Muslim Women Agency
Mehreen Kasana here.
Looks like I’m in charge for tonight. Sometimes ignorance can really get to our heads especially when some folks on Tumblr assume Muslim women need the “most saving” because their religion is the “most sexist.” It’s amazing how - and this isn’t just a Tumblr phenomenon - many people on this micro-blogging forum have yet to read the entire Quran in its context and massive history. To take one verse out and misconstrue it endlessly, only proves ignorance on said person’s part. I’ve never known of Laci Green. I never cared, honestly speaking. I’ve had better sources of sex positive education than a racist, xenophobic YouTube pseudo-star who incorrectly claims that a supposedly half-Iranian person can’t be Islamophobic. Shocker: Many POC are Islamophobic, it’s not a matter of race as much as it is a matter of ideological conflict.
I’ve had terribly Islamophobic people accusing my faith of practices that aren’t theological but cultural, yet these people had the audacity to claim ‘authentic’ knowledge of Islam. Conflating culture with religion is a dangerous comprehension of communities and it leads to what we have witnessed in history the justification of wars, colonialism and imperialist-driven ‘saving’ of indigenous women. Many of you need to immediately reevaluate your understanding of the East and its culture(s). You need to read extensively about orientalism, colonialism, imperialism and their collective abuse of religion and politics that naturally affected both men and women.
So let’s start with a 101 brief introduction to books the uninitiated need to read if they do indeed want to be part of the Muslim women agency discourse. If you don’t study these or related work(s), you’re not well equipped with our history, our faith and our highly complex, richly diverse identity. Stay quiet then.
Here are some e-books by my favorite Muslim feminists or, as some of them insist to be called, gender-egalitarianists (considering their legitimate issues with the Western origin of feminism). Try finding work by Asma Barlas (Pakistani), Ziba Mir Hosseini (Iranian), Sadiyya Shaikh (Sudanese), Fadwa Al Labadi (Palestinian), Azizah al Hibri, Abdessamad Dialmy (Moroccan), Rozana Isa (Malaysian), Suha Taji-Faruqi.
- Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an: beyond the binaries of tradition and modernity. Asma Barlas.
- “The Uses and Abuses of Muslim History in Explaining Islam,” review of Empire and Elites after the Muslim Conquest: The Transformation of Northern Mesopotamia, Chase F. Robinson. Asma Barlas.
- “Globalizing Equality: Muslim Women, Theology, and Feminisms,” in Fera Simone (ed.), On Shifting Ground: Muslim Women in the Global Era.
- The Qur’an, Shari’a, and Women’s Rights.
- “Women’s and Feminist Readings of the Qur’an,” in Jane McAuliffe.
- “Women in Islam: Facts and Perceptions” by Memoona Hasnain.
- Re-reading the Quran. Muslim women rights within sacred text.
- Hamid Dabashi on post-colonialism and colonialism/imperialism’s use of feminism against Muslim women.
- Shattering Stereotypes - Muslim Women Speak Out by Fauzia Khan.
- Amira Jarmakani’s Imagining Arab Womanhood: The Cultural Mythology of Veils, Harems, and Belly Dancers.
- The Unique Face of Indonesia’s Islamic Feminism.
- Miriam Cooke’s Women Claim Islam Creating Islamic Feminism Through Literature.
- ‘Victimization’ versus ‘resistance’ - feminism and the dilemmatics of Islamic agency.
- The Veil (De)contextualized and Nations ‘Democratized’- Unsettling War, Visibilities, and U.S. Hegemony.
- Towards a Recognition of Multiple Feminism: The Voice of Muslim Women by Ayesha Asghar and Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. A good explanation of why third world women and Muslim women are reluctant to participate in mainstream white feminism.
- The Rights of Women in Islam: An Authentic Approach by Haifaa A. Jawad.
- In case you forgot, Muslim women have rights to the nikahnama (legal papers for marriage) where their property rights, mobility, monetary power is all included within the papers.
- Margot Badran’s Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences.
- Imperiled Muslim women, Dangerous Muslim men and Civilized Europeans: Legal and Social Responses to Forced Marriages by Sherene Razack.
- The Seductions of Honor Crime by Lila Abu Lughod.
- Hundreds of publications, lectures, videos, and so much more. What rock do racists and xenophobic folks live under?
Let’s just remember one basic fact: If you are not Muslim, let alone female Muslim, you cannot and should not speak for us or our goals and priorities in life. Many of us follow a definition of progress that is inherently contrary to yours. To force us into accepting your idea of success and empowerment is to do what colonialists and imperialists did and continue doing. Remember when I said this?
I’m a Muslim woman. And I’m not oppressed by my religion.
What oppresses me as a citizen and as a human being is the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teachings, cultural distortion of basic theological beliefs and man-made rules directed cruelly at women only. What ties me down and suffocates me is gender discrimination done as a result of following back-breaking mores. But, above all, what oppresses me is the common man’s basic mistake of believing what he hears from malicious conservatives. You can help me from being oppressed by simply using your head for a change. When you hear someone say, “Oh, the hijab’s only a symbol of misogyny”, you can stop for a second, do your research and realize that, no, it’s a practice that the majority respectfully believes in for all sorts of reasons. You can also realize that the author of this post isn’t wearing a hijab at all. For a rational Muslim, it’s all about the freedom to choose. You can sit back and delete that ill-informed hate speech you had ready. You can learn that objectivity plays a key role when you’re studying other people’s religion.
Your ignorance and usage of savior, racist rhetoric is oppressive. There is no denying that there is sexism in cultures - have a look at the hyper sexualized image of a woman in modern day America - but you will never hear a critic castigate Christianity, you won’t find critics lambasting Western ideas of women representation and such. Which highlights the hypocrisy found in the discourse concerning Muslim women and their empowerment. No one asked you to liberate us. One of the reasons why Muslim women remain reluctant, including myself, to participate in white mainstream feminism is because of the shameless denial of privilege on part of white feminists and also because our bodies and identities are turned into battlefields. Read this part from my essay: The Other-izing of Muslim Women in Western Feminism and Hegemonic Discourse(s). Our issues are prioritized according to white feminists’ preferences. If that’s ‘feminism’, none of us want to be part of it.
So let’s get one thing clear in today’s lesson: Matters aren’t as simple as you folks assume them to be. Religion, politics, personal identity, regions, cultures, timeline(s) of historical events affect gender politics in ways that are beyond your imagination. Think a few hundred times before you decide to talk about a religion and culture you don’t belong to.