Script below the video.
Hello, salaam, and welcome to the channel, What the Patriarchy, where we exist to dismantle the patriarchy one Islamic feminist issue at a time! Thank you for being here. This is Shehnaz.
I want to talk today about the treatment of Muslims who don’t pray or fast, who don’t practice Islam according to other Muslims’ standards. Because these Muslims are treated like some monsters. They are demonized, they are stigmatized, they are spiritually blackmailed into doing the things that mainstream, patriarchal, standard traditional Islam wants them to do. But let’s be real – that’s a terrible strategy to welcome someone into Islam, to keep someone in Islam! Because today, we have a whole bunch of other options to pursue – there are other religions in the world, there are religious spaces and communities that are very welcoming to everyone, accepting of everyone, that don’t make people feel like God doesn’t like them, like they are insignificant. A lot of people seek religion because they need something meaningful, something in their lives that grounds them, something that is larger than them, something that makes them feel like they belong, something that provides them a community. But if Muslims or other religious people who struggle with their faith, with their relationship with God, with their relationship with their community, get told that God will punish them if they don’t pray, if they don’t cover their hair, if they show their legs, if they marry non-Muslims (if they’re women), if they’re gay or lesbian or trans, these Muslims can easily just respond with something like, “Ya, I don’t wanna practice that religion, then! That’s not my God. That’s not for me. I’ll go choose a different religion, a different community.” And don’t get me wrong – people are welcome to choose whatever religions they’d like, or no religion at all. Nobody has to stay in any religion that they don’t feel valued in. That’s totally legitimate, that’s totally fair. But what I’m pointing to here, what I’m calling out here, is the very terrible strategy that harms people rather than embracing them.
Go to any Muslim group or space on social media, on Facebook, on Twitter, and there’s bound to be so many Muslims talking about how they don’t fast because of some scary health issues and that they’re still told by others that they must fast just because others can’t see what they struggle with. And how they don’t feel like they’re Muslim because they’re not fasting; they don’t have a community. This trend of explaining to other people why you don’t fast is really distressing to me. Because, folks, you don’t have to justify your choices to other people. You don’t have to explain to other people why you don’t fast or why you don’t pray. You don’t owe me an explanation; you don’t owe anyone an explanation! It breaks my heart because there’s so much stigma against not fasting in Ramadhan if you’re not perceived by other people as “unhealthy” that you get people breaking down about what God will do to them if they don’t fast. Spiritual trauma is a real thing, and I personally carry a lot of it. And it’s been such a long, painful, and frankly lonely journey to heal from it, to get out of it, to work on it. So we have to stop putting other people through this!
So listen, to those of you don’t fast or pray – for whatever reasons, even if it’s because you don’t want to, because you don’t feel like it, because you’re not inspired to fast, because you don’t believe you have to fast – you have to put your own self at the center of your relationship with God, with Islam. Not other people. You are the main character in your life, in your story, in your journey toward God. So make this about yourself. And putting yourself at the center of your story means setting boundaries with other people – and making difficult decisions like who you will surround yourself with. Walk out of the spaces that harm you, of the communities that harm you, that harm your soul just because you don’t practice Islam according to their standards. Surround yourself with beauty, with love, with compassion. Remove any obstacle from your path, from your life that comes between you and God, obstacles that makes you feel like you don’t belong, like you don’t deserve compassion. Surround yourself with people – of any religion, of any faith, or of no faith at all – who inspire you, who make you fall in love with the world, who make you fall in love with yourself, with God, who bring out the best in you.
And don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying don’t accept any criticism of yourself. It’s important that you grow, that you improve your character as needed, that you learn and evolve. That you become a better person. But this is where it can get really spiritually dangerous: everyone’s going to have different opinions on how you need to live, on how you need practice Islam, on what you need to change about yourself, what God wants from you, and so on. Don’t listen to everyone! Do some internal reflections of yourself, some reflection of yourself – who are you, do you want a religion, do you believe in God, do you want a community, what kind of a community would you like, and so on; and once you figure this out, set goals for yourself, and work toward those goals. And hopefully this involves surrounding yourself with people who bring you closer to those goals, who bring you peace, who are compassionate to you, who embrace you wholeheartedly, but who also hold you accountable when needed according to your standards and your goals.
And also? Don’t share your journey and your process with other people, with people who don’t understand it, who don’t respect it.
And speaking of finding people who inspire you. I was once talking to a dude at an Islamic center that I was studying at, where I was taking some classes, about my research project. I was working on a dissertation at that time. And this dude – who was incredibly patriarchal and I don’t even know why I even cared about his opinion on my dissertation project, on my research – but he went off on this rant about how he didn’t like a certain Muslim feminist, a Muslim woman scholar I was talking about in my project because according to him, he said, “I just don’t get a good vibe of piety from her, you know. I’m not moved, not inspired when I listen to her.” And I remember being so surprised by this and I said, “… I do!” because this woman, when I listen to her? I’m moved to tears! She makes me love God, she makes me want to get closer to God. She makes me feel like I belong, like God is my God too and not just the God of the patriarchy, of misogynists, of the people for whom a Muslim, a person isn’t a Muslim if they don’t pray or fast!
And that’s what you need, too – an Islam that inspires you. That’s relevant to you. That’s meaningful to you, that sees you, that embraces you, that values you. Not like the one I grew up with, where women are punished more harshly by God than men are! One that sets up women to go to hell, more women to go to hell than men. Like, it’ll say you as a woman must cover your hair but a man doesn’t have to, so that when you don’t, that’s as in and then you go to hell for it! That’s total BS! If you were to create a list of the haram things, things that are haram according to this patriarchal, standard, mainstream Islam, you’ll notice for yourself how much longer the list of haram things is for women than for men. (I actually do have a list like that. It’s on my blog somewhere, and I’ll link to it in the description of this video.)
When I was struggling with my faith several years ago—and I sometimes still do, like everyone else – I had a wonderful mentor who embraced me wholeheartedly with all my flaws and who congratulated me for having doubts, for having questions. And they told me, “Listen, I believe that if I don’t have the right to doubt or question things, then I don’t want the right to believe.” And that’s stuck with me since then; that’s exactly what I needed to hear at that time! And I want to pass that on to you – you do have a right to question, to have doubts. You are allowed to struggle with your relationship with God. And nobody can take that away from you. It’s an important part of the process of growth. And, besides, for so many of us, the reasons we struggle with faith is precisely because of how other Muslims treat us!
For too many Muslims, the thing that takes you outside of the fold of Islam, that makes you not a Muslim anymore basically, is not praying or not fasting or some other “pillar” of Islam – and, yet, somehow, so conveniently, not something like domestic violence, or rape, or murder, or sexual assault, or exploitation, or oppression, corruption, secret polygamous marriages, unethical marriages, or other unethical behavior that actually has an impact on other people, on society! Why don’t these things make a person a non-Muslim? Listen, don’t trust anyone who tells you that you’re not a Muslim just because you don’t pray or don’t fast! The only thing, literally the only thing, that takes you outside of Islam, that determines if you’re Muslim or not is your own decision to not be a Muslim anymore, your own statement that you’re not a Muslim. Islam is not tied to any one or more practices – not even the 5 pillars! It’s only your own will, your own choice to leave Islam that makes you a non-Muslim. As long as you identify as Muslim, no one else gets to take that away from you – not other Muslims, not non-Muslims, not the misogynists in Islam or in Muslim communities or mosques, etc. and not the Islamophobes, both of whom, interestingly, ridicule Muslim feminists and LGBTQ-friendly Islam! I always say, I refuse to leave Islam and I will never leave Islam because I refuse to leave it to the misogynists who’ve monopolized it, and I also refuse to let the Islamophobes think that my only two options as a Muslim feminist, as a Muslim woman, are to either leave Islam completely or be anti-justice.
Have you noticed how the God of patriarchal Islam and patriarchal religions generally resembles too much to an abusive, sexist man? That’s because the patriarchy creates God in the image of an abusive, sexist man. I’ve already made a video on how God is created in the image of an abusive sexist man, so you can watch that for more examples. But I assure you – God is not abusive. God is beauty, and God loves beauty, and God is compassionate.
I teach the Qur’an to children and grown-ups, and when the grown-ups describe to me their experiences of having tried to learn the Qur’an before, it breaks my heart. That was my experience too – you know, where if you don’t wear the proper clothing while reciting the Qur’an, or if you touch the Qur’an while you’re on your period, or if you mispronounce a letter or a word, or if you don’t place the Qur’an on the highest shelf in your house, then you’re going to hell! Folks, no! That’s not Islam! That’s oppression! In Islam, the process, the effort, the journey, the path that’s much more important than the destination itself, than the conclusion, the final result.
So basically, you matter. You are valuable to God. God loves you no matter where, at what stage in your journey you are.
Let me end this here with what you can do if you’re struggling spiritually and aren’t fasting or praying and are worried that Ramadhan is going away and you won’t get to take advantage of the opportunities of accumulating the blessings that come with Ramadhan. Fasting and praying, very important to be sure, are not the only forms of worship in Islam. Fulfilling your regular, everyday, daily obligations is also a form of worship in Islam. Checking in on people you love and care about is also worship, spending time with your loved ones – and whoever they are, not just family – is also worship. Taking care of your own self, valuing yourself, eating well, exercising is worship. Volunteering in your community is worship. Being grateful to God for the littelest and biggest things in your life is worship. Giving charity is worship! Reading the Qur’an in Arabic and/or with translations is worship, even if you’re on your period. Ultimately, working toward whatever it is that you’re seeking, that you’re searching for, being on that journey itself, is worship!
In a world where injustices of all kinds continue to exist, we don’t need yet another one of pushing people away from God especially when they want God, when they are seeking God.
I’ll stop here. I hope that you find the beauty, the peace that you deserve, that you’re working for, that you’re searching for. And remember: God tells us in the Qur’an that She wishes for us, She intends for us ease, not hardship, not difficulty. That’s in Qur’anic verse 6 of chapter 5 (Q. 5:6). So be easy on yourself.
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