable, and all Muslims don’t agree on what exactly God meant when She said fast from this time till this time cuz She didn’t use the words sunset/sunrise. Qur’anic verse 2:187 tells us that the fast begins when we see “the light of dawn breaking the darkness of night” or “until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of the night” (literally, in the Arabic, something about being able to distinguish a white thread from a black thread, or the white of dawn from the darkness of night! And that the fast ends when “night” begins. So Shi’a and Sunni Muslims, the dominant branches of Islam, understand these verses differently and don’t break their fast at the same time, and this is why we have to be careful and not say “sunset” as if that’s THE agreement – it’s not.

And by fast, I mean not just from food: yes, water, too, but not JUST food and water. Any sexual activity, any fighting, any speaking badly of others, any other bad habits, hurting people, even anger, etc., all such things invalidate the fast. Which means that eating or drinking anything at all – except by mistake, unintentionally – or fighting with someone, or cheating or lying and so on, while you are fasting, any time throughout the day while you’re fasting, breaks your fast. When a fast is invalidated, that means you have to make it up outside of Ramadhan, and you have the whole year until Ramadhan returns.

HOW?

To begin your fast, you have several options. You may go to sleep as you normally would and wake up at any time before dawn to eat your morning meal. We have timetables that are calculated in advance that tell us when the fast begins and ends. Another option is to eat before you sleep and only wake up at your normal time as you do outside of ramadhan. This will mean, tho, that your fast will be very long and you’ll be hungry much longer. And the idea is to do the best you can to avoid having to break your fast out of necessity, and necessity is defined by you the faster. Another option I’ve seen – and this was in Morocco and Oman – is that you stay up all night until dawn, eating and socialising with family and friends and neighbours & praying occasionally, and then sleep once you’ve done your morning/dawn prayer, and then wake up in the middle of the day…. Yeah, some Muslim-majority countries will adjust their work day during ramadhan so that you can do your fast just fine.

So then you fast all day while the sun is out, doing your best not to break it if you don’t have to, and then you break it. How do you break it? Well, all you have to do is to just eat or drink something real quick at the time designated for fast-breaking. You might then go do your evening/sunset prayer, and then join a whole meal with your family or friends or community, if you’re eating with other people. Or you might break your fast, finish your meal, and then do your evening prayer. Either way, the breaking of the fast is symbolic and needs to be done on time. Oh, speaking of breaking fasts, you might see a lot of dates in grocery stores around the world, and that’s because a lot of Muslims break their fast with dates, the fruit, which is how the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast.

WHAT DO YOU DO WHILE FASTING ALL DAY?

Throughout the day, you want to get as much prayer and closeness with God as possible. You may still go to work and fulfill other obligations (& God rewards you for those), but you want to remember constantly that you’re fasting. You try to worship in whatever ways and to whatever extent you can, so you might recite different names of God all day long (not necessarily out loud), you might send blessings on the prophet Muhammad and Abraham, you might make sure to do all your 3-5 prayers on time throughout the day, you might read the Quran as much as possible and aim to complete one whole juz’ (part) – there are 30 juz’s of the Qur’an total, so you might try to do at least one a day to complete the whole Quran in ramadhan), you might spend time with other people and connect with others, you might visit places where you feel the presence of God and goodness to keep yourself spiritually grounded, you might volunteer in your community, you might give a lot of charity, and so on.

All of this is much easier this month than others becuz fun fact? Muslims believe that Satan/the devil is tied up in Ramadhan so can’t tempt us to do evil! Meaning that your ultimate source of temptation is tied up and has no access to you! For those of us who still do evil, or don’t do good things in Ramadhan, or don’t fulfill our obligations and stuff, that’x cuz we’re such lost causes we don’t even need Satan anymore.

What else does one do throughout the day as they fast? Ahh, but this depend so much on your gender and where you live! If you have a big family and community and you get together with others for a large meal to break your fast with, for example, AND you’re a woman, you’ll have very little time throughout the day to do anything but prepare for this very huge feast. (& we know cooking and house work generally are very gendered tasks.) If you have a smaller group to eat with, though, you’re probably not spending as much time cooking these meals. Bottom line, too many women don’t get as much of an opportunity, or aren’t able to take advantage of Ramadhan, as are many men.

So, WHO FASTS?

The basic answer is, whoever can. There are so many exceptions to fasting. It’s one of the things I love so much about Islam. The flexibility of it and the practicality of it, how incredibly accommodating it is – like all other religions. You fast IF you can. The idea isn’t to kill you or make you suffer. On the contrary, the Qur’anic verses on fasting include a verse that God intends for us ease, not difficulty (Q. 2:185). People on medication for whatever reasons are exempt; anyone to whose health fasting from food and/or water is a danger is exempt; you’re not required to fast during your menstruation (you can if you want to – you just don’t have to if you’re not able to! For more on menstruation and fasting, see my video linked in the description of this video); nursing and pregnant people are exempt; older people/ the elderly are exempt; so are children (anyone who hasn’t attained puberty yet, no specific age), anyone sick for just a few hours or a whole day or of a more complicated illness or chronically ill; anyone traveling long-distance (this is also negotiable – traveling on a camel or a horse in 7th century when the Qur’an was revealed was a tad more difficult than it is today, but you’re still allowed to not fast when you’re traveling even if you can do so. But while anyone in these groups is exempt from fasting, still, whoever can handle it is encouraged to fast. Basically, it’s all negotiable – you decide if you’re not able to manage it. You decide if your body is able to handle a fast, and don’t trust anyone else to tell you whether you can or can’t handle it.

So ultimately, the idea is whoever CAN fast, is able to fast, should fast; it’s considered obligatory on them to fast. The “can” part is imp and Muslims often emphasise the health component, that everyone who fasts must be healthy enough to fast. What we don’t often hear, however, is that our definition of “healthy” over the last few decades has evolved and isn’t the same as what it was in the past; e.g., today, we (collectively, as a humanity) recognize the importance of good mental health more than we have before, and so even if the historical texts don’t explicitly mention something like “people who have depression don’t have to fast if they can’t handle it,” or “people with anorexia are exempt,” we can still extend our definition of “ability” to include all components of health, not physical alone. I also include spiritual, emotional health in this, and again, you do what you’re ABLE to do. (If you’re a Muslim listening to this this and have been told by someone else that you should fast even tho YOU know you can’t handle a fast, trust yourself and don’t fast. Don’t discuss it with people who’ll guilt you into fasting. Ultimately, this isn’t abt anyone else.)

Lets talk about some of THE TECHNICALITIES

Some Muslims take fasting and the details of what breaks and makes it and who can and can’t fast more literally than others. So they might ask questions that other people find silly and “missing the point.” For example, is my fast broken or invalidated if I taste my food as I’m cooking it? Is a fast invalidated by using toothpaste or accidentally swallowing mouthwash while brushing your teeth during a fast? They might ask, I broke my fast a couple mins after sunset; is that ok? I was eating and there was still taste in my mouth from what I was eating and the adhaan (the call to prayer) happened, and the fast had begun; is my fast valid now?

But in such cases, it’s important to remember that religion means different things to different people, and it’s valuable that some people care this deeply about whether they’re doing something very, very right, exactly as intended by God – even if we can never really determine what God’s intentions are. Not so much fun when they pressure or force you to follow their rules, sure, but as long as they’re not doing that, they are allowed to get technical and focus on what someone else might think isn’t the point.

WHY FAST?

Now you might be thinking, this is really cool and I’m learning a lot, but why even fast in the first place? We have to be careful here. I grew up to a very terrible explanation that I’ve seen given on social media over the years, too, which is that “we fast so we can understand how poor people live, what it’s like to go hungry.” Yikes. My loves, poor people also have to fast if they fit the criteria of people able to fast! Hungry people too. You don’t break your fast just because you get hungry – unless the hunger is serious enough where it can damage your health, in which case, some interpretations of Islam would require you to break the fast because preservation of health is one of the objectives of the sharia (loosely translated as Islamic law).

But Muslims give all kinds of reasons for why they fast. The Quran doesn’t explain why, other than that religious communities and people before us had to fast, that it may help us become mindful of God. So we do it because the Quran prescribes it, because it’s a thing that many religions have historically valued and some continue to do it. I am personally not averse to comparisons with lent, although for many Christians with lent, you can decide whatever to fast from, whereas for Islam, generally the idea is that, unless you’re unable to fast the conventional way, you can’t “replace” the rules for no food and water with “I’m gonna fast from Diet Coke for the next 30 days.” You MAY fast your own way if you belong in any of the groups exempt from fasting.

But religions that view fasting as a big deal mostly have treated it as a method to discipline humans. And anyone who has ever fasted knows how much discipline fasting requires – not getting angry / controlling your anger? Not eating just cuz you are hungry or feel like it? Not acting on any sexual desires? Treating people with kindness and respect even if they annoy you or that you don’t like? All of this requires discipline. So that’s my own explanation of it: it teaches me discipline (that’s also why I pray “the Muslim way” at the “Muslim times”.) but also? It makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger. I esp love the community aspect of ramadhan – like you get to break the fast together with a bunch of other people, or start the fast with a bunch of other people – although with COVID, please be safe.

So I love knowing that most Muslims around the world, in any given city in the world, are fasting and celebrating this month. It’s also the most generous time of the year. I’ve experienced that generosity, and it’s gorgeous.


But bottom line, most Muslims fast because they consider it an obligation, a command from God. But also this same most Muslims have most likely found other reasons, more personal reasons, to look forward to fasting, to encourage others to fast too, to enjoy the fast, to appreciate it, and so on.

FASTING OUTSIDE OF RAMADHAN

Fasting is so meaningful – and so symbolic – that you don’t fast just in Ramadhan. There are many days designated throughout the Islamic calendar that are considered important for fasting, such as days the Prophet Muhammad fasted on and recommended it for others, too. It’s just that the Ramadhan fasts are religiously obligatory, and one’s accountable to God for fulfilling them. Outside of Ramadhan, and outside of the recommended fasts on other days, fasting is a way to expiate for certain sins or indiscretions a person commits. This means if you’ve committed certain acts that you’re not supposed to as a Muslim person, you can seek forgiveness from God by fasting for a certain number of days with the intention that may God forgive you for the thing you did that you weren’t supposed to do.


WHAT’S WITH THE MOON?

The moon is kind of a big deal in lunar calendars, you see. That’s how you know when a new month is here. Many Muslims take this literally and want to see the moon themselves, although it’s a bit more complicated so even if you see it yourself and your community decides that, nope, Ramadhan is not tomorrow, it’ll be too lonely to start the fast alone. Doing it with a community is important, so you go with what the community around you decides. Fun fact: while most (all?) Muslims universally rely on calculations some way in advance to determine the time of their daily 3-5 prayers, somehow when it comes to fasting and the two main celebrations (the two Eids), some of us take moonsighting a bit too seriously and believe that if you don’t see the moon ourselves with the naked eye, then we can’t begin our fast.

And this reminds me. Some Muslims decorate their homes in preparation for the month. These decorations are very moon-focused, and now you understand why! There’s also a whole event for moon-sighting. So moon-sighting is kind of a big deal.


 But CAREFUL, THO.

I don’t want to be romanticising ramadhan and fasting and certainly don’t want to generalise so that it sounds like I’m talking abt all individual Muslims. It should go without saying that Islam is an incredibly diverse religion, and Muslims come in all kinds of beliefs and ways of being Muslim. Ramadhan is generally a very beautiful month, Muslims do generally look forward to it (even if they don’t LOVE fasting in warm or hot weathers in long days), and the rules are generally followed by most fasters – I suspect. However, especially for Muslims living alone, or who don’t have a good community, or who aren’t on good terms with God or Islam or their community, or Muslims who have faced serious challenges recently or during another Ramadhan, or Muslims who have lost a loved one recently and this is their first Ramadhan without that loved one, or Muslims who are new parents (esp mothers), or Muslims with an illness of any kind – these are all groups of Muslims who might struggle a lot during Ramadhan. They may not fast, they may hurt when fasting, they may dread this month. And they exist and they are important and they’re still Muslim. So we don’t want to pretend like Ramadhan is a great time for everyone.

If you, dear listener, are that person, I wish you well, I wish you beauty, I wish you good health, and I wish you peace!  There are Facebook groups dedicated to Muslims who don’t fast – for whatever reasons – to provide a community. Find your community and be well!

WHAT HAPPENS ONCE RAMADHAN ENDS?

Once Ramadhan ends, the first day of the next month is the first day of Eid. There are two major Eids in the Islamic calendar, and the first one comes immediately after the fasting month ends, and it’s called Eid-al-Fitr – literally the Eid of breaking the fast. The second one occurs roughly 2 months and 10 days after the first one and is called Eid-ul-Adha, literally the Eid of Sacrifice (yeah, most Muslims take this literally and sacrifice an animal; some Muslims don’t take it this literally and might interpret sacrifice more metaphorically – it’s a long story for another time). For both Eids, you hang with family and community, there’s a prayer with a sermon that happens that you try to attend if you can, you greet each other with Eid mubaarak!, you wear new clothes if you can afford them, you eat lots and lots of foods with people you love and hang with, and depending on where you live and how many relatives you have around you, you might visit as many of your relatives as you can in a given day. The first day is the most important day of Eid, but it lasts for three days, and Eid is a holiday in Muslim-majority countries. Children get money as gifts on Eid – grown ups might too – and it’s called Eidi in some languages.

In Conclusion

Okay, so I think that’s your what, why, when, who of fasting.

Stay kind and I hope you have a feminist Ramadhan!