Islamic feminism


In Thursday, October 23rd’s edition of The Independent, journalist Johann Hari asked the question “Dare we stand up for Muslim women?” Hari (pictured below right), a young British journalist with left leanings and who has defended Muslims against the fear mongering of Canadian right-wing writer Mark Steyn, has presented an interesting and compelling case for the need to better the situation of Muslim women in the world. His examples are heartbreaking and elicit sympathy for the suffering women. However, as noble as Hari’s intentions may be in writing the piece he has made one very big, yet sadly extremely common, mistake – he has assumed the worst of Muslim women themselves – and this mistake only further entrenches racism toward Muslims in the East/South and creates a superior-inferior dichotomy.

Johann Hari. Image via Hari's website.

Johann Hari. Image via Hari's website.

Hari begins by presenting us with a graphic depiction of the severely burned face of a 21-year-old Bangladeshi acid-burn victim, Shahnaz, whose husband and brother-in-laws attacked her with acid. Why? According to Hari “[h]er crime was to be a Muslim woman who wanted to be treated as equal to a man.” Shahnaz had wanted to study but her husband disagreed. Hari also reports that the incidences of acid-burning of women has increased in Bangladesh and cites the growing independence of Bangladeshi women as the cause of anger among the men who burn them. “It is just one tactic in a global war to keep Muslim women at heel,” Hari says. He then lists tactics through which other Muslim countries have displayed their misogyny, often in brutal ways.

No one can deny that such horrific incidences occur. No one can deny that many Muslim women live in very difficult situations. However this is not a Muslim problem. Violence against women in many different forms whether it be hitting, slapping, rape, burning, etc., occurs in all countries. There exist men in all cultures and all religions who feel it their right to abuse women. Pointing out occurrences of such behaviour only among Muslims demonizes Muslim men and denies Muslim women their agency (a point to which I will return below). Additionally, in the process of painting this as a Muslim problem, which is what Hari has done, we end up denying that non-Muslim women living in non-Muslim countries suffer similar fates. For instance, if we stay with the region of South Asia, India‘s rates of violence against women are disturbing to many human rights workers. Additionally, this Violence Against Women Fact Sheet would indicate the universality of the problem of violence against women.

However, getting back to the Muslims in Hari’s piece, it is worth noting that Hari writes about the cultural variation in Muslim countries by writing:

We ask nervously: isn’t it just their culture that women are treated differently? Isn’t it a form of cultural imperialism to condemn these practices? The only rational response is to ask: whose culture do you want to respect here? Shahnaz’s culture, or her husband’s? The culture of the little girls learning in a Kandahar classroom, or of the Taliban thug who bursts in and shoots their teacher?…Muslim societies are not a homogenous block – and it is racist to pretend they are.

However, he points out cultural variation not to say, as I would, Muslims are a diverse people, or that the culture does not condone violence against women and that such behaviour is not a part of their diverse cultures but rather a product of ubiquitous patriarchy, the entrenchment of which is in large part a product of international economic and educational injustices. No, he uses this argument to say that there exist two cultures – the male Muslim culture and the female Muslim culture. The male Muslim culture is the brutal, angry and oppressive one, and the female Muslim culture is the subjugated, imperiled and submissive one. The picture that Hari has painted is one of brutal Muslim men and their oppressed Muslim women. It would seem that all Muslim men oppress all Muslim women all the time in every way possible. This message is nothing new and has been a part of Western/Northern discourse regarding the East/South for centuries now. A message used to demonize and to justify invasions of the East/South for centuries, including this one. Afghanistan and Iraq sound familiar?

But no Western/Northern saviour can stop here. It is not enough for those of us in the West/North (and yes I am also Western/Northern) to say “those people are so bad,” but we must, as now we have a contrasting people, say “we are so good.” After all, where there is bad there must also be something good. How else would we know that something is bad? And Hari does just this.

It is here, in our open societies, that the freedom of Muslim women is slowly being born. Last week, Amina Wadud became the first ever woman to lead British Muslims in prayer. All over Europe and the US, Muslim women are pushing beyond a literal reading of the Koran and trying to turn many of its ugliest passages into misty metaphor.

It is true that the West/North is seeing the rise of many Muslim women who are “pushing beyond a literal reading of the Koran.” We have Amina Wadud, Laleh Bakhtiar and Asma Barlas to name some. However, this is not unique to our part of the world. If the West/North has these women then the East/South has academics like Fatima Mernissi and Nawal El-Saadawi, and not to mention activists like Asma Jehangir, Malalai Joya, Ghada Jamshir, Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah, Mukhtaran Bibi, Shirin Ebadi, just to name a few. Hari would have us believe that women living in Muslim countries are so utterly helpless so as to need pity and eagerly await to be rescued from their men by the West/North. However, the evidence states something quite the opposite.

A rally in Afghanistan in support of Malalai Joya, 2007. Image via AP Photo.

A rally in Afghanistan in support of Malalai Joya, 2007. Image via AP Photo.

Women living in Muslim countries can help themselves and are helping themselves. They are working every day to better the conditions of the women in their countries. They are resisting the misogyny of men all the time. Muslim women living in Muslim countries DO have agency and are taking the initiative to better their conditions. If anything is holding them back, if anything is oppressing them, it is the West/North itself (though not alone). Even Hari touches on this issue a little though fails to elaborate, mainly because it would seem that he may not realize that elaboration is an option. Let me try.

Hari rightly criticizes Western/Northern governments who support regimes that oppress women – Saudi Arabia for example. He is right when he says:

While we as a society are addicted to oil, our governments will always put petroleum before feminism. While we suck on the Saudi petrol pump, smearing rhetorical estrogen on to our bombs looks like an ugly trick.

But this is just the contemporary aspect of how the West/North oppresses women in the East/South. Colonization of the East/South by the West/North is a racist part of world history, the legacy of which has lived on in the East/South. The colonizers left, but not without making sure those whom they ruled over were not only thoroughly traumatized but also left with the mess of ethnic rivalries, wealth disparities, and educational discrepancies. The colonizers raped the land then left “her” to die. The result has been ages of high levels of wealth and educational discrepancies – factors which can gravely and greatly impact patriarchy and its strength. Patriarchy exists everywhere, though the strength of it can be impacted by other, namely economic, factors. All this then results in, what seem to be, stronger patriarchies in post-colonial regions. And of course, how can we forget the role the War on Terror has played in oppressing Muslim women, specifically in Afghanistan, Iraq, and parts of Pakistan. How can Muslim women be “liberated” when their homes are being bombed and their loved ones dying? How can Muslim women be “liberated” when their brothers, sons, husbands are being disappeared or killed by occupying forces? How can Muslim women be “liberated” when their food-producing soil is contaminated with chemicals from Western/Northern bombs? How can Muslim women be “liberated” when they have no water, no heating, no shelter?

Finally, as if to prove the freedom of Muslim women in the West/North Hari gives the example of his friend Irshad Manji’s call to the E.U. and U.N. to provide microcredits to Muslim women across the Middle East to help them start their own businesses. But in doing so he completely neglects the fact that the idea of microcredits, or microloans, belongs to a Bangladeshi, Muslim man – Muhammad Yunus – who Manji herself credits. But Hari, for some reason, completely leaves out this glaring fact.

And here we come full circle – from the Bangladeshi Muslim girl who was the victim of her husband’s cruelty, to the Bangladeshi Muslim man who created an economic model to help the poor women of his Muslim majority country. The dichotomy of the “dangerous Muslim man” and the “imperiled Muslim woman” of which Sherene Razack so aptly speaks in her book Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics (read Fatemeh’s review here) just does not exist in Bangladesh it would seem. Or in any other Muslim country for that matter, as simple and compact as that would be.

So then, in the end, what can we do? Hari wants people in the West/North to stand up for Muslim women. As I have already (hopefully) shown, Muslim women are already standing up for our/themselves and the problem is not simply Muslim men (though I hope I did not create the impression that Muslim men never oppress Muslim women – many do but no more than non-Muslim men). To that we say thanks, but no thanks.

What Western/Northern people can do is stand up WITH us. When we say American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq cause Muslim women much suffering, stand with Muslim women as we speak against the occupations. When Muslim women say the War on Terror causes us great suffering because our freedoms are surpressed, the safety of our brothers, fathers, sons, is jepordized, we are terrorized, join us in our criticism of this war of terror. It is in standing WITH Muslim women, not for us, that achievements will be made. It is in solidarity, not appropriation, that healthy progress can take place.

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We need to talk.

Having the economic privilege to spend a few summers in Cairo or to study abroad in Dubai does not give you the authority to speak about Middle Eastern culture.

Dating a Saudi guy does not give you the authority to speak about Islam. Or about Muslim men.

Knowing some Muslim women through work or as friends does not give you the authority to speak for them or the rest of Muslim women.

There are those of us who suffer. But don’t speak of us as victims if we are not dead. Don’t deny the agency with which we become survivors and active shapers of our lives. Don’t ignore the fighting we do for ourselves.

We can—and do—speak for ourselves. So stop speaking for us.

I notice a lot of condescension and arrogance when you talk to us or about us. Let me be clear: you do not know more about us than we know about ourselves, our religion, our cultures, our families, or the forces that shape our lives. You do not know what’s best for us more than we do.

So please check yourselves.

Being an ally does not mean speaking for us, making choices for us, or figuring out what’s best for us. It means supporting and defending the choices we make and the voices we use.

If we want help, and ask for it, then do only what you’re asked. Don’t invent new ways to characterize us as oppressed or agitate for the solving of problems that aren’t pressingly important. Case in point: if we want better divorce laws in a particular country, don’t agitate for the abolishing of mandatory clothing policies.

If you can’t do that, then don’t bother. It’s better to just stay out of our way. Passing judgment on and mischaracterizing our choices, our religion, or ways of life does us more harm than good; with friends like that, who needs enemies?

Sincerely,

An Islamic feminist who has met one-too-many white non-Muslim feminists that assume that they know better

Update: Before you comment, here’s some suggested reading:

If you have any fleeting knowledge of the Bible, you know exactly what the title of the post refers to. Often, this phrase is quoted by some Christian when discussing why they will not marry anyone else but another Christian. I wanted to discuss this issue in relation to Muslims, well specifically Muslim women, since this never seems to be an issue for Muslim men.

One of the first things I learned when I started to get of that age when I started to “mature” was that Muslim women do not marry non-Muslim men, doesn’t matter if they’re “people of the book” (i.e. Christians, Jews, Zorastians, among some scholars Hindus). There were no ifs, ands or buts about this. Muslim men, I was told, did not have to follow this same rule. They could marry women of the book and I saw some who did. Being the thinking girl that I was, I wondered why. One of the first answers I was given was that men are the head of the household and responsible for the religion of the children. If children had Muslim fathers, they were automatically Muslim, duh! But if they have non-Muslim fathers and Muslim mothers, they were automatically non-Muslims. This answer may have sounded ok in theory but then I saw that it wasn’t playing out in reality, at least not where I was. I saw children of Muslim fathers and Christian mothers who weren’t Muslim at all. I couldn’t even tell you about the opposite side of the coin because I rarely saw it and the Muslim women who “dared” to marry non-Muslims were usually run out of the community so I couldn’t tell you how their children ended up.

So if having a Muslim father didn’t ensure more Muslim children, there had to be another reason for not allowing Muslim women to marry out but allowing Muslim men to do so. There’s a verse in the Qur’an that addresses interfaith marriage.

5:5 Today, all the good things of life have been made lawful to you. And the food of those who have been vouchsafed revelation aforetime is lawful to you, and your food is lawful to them. And [lawful to you are], in wedlock, women from among those who believe [in this divine writ], and, in wedlock, women from among those who have been vouchsafed revelation before your time -provided that you give them their dowers, taking them in honest wedlock, not in fornication, nor as secret love-companions. But as for him who rejects belief [in God] – in vain will be all his works: for in the life to come he shall be among the lost.

This verse mentions only who is lawful for men and not women. So one question that could be asked is “doesn’t this verse apply to women too?” This is what Khaled Abou El-Fadl says:

Surprising to me, all schools of thought prohibited a Muslim woman from marrying a man who is a kitabi (among the people of the book). I am not aware of a single dissenting opinion on this, which is rather unusual for Islamic jurisprudence because Muslim jurists often disagreed on many issues, but this is not one of them.

All jurists agreed that a Muslim man or woman may not marry a mushrik [one who associates partners with God–there is a complex and multi-layered discourse on who is to be considered a mushrik, but we will leave this for a separate discussion]. However, because of al-Ma’ida verse 5, there is an exception in the case of a Muslim man marrying a kitabiyya. There is no express prohibition in the Qur’an or elsewhere about a Muslim woman marrying a kitabi. However, the jurists argued that since express permission was given to men, by implication women must be prohibited from doing the same. The argument goes: If men needed to be given express permission to marry a kitabiyya, women needed to be given express permission as well, but since they were not given any such permission then they must be barred from marrying a kitabi.

The justification for this rule was two-fold: 1) Technically, children are given the religion of their father, and so legally speaking, the offspring of a union between a Muslim male and a kitabiyya would still be Muslim; 2)It was argued that Muslim men are Islamically prohibited from forcing their wives to become Muslim. Religious coercion is prohibited in Islam. However, in Christianity and Judaism a similar prohibition against coercion does not exist. According to their own religious law, Muslim jurists argued, Christian men may force their Muslim wives to convert to their (the husbands’) religion. Put differently, it was argued, Islam recognizes Christianity and Judaism as valid religions, but Judaism and Christianity do not recognize the validity of Islam as a religion. Since it was assumed that the man is the stronger party in a marriage, it was argued that Christian and Jewish men will be able to compel their Muslim wives to abandon Islam. (If a Muslim man would do the same, he would be violating Islamic law and committing a grave sin).

This is the law as it exists or the legal legacy as we inherited it. In all honesty, personally, I am not convinced that the evidence prohibiting Muslim women from marrying a kitabi is very strong. Muslim jurists took a very strong position on this matter–many of them going as far as saying if a Muslim woman marries a kitabi she is as good as an apostate. I think, and God knows best, that this position is not reasonable and the evidence supporting it is not very strong. However, I must confess that in my humble opinion, I strongly sympathize with the jurists that argued that in non-Muslim countries it is reprehensible (makruh) for a Muslim to marry a non-Muslim.

http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/oninma.html

Now, I have to be honest and say that this issue doesn’t affect me because I am married to a Muslim and I honestly didn’t want to be in an interfaith marriage. However, it does affect a lot of Muslim women in Western countries. Some women have actually left the deen (religion) because of this issue. I have also met a couple of older sisters who converted while their husbands did not and remained married to their husbands. So I’m opening up the floor and asking what do you think?

I don’t frequent forums as much I use to because I find it so much harder to deal with stupid comments. Another reason why I don’t frequent forums however is because I often encounter people who I really think have the best intentions but who also have a hard time acknowledging the various privileges they have and questioning the biases they have. I think in order to help yourself and help others–I mean really help yourself and others and not just give yourself a pat on the back–you have to recognize not only the oppression that occurs but also your own relationship with the people you’re working with and perhaps even your role in the oppression.

I was having a discussion with one such person. She is a white woman who is also a non-Muslim. I honestly believe that she wants to help Muslim women. However, we got into an argument over the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I don’t like the book for a lot of reasons but the woman in question said that there aren’t enough books like Infidel: basically books that discuss how Muslim women have to “overcome” oppressive cultures, perhaps leave Islam or just make it so watered down as to render it completely unrecognizable, fight those oppressive Muslim brutes with beards, escapes a whole lot of death threats and more. I disagreed with that assertion for three reasons. The first is that there are so many books, articles, and website dedicated to Muslim women or former Muslim women who have agendas that seem to work more conservative political agendas rather than equality for Muslim women. I don’t want to discount Hirsi Ali’s experiences, especially in regard to FGM and forced marriage (not to be confused with arranged marriages). However, I don’t think we should overlook the role of colonialism and neo-colonialism in the plight of Muslim women. Even certain practices like FGM have been aggravated by colonialism in some societies.

The second and bigger problem I have with that assertion is that it basically strips Muslim women of any control they have over the movement. Muslim women want to tell their stories in their own ways. We shouldn’t be forced into telling stories ultimately serve only two purposes: making Muslims look bad and making Western societies look great while absolving them of any role in current problems that Muslim women in various countries face. I’m not being apologetic nor am I saying that Muslims shouldn’t give themselves a cold, hard look in the mirror when looking at gender inequality. However, Muslim women’s stories shouldn’t be usurped to serve political and imperial purposes nor should we be told to only tell stories where Muslim men are the boogie monster and the West, including Western feminists, are our saviors. The oppression that Muslim men live under concerns us just as much as it does our brothers. After all, those men are our sons, our brothers, our fathers, and our husbands. Additionally, we want to tell our stories in our own way. So yes, we will speak about “honor” killings and masajid that have poor or no accommodations for women but we will also speak about war rapes that occur against Muslim women in Iraq, women having their privacy invaded everyday in the name of “security”, Western media that portrays Muslim women, especially those in hijab and niqab as “oppressed” and “weak” and more. By fighting all of these biases oppressions, we show that we are not helpless. We are strong and we will write our own narrative.

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.

I have a lot I want to write but I’ll be on hiatus for a couple more days. Until then enjoy this article that my husband forwarded to me. The author, Jeewan Chanicka,who is male, makes the excellent point that gender equality is just as much a concern of Muslim men as it is for Muslim women.

From the pulpit to the preachers, many often proclaim Islam’s liberation of women 1400 years ago. After all Islam did recognize that women possessed souls -this acknowledged only over the past 100 years in Christianity and Islam did give women the right to vote -yet another relatively recent phenomena in Western society. We are quick to convince skeptics of Islam’s superiority in that the first martyr in Islam was a woman, the first to accept Islam was Khadijah, the first nurse was Rufaida, that the one from whom we have learned one third of our faith was Aisha. (May Allah be pleased with them all.)

And why should we not feel proud of such a legacy when this legacy has produced scholarship and numerous examples of leadership, virtue and excellence. Women who, for all intents and purposes, outshone many of their male counterparts despite their “gender.”

However if we were to take a critical look at our community today we would be hard-pressed to find the likes of Aisha, Fatima, Nusaybah and many others. We would first have to look behind the barriers erected in the masajid, or call on them at their homes where they have been relegated to housework by the male-dominated and chauvinistic practices that have permeated the Muslim community.

Virtue today as imposed (or should I say “encouraged”) upon Muslim women dictates that a woman should be fully covered (the more the better), that she stays at home and raises the children and fulfill her husband’s every wish and desire. It is better that she stays inside than walk outside lest she be a temptress and cause someone to commit sin by looking at her, that she should be silent because her voice is her cover. Should she have questions, it is best that she write them and “fly them” over the barriers so that someone would by chance pick it up and read it and perhaps give her an answer.

We the men, the “proper leaders” know that women come from the rib of man and that it is bent and cannot be made straight, that women are highly emotional and of course have that “menstrual thing”, which incapacitates their ability to make proper decisions and to function in a “normal way”. There is no way that they can contribute to Islamic work because their voices and “grace” make them weaknesses for men and so it is in keeping with piety that we shut them out and lock them away. After all, men being the rational thinkers are capable of making decisions for women who are in constant need of our superior knowledge.

Hence we do not need them on the boards of our institutions; we fail to put them in leadership positions because it is not compatible with their “feminine nature”. As one imam once said, they may start to “fraternize with the men”. In keeping with this, we do not really need to give them a big space at the mosque because they should pray at home. Should we be so generous as to offer them some space, we must ensure that it is fully sealed so that there is not enough ventilation and that they are trapped within the confines of limited space with 20 crying babies. It is ok if they don’t hear anything because they don’t really need that much knowledge, even though the lap of the mother is the first school of the ummah. As long as we don’t hear or see them, then all is well.

We should not shame them by giving them the ability to communicate their ideas, thoughts or wishes because we already know them. So we are locking them up for their own good. Anyone who dares to question this must be outside of the proper understanding of Islam. There seems to be some discrepancy between what is said on the pulpit about the excellence of the earlier women and how it translates to reality for our sisters. It has further allowed the perpetuation of blatant double standards in terms of what women and men can and cannot do. Usually men can engage in numerous activities, which if done by women, would cause their commitment to Islam to be questioned.

Women comprise about half of our community, yet they must still compete to have their voices heard, to have space, to be able to go to functions that take into consideration that they need to bring their children. More often than not, when there are issues involving our sisters, they are “dealt with” by the men. When any sisters dare to challenge this, they automatically are branded as western-styled feminists who are trying to sully the sanctity of Islamic values and ideals.

Yet if one were to look on campuses and in general community work the faith based work of this community is being carried on the shoulders of Muslim women. Many whom would ordinarily be silenced are finding their niches and are doing their bit to fulfill their covenant in enjoining right and forbidding evil and in spreading this deen. In fact, women in our community are the flag-bearers of Islam, particularly those who wear hijab because they are easily identifiable. When walking down the street, it is those whom we notice as being Muslim and those who are approached and asked about Islam.

We tend to answer in utopian terms, when asked about our glorious past and ignore the wrongdoing that has been taking place today. It behooves us (men) to believe that we can be wrong or may have wrong understandings of the seerah (biography of Prophet Muhammad) and the place of women in society.

It would appear though that having shut women out of the community has allowed them now to approach Islam and Islamic work with less baggage than men. Men have inherited much cultural baggage that they still keep with them today, cultural practices that have become engrained in our daily practices as being Islamic. As Muslim women return to the authentic understanding of the Qur’an and Seerah, they are in a better position to take on this work and fulfill its requirements.

Islamic work in North America and the world will never be successful until women are completely integrated within the framework of leadership, decision-making and shura. While no one is arguing for “free intermingling” or a neglect of duties of motherhood or the negation of fiqh (and its proper application) there is a need for discussion and critical deconstruction of some of the cultural practices that have become mainstays in our community.

The argument that the time of the prophet was different and now is a time of fitna holds no weight, especially when one considers that the earliest generation of Muslims was in one of the most corrupt societies that existed. Yet women played a vibrant part of its growth and development. They were consulted when decisions were to be made, they were included in matters affecting society’s growth and development, some were teachers and others were poets, others fought in war, all this, while still following Allah’s commands and the examples of his prophet. There are no shortages of examples of this in the seerah, though they tend to be ignored.

We are quick to point to the fact that we are leaders and have the “last say”. Perhaps there is a need to analyze our understanding of leadership. Is a leader one who ignores the needs of others, makes all the decisions and is scared of debate and consultation? The prophet peace be upon him was the opposite of this. He was the best of leaders as he consulted with others and led by example. He was most kind and in fact said that “the one who is best, is the one who is best to his family and I am the best to my family”. It may be that we are afraid that women will perform some of the duties we have been doing better than we have, that their knowledge may be more sound and that they may be more fit for leadership positions than those who have traditionally held the reigns. Even in this regard, we seem to forget the just leadership of the Queen of Sheba or a tradition that is rich with female scholarship. If we are sincere in wanting to do what Allah requires of us, we need to be open to this dialogue, admit our injustices to our sisters, ask for forgiveness and try to move forward. A bird can only fly if it flaps both wings.

Allah has made women our equal counterparts and they bring value and insight inherent with their nature that we may not think about or know of. Some scholars explain that women are the spiritual anchors of society. If we are sincere, we need to realize that in many ways we are oppressing our sisters and when we shut women out of leadership roles, banish them to domestic spaces, pretend that we can speak on their behalf, we are oppressing the very ones under whose feet lies paradise. The issues of leadership and involvement are not black and white and those sisters and brothers advocating for change are not asking for all values and standards to be dropped or changed. Instead we are asking for justice and fairness.

Sisters should be a part of the majlis-shura in the masajid and various institutions because leadership (and I am not speaking about being imam here) should be defined based on qualification and not gender. Shura entails that we take the voices of the varying members of our community into consideration. We need to ensure that sisters are able to have equal access to speakers and knowledge so that they are able to grow and learn themselves. Our primary consideration should not be how big a barrier is and whether or not it touches the ceiling. Most importantly we have to let sisters represent themselves, we should not speak for them but with them. The realization should be based upon the trust that women are our partners in establishing Islam in the world and do not have ulterior motives of “fraternizing with the opposite sex.” They too want to work with us to benefit Islam, Muslims and society in general.

Muslims have a standard that has to be adhered to as defined by the Qur’an and the practice of the prophet pbuh. We need to rise to the challenge of implementing this within our daily lives, to adhere to its boundaries and to challenge our own bias and (mis)-interpretatio ns of it’s application. As men, it is time that we acknowledge the struggles of our sisters (both within and without our community) and it is even more important to recognize the privilege that we have enjoyed due to no real merit but simply because of our gender. If we want to please Allah and to be true to our covenant of bringing this deen to the people around us, it is necessary for us to address these issues. Until such time we will be held accountable before Allah when people reject our self-styled versions of Islam.

Jeewan Chanicka is a contributing writer for Young Muslims Canada website.

Hubby always gets the best tips. So in another e-mail forwarded to me by him, there was a little article from the Arab News about how the vice cops in Saudi “saved” a woman from a guy who was blackmailing her by threatening to lie about an “illicit affair”. While it’s nice to nab a blackmailer, the article didn’t quite sit right with me. Why was this particular case so noteworthy? Surely, the blackmailer in question isn’t the only one running around in the KSA and I imagine there must be more than a few blackmail victims, male and female in Saudi. The article almost seemed like a promo for the vice police, the same vice police who wouldn’t let female students leave a burning building because they weren’t properly covered. It’s kinda like a covert apology for them: “See, what would those damsels in distress do without the vice cops? They would taken advantage of by those bad men. So the vice police are actually good for women!” Right. The Mutaween couldn’t ask for better press.

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