Alhamdulillah I had some energy and lots of inspiration to produce the next video for your favorite YouTube channel, What the Patriarchy?!
You can view it here: https://youtu.be/-3fv2jAZtt8. It’s ~21 minutes long.
I’m pasting here the script to the video. I don’t think I departed much from it, so! ❤
Hello and assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu! Welcome to #WhatThePatriarchy, where we are working on destroying the patriarchy from its roots. Thank you for being here with me. This is Shehnaz.
I’m so sorry I’ve been away for so long – so many other commitments, alhamdulillah, and also a lack of energy to produce more of these. Partly because the patriarchy is so exhausting, y’all! But we gotta do this, we gotta do this work because the patriarchy needs to die asap. I would like to give credit to the folks who gave me the energy and inspiration to create this episode and to get back on track – folks who’ve been emailing me the last few months asking wonderful questions, sharing their struggles, thank you for writing. (This also includes the academics who reached out to me, all women and non-binary folks, I have to add, after the whole fiasco on an academic Islam listserv where some mansplainers tried to criticize my videos without even watching them after some wonderful male allies of mine shared links to these videos with them. The patriarchy, I tell you.)
In this episode, we will discuss how the patriarchy creates, constructs, imagines, portrays God in the image of an abusive man. That’s not God – that’s patriarchy. I wanna highlight here the importance of having complicated relationships with God – and reflections on such relationships as an act of jihad.
Here’s the thing. In the last few days, I’ve received several emails from Muslim women who are hurting, who are struggling with their faith, and when they look for resources to help them, they see the fact of patriarchy only. And this patriarchy yells at them, makes them feel terrible, attacks them, dismisses them. And then they accidently or randomly come across something on Islamic feminism and they tell me about the impact of this new world on their faith and their relationship with Allah and Islam. I’m not the only Muslim feminist blogger who gets such emails – ask anyone and they’ll tell you that get such emails too.
And what I’m realizing slowly is that they ALWAYS say that Islamic feminism saved them, that it saved them theologically and spiritually, it saved their relationship with Islam. It brought them back to Islam.
And that’s MY story too!
I have NEVER met anyone – women, my intended audience for this vlog – saying that patriarchal or mainstream Islam saved them. That never happens. In fact, that actually hurts them. Many people leave Islam as a result of the mainstream Islam that’s all around us, the Islam that’s sexist, bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic, and lacks of compassion.
And when I say here that Islamic feminism saves these people, Islamic feminism is a fluid term – it doesn’t have to be one specific interpretation of Islam. It’s just not sexist, not violent – emotionally, spiritually, physically, etc. – it’s compassionate, it’s egalitarian, it’s welcoming, it’s validating. And it’s accepting of people’s journey. It’s a kind of Islam that recognizes and values that people are on a journey, that Muslims are on a journey, and this journey is not the same for everyone, for obvious reasons, partly because of how different our experiences are both on this journey and generally as citizens of our world. We may not even have the same destination – but generally, that destination can be God,
I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received from Muslim women telling me that they are or were on the verge of leaving Islam but discovered that the Islam they grew up with is not the only Islam out there. That the God they were taught about is not the God of the Qur’an, of Islam, or the only kind of God that they have to believe in. That this God is Compassionate and loving, is Beautiful and loves Beauty, doesn’t punish people for the smallest things like showing a strand of their hair. Almost all of my life, except the past year or so, I was told that if a man sees my hair, even a strand of my hair, I will be punished for that, and I don’t wanna traumatize you with the specific detailed description of what the punishment is. There are Muslims who believe that if a man sees your hair or any parts of your body other than your face while a man is fasting, his fast breaks and YOU are responsible for it, you’re accountable to God for it. What the hell, patriarchy?! What kind of a God does that to people?!
And this is where Muslim teachers and preachers of Islam need to be very careful because they’re abusing their responsibility as teachers of the religion. You’re pushing people away from, not bring them towards, God. You’re accountable to God for that.
But here’s the thing: this isn’t from God. This isn’t God. This is the patriarchy imagining and portraying God in the image of MEN, and very particular kind of men – the angry, cold, evil, sexist, unforgiving, abusive men. Have you ever paused to reflect on what your idea of God is and how similar, if not identical, that idea is to an abusive man? Is this God out to just punish you at all times and seldom reward you and have any compassion towards you? Does this God criticize you for the smallest thing you do, do you find yourself begging for this God’s forgiveness because you made the smallest, harmless mistake? Or is this God more forgiving, merciful, understanding – like the most common phrase in the Qur’an teaches us, the basmalah, bismillahirrahman irrahim?
Somehow, when I think about the relationship that the Prophet s. had with Allah, I don’t see an angry, vicious, evil God; I find a loving God who is also very funny and chill! That’s the God of Islam.
But I also wanna be careful here and, well, as academic, I’m not supposed to oversimplify things like this. But, then again, I’m not imagining academics here as my audience – it’s Muslims struggling with the kind of Islam that many of us grow up with that I’m speaking to here. Either way, I want to take a brief moment to acknowledge that the Qur’anic idea of God is not a simple loving God. Like the Jewish Bible, like the New Testament, like scriptures in other religions, the Qur’anic God IS complicated. And if for no other reason, THIS is why we are absolutely allowed to have complicated relationships with God, because God’s persona is complicated too. We’re not robots – our experiences with religion have everything to do with how we imagine and understand and relate with God.
So back to the tragedy of patriarchal visions of God. They makes you want to escape yourself and your past and GOD. I seldom come across men talking about Islam and God as compassionate and understanding and validating – and practical. They get angry, they shout, they get defensive, they gaslight you, they lie to you, they make up things, they cite only other similarly spiritually violent men to convince you of their point – all signs of abusive men.
In other words, these dudes project onto Allah their own personalities, so that God becomes JUST. LIKE. THEM. Just the mere fact that they even dare to imagine God as a MAN is a problem to begin with. This while they insist God has no gender. Okay, if God has no gender, and we’re allowed to use a gendered pronoun for God, can we also use “She” for God then? They panic when you do this. That’s the first sign right there that God as they portray Her DOES in fact have a gender, and that gender is not-woman.
How on earth have we, as an ummah, allowed for this to continue for this long?
Okay, so now that we’ve established that the God that these scary-ass teachers of Islam portray is actually not God but a scary-ass misogynist human, we have to ask, what is at stake for these preachers of Islam in these kinds of teachings? What do they stand to gain from the current view of God and what do they lose from an alternative, more kinder view of God? Everything! I mean, can you imagine how much power these men enjoy if they can convince people, their audiences, that their opinions are actually God’s laws? They would lose so much if they didn’t intimidate and scare us into thinking this way about God! They’d lose the infinite amount of male privilege and supremacy they enjoy. These folks thrive on scaring us into submission – not to God, in fact, as should be clear now, but into themselves. It’s like as Amina Wadud tells us, patriarchy is shirk. We don’t end up doing what God says to do – we do what these men tell us to do. A lot of them won’t have a job if you were to think critically about what they teach you in the name of this cruel God that they have invented!
But it’s also possible that these projections aren’t intentional or deliberate or even conscious. They may very well be subconscious too. You see, I teach a first-year course on Abrahamic religions, and we read a lot of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures there – they also learn about the Baha’i Faith but not in as much detail as the other three; not the point here. And I always have a couple of Muslim students in these classes. The Muslims, too, but mostly the non-Muslims, generally speaking, express surprise about the way that God is portrayed in the Qur’an. So they’re usually surprised that God forgives Eve and Adam when they disobey God; or that before the flood of Nuh or really any other destructions, God gives the people plenty of warnings. (Side note here: I don’t want to justify these destructions – I think when looked at from the perspectives of the innocent people who were destroyed in these events, like animals and plans and women and children, everything changes.) But my point here is that these non-Muslim students of mine are coming to the Qur’an with certain biases, many of which we unpack and discuss throughout the semester, and are therefore then surprised when they don’t find the kind of God in the Qur’an that they were expecting to find. They don’t grow up with Muslim scholars and preachers teaching them about Islam and God, so in their case, it’s the islamophobia around them that’s introducing such images of God in their heads. And they’re not always conscious of these images. But some of my Muslim students are absolutely shocked that the image of God that they grew up with is not supported in the Qur’an either. And this is why I insist that these portrayals of God that so many of us grow up with are literally inventions! Of the patriarchy. They’re made up because they help keep the patriarchy going.
In these Muslims’ case, it’s Muslim patriarchy that’s responsible for the lies they internalize. I don’t wanna give patriarchal Islam a benefit of the doubt here, but I wonder if some of the good teachers of Islam who have internalized these images of God have ever actually reflected on the impact of their teachings about God to Muslims who are sincerely searching for God.
I’ll end with this note: we’re all on a journey. You’re on a journey. Even the misogynist Muslim teachers of Islam are on a journey. Recognize this and ask yourself where you want to go and where you are. Who do you want to meet along the way? Who do you want to avoid along the way? Why might that be? The Compassionate God you’re searching for IS there. But there’s also going to be a lot of obstacles on the way to this destination, to God, and those obstacles include the patriarchal visions of Islam that you’re bombarded with on a daily basis.
And as you begin to think about this journey of yours, remember what I said in the first episode on this channel: this is your jihad. Discovering the God of Islam is your jihad. Working on your relationship with this God is your jihad. And there’s no limit on how long it should take you to get to that destination. Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to take your time. You have no reason to rush – if anything happens to you during this journey, remember what Allah tells us: it’s as if you died in the path of Allah.
If you find this vlog beneficial – and I’m so glad that you do – I encourage you to read more on Islamic feminism and write to the feminists whose works I discuss in these episodes. I’m only primarily repeating what other scholars have found and said.
That’s all, beloveds! Thank you for watching, and I’ll see you in the next episode, inshaAllah. Coming up next is an episode on why it’s totally legitimate and okay for Muslims, but especially Muslim women, to have a complicated relationship with the Prophet Muhammad s. Stay tuned.