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.
Tag Archives: Islamic feminism
Muslim women scholars of Islam, the question of qualifications, and romanticized images of the “Islamic tradition”
The following was inspired by the #NoAllMalePanels conversation that took place on Twitter. Speaking of which, if you’re a Muslim man and agree that there should be no more all-male panels, your support is useless without your signature on the pledge. Sign here. But understand that the #NoAllMalePanels wasn’t limited to acknowledging the authority of women scholars of Islam: it was about acknowledging and appreciating women’s knowledge in all fields. Many people made the discussion about academics versus traditionalist scholars, but that was just one part of the campaign.
One of the major and more recurring points in the discussion, coming from the opponents of the conversation, was that “This isn’t about gender! Stop making this about gender! No one ever / we don’t invite women to talk about Islam because there aren’t any qualified women to speak on Islam. The women you’re talking about who you claim are ‘scholars of Islam’ are actually not scholars. They are academics! Know the difference, okay, you feminists?” To deny that gender has anything to do with this is to deny that there are serious structural obstacles to women’s religious authority (I’ll talk about this below), but for now, let’s acknowledge that we rarely/never hear anyone questioning the men’s qualifications. We simply assume they must be scholars if they have a beard of an acceptable length, wear a head-gear of some sort, preferably wear Arab clothing. When it comes to the qualification of the men “scholars,” we remember to focus on their knowledge, not the details of where/how/by whom they were educated about Islam. Zakir Naik anyone? Or some 95% of the other men “scholars” of our time. It helps them immensely that they merely say what the community wants to hear, that they only satisfy the community’s patriarchal expectations of what Islam is like. But when it comes to a woman who speaks about Islam, her knowledge becomes completely irrelevant, and we have a whole bunch of other important questions to ask. Like is her hair covered, did she study at a secular institution, is she a feminist, etc. You can read more about this problem here. And here’s something on the gendering of knowledge and authority (so when you say something like, “no, no, she’s just not knowledgeable. It’s not about her gender at all. Stop making this about women, you feminists!” maybe you can look a little more closely and see that gender is actually a huge factor in the denial and dismissal of women’s religious/interpretive authority in our communities). Also, “not enough qualified women scholars of Islam” my foot. Check out this positively overwhelming list of scholarship on Islam, most of which is by Muslim women – and it’s not even comprehensive! And, while I’m at it with this whole self-promotion thing, I might as well also share a link to something I wrote once on female authority, the role of justice and ethics in Islamic feminist hermeneutics, and my response to the idea that “Muslim women/feminists would be able to exercise some authority in the Muslim community if only they’d just …” (insert appropriate patriarchal statement).
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!
A feminist Islam is biased Islam – but what’s “regular” (i.e., patriarchal) Islam?
While many Muslims prefer to deny this, Islam is *not* a simple religion (no religion is a simple religion), and there’s no such thing as just one Islam–okay, fine, one understanding of Islam–that all Muslims agree upon. For the umptieth time, if that were so, and if Islam were as simple as many Muslims insist it is, then there wouldn’t be so many different sects of Islam, sub-sects, schools of law, movements with different agendas, and so on. So don’t come to me with a simplified idea of a religion that’s as complex as are its followers. And definitely don’t accuse me of being “biased” in my feminist approaches to Islam when you don’t consider patriarchal approaches to Islam to be equally biased. Patriarchy is a sad reality, an oppressive norm, something we should be striving to eliminate because of its destructive nature, not something by which we should be measuring the “(in)correctness” of new strategies and approaches to Islam.
Menstruation, Ramadhan, and Patriarchal Ideas about Piety, God, and Purity
Ramadhan mubarak, everyone! I hope everyone’s been having a beautiful month of spiritual rejuvenation and reflection, connecting with their Creator (for any and all to whom this may apply), and I hope we’re all making the best of these last ten days as we approach the end. May we all continue to be blessed with another and another and many, many more Ramadhans, aameen.
The following post’s purpose is to remind ourselves about how destructive patriarchy is to a woman’s spiritual health – and to her very existence! It is about menstruation, about being a Muslim woman, and about our male-centric notions of piety and religiosity that hinder (Muslim) women from fully embracing our religion; it’s about how disconnected we feel from God, from our religion, even from the community when we menstruate — entirely because of misogynistic (not just male-centric or patriarchal) views about women, (im)purity, piety, and God.
No More Male-Only Panels, Meetings, Edited Volumes, etc., Muslims!!
On May 2-3, 2015, a “diverse group of contemporary Muslim educators” held a meeting at Cambridge Muslim College to discuss a contemporary curriculum for the Islamic Sciences and the future of the madrasa, the Islamic institution of learning. According to the individual who shared information and photos about this event on Facebook (and it’s been circulated widely now), “The goal of the meeting was to reflect on the curriculum of the traditional madrasa in light of the diverse contemporary educational experiences of the participants.” According to the event’s website, “The participants each gave presentations on how the teaching of the Islamic sciences could be improved to respond to modern challenges.”
Freedom from the Forbidden (a poem)
The poem and note below were written January 5th 2010; I’m transferring them from the old blog.
One of my favorite Pashto songs, written by Ajmal Khattak and sung by Gulzar Alam, goes:
Raadak sho zrha isaarawale ye na sham
Khula maata kha da kho gandalay ye na sham
My complaints and concerns overwhelm my heart; I can no longer keep it in!
My mouth is better off broken than sewn
“Forbidden” – a poem
I have dug inside me,
A well – a deep, infinite well.
In it lives with me My God
The God of both women and men,
The God of the oppressed and the liberated,
The God of the cursed and the blessed
There with me, my feelings dwell,
Far from the fondness of human thought,
The feelings I’m forbidden to relish,
The secrets I’m forbidden to reveal,
The questions I’m forbidden to raise,
The mistakes I’m commanded to regret,
But I don’t. For I have no regrets.
Only mistakes to learn from.
There, I speak the unspeakable
I quarrel with My God,
And My God allows me this –
And there, I think the forbidden
And My God hears me, too,
There, I demand answers,
And My God answers me, too,
My God hears the shattering of my voices
And pacifies my frustrated nerves
There, I heave sighs suppressed elsewhere,
And screams ignored elsewhere,
But I must scream,
For the forbiddance of speaking has boiled my brain,
And the ludicrousness of the ulama, the “learned,” vexes me,
And the labels of heresy and blasphemy grieve my soul
But I must tell my stories.
And I tell my God,
Why have you forbidden me these natural thoughts?
Why am I nothing but a dangerously seductive being, who
Incites sordid feelings in men?
You must forgive me, Dear God, for I mean no harm,
But you must permit me to ask –
Why do you objectify me when You created me Yourself?
They tell me You’re all-powerful;
But then why did you make me the reason men behave so despicably
When they see my face, or my hair,
Or my ankles,
Or my eyes?
And My God smiles at me
And tells me
“Don’t confuse My guidelines with the orders of men.”
Just as the well starts to flood, and I
Develop confidence and valor
And my spirit ascends the seventh heaven,
And my heart glows with peace
And my mind enfolds the universe
I have become a woman.
A woman at last.
And I’m going to tell my stories.
March 1, 2010
“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.
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.”
Yasir Qadhi’s Statement on the Women’s Mosque Is Condescending to Women.
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!