I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately. As regular readers of the blog already know, I do identify as an Islamic feminist. I believe that Islam and feminism are compatible. However, I do feel out of place at times by regarding myself as such. Often when reading works on Islamic feminism or when watching programs on Islamic feminism, there is an overwhelming focus on Muslimahs from various parts of the Muslim world. There is a focus on issues such as FGM, whether or not to veil, equitable marriage and family laws, bodily and sexual autonomy, etc. I fight for these issues because as a woman I relate to any other woman who is being oppressed. However, I sometimes feel that the needs and voices of Black American Muslimahs (BAM from this point on) are lacking. I feel there are some issues which are unique or more pressing for BAM that are often not addressed in the Islamic feminist discourses that are prevalent in academia or the media.

For instance, polygyny. Now I know that polygyny does not only exist among BAMs and that it is an issue for Muslimahs all around the globe. However, I think this issue takes on special urgency for BAMs, especially those from urban areas. While for some Islamic feminists, polygyny is a black/white issue, as a black Muslimah I cannot afford to look at it in the same way. While it may be a sign of gender inequity and while I could not ever see it as a viable option for myself, it is also seen by many BAMs (male and female) as a solution to social ills that plague black families. For some BA Muslimahs, polygyny is seen as a viable route to marriage, an institution that has often been denied to them for various social and economic reasons. This is not something that women in the Muslim world have dealt with historically. They have not typically been in a situation where marriage was not an option. Thus, when I look at polygyny, I look at it from a very different POV. I cringe at the abuses of polygyny, I often feel uncomfortable with it and I often wonder if men do it for the reason that it was originally allowed. At the same time, it may often be the only route to marriage for some black Muslim women.

I point out polygyny as just an example of how the issues that face Black American Muslimahs can be unique. There are other issues such as STDs (this is especially a problem in certain segments of the BA Muslim community where marriages are not civil marriages and where STD testing is not done on spouses, many of whom have had sexual partners previously, before the marriage), lack of employment opportunities for inner city residents, drug and alcohol abuse, gentrification of neighborhoods and more that I often do not see discussed in the dialogue about Islamic feminism. These are very real issues for Black Muslimahs, myself included.

I write not as a condemnation of Islamic feminism but as an admonition. I include myself in this admonition. I want Islamic feminism to be inclusive of all Muslimahs from the Muslimah in the Middle East to the Muslimah in Harlem.