A Discussion of Fatima Mernissi’s The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam

Salaam, all!
I’ve just published my latest video on YouTube.

In this episode, we discuss Fatima Mernissi’s book The Veil And The Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation Of Women’s Rights In Islam.I address some of her main points and then in detail discuss some of the specific topics she covers, such as female leadership (turns out, that hadith on nations not succeeding if they let a woman lead is false!), Qur’anic verse 4:34, female inheritance, slavery, the hijab, Abu Hurayrah and why Aisha (r.) didn’t trust him, the Battle of the Camel, and a lot more!

I’m pasting the script below in case anyone needs it. Note that captions are available. I recognize I’m still speaking fast (sighs!) – a reminder that until I fix this habit of mine, you can change the speed of my speech by clicking the setting icon on the video, then “playback speed,” and instead of the default “Normal,” you can change it to a lower one so it’s slower.

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Islamic feminism and the fear of inciting Islamophobia

This conversation needs to take place more widely, especially in feminist Muslim circles as well as in those fighting racism, Islamophobia, and other bigotry in the West: We need a way–a platform–to discuss problems internal to Muslims and Muslim/Islamic history that are rooted in patriarchy and that support and maintain patriarchy in way that would not be interpreted as perpetuating and/or endorsing Islamophobia. I, as a Muslim woman very critical of many practices and beliefs endemic to the Muslim communities I’m a part of, should have the freedom and the space to constructively criticize some of our traditions, even those espoused by the past scholars of Islam who are a part of the “canon” that forms Islamic scholarship and the Islamic tradition. And I should have this freedom and space to do so without worrying that Islamophobes will usurp my experiences, my ideas, my criticism and misuse them for their frightening agenda to hurt and malign Muslims and Islam. The Muslim community (in the West) needs to stop attempting to stifle internal criticism just because “what will the Islamophobes say? Let’s keep the bigger picture in mind here. For the sake of Islam and to avoid the further mistreatment of Muslims, let’s not focus on the negatives of our community and tradition and instead just embrace the goal of fighting Islamophobia.” Why? Because the problems I as a Muslim woman, as a Muslim feminist, face in my community because of patriarchal ideas attributed to “the Islamic tradition” are not important enough? Because women’s problems aren’t important enough to be tackled? This sort of spiritual shaming is an excuse to stifle critical thought–or just to stifle women’s criticism of their communities for not treating them with respect.

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The Islamic Reform Symposium in Exeter: authority, Muslim feminists, and woman-led prayers

In June, I attended an Islamic reform conference in Exeter, UK. It was a beautiful experience, and I’m saddened that the symposium at which I spoke was the last of the 3-year project – because it would’ve been great to try at it again, hah!

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The Link Between Authority and Knowledge – or: how knowledge is gendered

Nobody believes me when I say authority has everything to do with gender (well, okay, some people do believe me, especially the Muslim feminists – God bless you all!). I’ll write on this–i.e., on how knowledge is gendered, on how the production of knowledge is gendered because of who creates it–in more detail some other time, though I attempted to sketch out the problem with gendering authority in a guest post for The Fatal Feminist’s blog under the title Muslim Women and the Politics of Authority. Or: How to Determine a Woman’s Right to Speak on Islam. But for now just know this: We gender knowledge, we gender the main sources of our knowledge by interpreting them in a very narrowly gendered way (if you ask me, I insist that the sources of Islam aren’t the Qur’an/Sunnah but actually the consensus of the male ‘Ulama), and then we tell especially the feminists: “No, no, you got it all wrong. You don’t know your stuff. Your KNOWLEDGE of Islam is wrong,” denying that our (traditional, agreed-upon) “knowledge” of Islam is gendered to begin with, with women’s attempts to contribute it almost completely dismissed and seldom appreciated and accepted as “real” knowledge; the only time they’re accepted as “real,” “authentic” knowledge is when the women’s contribution/addition reiterates the same patriarchal nonsense the men teach and insist upon. Plenty of examples, but one of my favorites is as follows – watch what happens when a woman tries to interpret the Qur’an – hint: “it’s an interpretation that’s not its [the Qur’an’s] interpretation”! Or the position of a woman is “one of ignorance”! Ugh, patriarchy gives me a headache.
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Ramadhan Mubarak, Everyone! Aka: May we all have a feminist Ramadhan!

Dear readers,

Ramadhan MubarakThe world has been blessed with yet another Ramadhan so that, hopefully, we may all look inside ourselves and ask ourselves what needs improvement in our own selves as well as in the things around us. May this month be a source of inspiration, light, and justice for us all, aameen! May we all have a  feminist Ramadhan – i.e., one in which we recognize and stand up against injustices in all forms but especially against the marginalized members of our community, whoever they are and whatever their beliefs and practices. May our abstinence and discipline give us the strength to stand with those who need our support to be able to continue living and fighting in not just Ramadhan but all other months of the year as well, simply for being who they are. Aameen.

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“In Your Worship, Be Free!” – Except, Don’t Be.

The article below was published first on MuslimGirl.Net and is titled “Why Are Muslim Guys Responding to the ‘Short Shorts’ Article?”

The title I’m using in this blog refers to the last line of the Hussain Makke article I’m critiquing below, since it completely contradicts his entire premise even though he’s giving the advice to the rest of us. I love it, though: In your worship, be free. It’s beautiful.

In Your Worship, Be Free - Except Don't Be.

from MuslimGirl.net

A recent hype in the online Muslim community was this article called “Practicing Islam in Short Shorts.” By a Muslim girl. A number of people shared the post, and a few — from my circle of friends — pitied the author, prayed for her guidance, dismissed her experiences as “cultural, not Islamic!” I let it be known to some such commenters that such reactions are grounded in arrogance and ignorance because they disregard a Muslim’s experience with Islam; they have idealized Islam and the Muslim experience in such a way that any Muslim who doesn’t have the romanticized experience with Islam growing up was simply never exposed to “Islam” but to “culture.”

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Yasir Qadhi’s Statement on the Women’s Mosque Is Condescending to Women.


I can’t believe this needs to be said out loud.

This is a response to Yasir Qadhi’s statement on his Facebook page where he shows fake support for the women’s mosque. The saddest part is that he probably meant well; he was probably expecting a pat on the back, a nice, humble thank-you from Muslim women because he’s basically saying that “Hey, Muslim men! If y’all stop disrespecting women in the mosques, maybe they won’t go around taking matters into their hands and counter-reacting with an actual mosque of their own! So start respecting them and their space in mosques so this whole women’s mosque move can go away!” And don’t get me wrong: It’s telling that I am tempted to acknowledge what he probably thought was support for Muslim women (because Muslim men leaders rarely speak on the disrespect and humiliation that women face in mosques). But I refuse to say, “Awww, thank you so much for finally saying openly that women are treated beyond poorly in mosques!” because our leaders should be saying that anyway. Not simply in response to a women-only mosque!

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One Month After the Peshawar Attack – a song celebrating Pakistani children

Our smiles are stronger than your guns

The FB Cover Photo of one of the children killed in the Peshawar attack. Rest in peace, beautiful soul … rest in peace.

It was exactly one month ago (December 16, 2014 – #NeverForget!) that well over 170 children were killed in the attack in a Peshawar school called Army Public School. (I know the media, including Pakistani media, is claiming that 130 kids were killed in it, but sources I trust say the number is way, way higher than that. So I’m sticking to at least 170. May they all rest in peace, and my God bless their families and loved ones with strength and love in this impossible time. And may Peshawar heal soon! Aameen.)
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Khuga Pekhawara (Pashto poem – with English translation)

Pashto poetry, when done well, is moving and inspiring and leaves the reader/listener speechless. That’s why I’ve always avoided it – ’cause I can’t do that much justice to a language every other word of which is so poetic and beautiful it makes you want to wrap the whole language around you with pride, even though you played no role in its development and growth. STILL! Here’s my second (technically third, but let’s not talk about that ’cause the first attempt was pretty bad) attempt at Pashto poetry. It’s in mourning of the Peshawar attack yesterday (December 16, 2014 – #NeverForget) and the many attacks before and after that, not just in Peshawar but also in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Kabul, Waziristan, Bajaur, and every other place where Pashtuns live as a majority. It breaks my 10849905_10154890120280005_136342531700925567_nheart and I feel somewhat guilty that a tragedy like that tends to inspire so much creativity in us, and a part of me feels as though I’ve exploited this opportunity for a selfish gain (working on improving my non-existing Pashto poetic skills), but I’m hopeful God will forgive me for that.

Also,  I’ve been told that this poem belongs to a genre of poetry called ghazal, apparently, and as with much of Pashto, Persian, Arabic, Urdu poetry, the writer has to use her name in the last verse of the poem (last verse of poem = maqta). Hence the reference to meeee at the bottom…. It’s exciting, okay! I’ve never done this before. (But someone else then said that, actually, no it’s not a ghazal. Whatevz – I’m sticking to ghazal ’cause I feel more talented that way, hah.)

Thank you for reading! 🙂 A Pashto-script version of this might be available soon, inshaAllah.

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When God Isn’t Watching (a poem)

My latest poem. I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time now, and I finally got to sit down and do it. The idea was overwhelming, and it’s a huge relief to have gotten it off my chest at last.

Thank you for reading!

When God Isn’t Watching

When God isn’t watching
66918_10151462367907372_631275637_nAnd she lets herself be consumed by a pain I don’t understand
I stand there watching her,
Silently breaking into tiny, sacred flakes of cotton
The way God’s words will on the Day of Judgment
As she screams of sin
Of God’s wrath
Of hell
She confesses things I don’t understand as sins
She screams, plucking her heart out of her soul
Her spirit, her strength shriveling up
And she withers into submission to the Divine
I stand still, watching from afar
As I make sense of her pain
Pain caused by the wrath of a Being I don’t know how to love
By the guilt of transgression against an almighty God
By the love of a God embedded in her soul
And yet, yet, she breathes a sigh of joy into the world
A sigh that guides her out of nothingness
But into a universe that belongs to her
And she slowly molds herself back into the perfection she embodies
She again becomes all things sacred
The things she touches and feels and desires become sacred
The spaces she occupies become sacred
All aura around her beams with her noor, the noor of God
For indeed, heaven lies beneath her feet
Time and again, when God isn’t watching,
She becomes her own God,
Her own heaven and her own hell
I still watch from a distance, wondering
Wondering how she finds solace in a merciless God who
Chooses to remain oblivious to her pain
As she breaks over and over, mending herself over and over again
But alone
When God isn’t watching

~ Orbala
December 15, 2014