Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Muslim Women and Activism

I've been thinking about this particular subject quite a bit lately... women's rights, especially Muslim women's rights, is a big thing now. People like Irshad Manji, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Asra Nomani, and Amina Wadud are all aplauded by the Western media because they 'dare' to 'speak out against discrimination of women in Islam'. People call them 'heroines', 'examples of strong Muslim women', etc. And why? Because under the guise of 'reforming Islam', they are trying to destroy it. They accuse the Qur'an and Sunnah of being 'misogynistic', of being discriminatory against women, of treating women as 'second-class citizens'. And what's worse is, many Muslims actually support them, too.

Reading about people like them make me cringe. But sometimes I can also sort of understand where they're coming from. In their calls for 'reform' they cite examples of things in the Muslim world that DO discriminate against women. But the thing is, those things are cultural practices, not accepted by Islam. Like honour killings, or forcing girls into marriage, or the 'blood-on-marriage-sheet' virginity test... all of these things are CULTURAL PRACTICES, not Islamic ones - even if people use the name of Islam to justify those practices. Yet it is because of these things that people the likes of whom I mentioned above get away with saying what they say and doing what they do.

And this raises a very important question: what are we going to do about it? By 'we' I refer to the Muslim Ummah in general, and Muslim women specifically.
There are two things that we must do: First, fully acknowledge that we DO have these problems. Many people refuse to believe that these things are happening, and others just turn a blind eye to it because, well, it's one of those cultural taboo issues.

The second thing we need to do is, after raising awareness of these isssues, we have to sit down and think about how to solve these issues, ISLAMICALLY. Then we stop talking and actually DO SOMETHING.

So: how do we solve these issues? We need people from the different cultures - Arab, Pakistani/Indian, African, etc. - to come forward, really learn about Islam and what it has to say on the different topics, and then go back out there and start teaching the people of their culture that many of the things they're doing are Islamically incorrect. Forget about Da'wah to the non-Muslims; it is Muslims themselves who are in dire need of it. We need people who speak the language, know the culture, and know how to communicate with their people. We need both men and women to do this job, because both men and women play a role in carrying out these cultural traditions.
Furthermore, we need to establish Islamic support groups, so that those people - especially girls - who feel that their family or whoever is trying to impose unIslamic things on them have others to turn to, people who will sympathize with them, try to help them, improve their situation, and at the very least, will show true Islamic love for them, thus strengthening the bonds of Islamic brother- and sister-hood.

Also, I think that Muslim women - REAL Muslim women, who really practice Islam and wear proper hijaab (as in, not just a flimsy little piece of cloth paired with tight pants and shirts and faces caked with makeup) - need to start getting really active in their local Muslim communities. We need more women studying Islam (as in, actually going to Islamic universities) and providing strong foundations for their Muslim communities, especially in working with fellow
Muslimah women and teenagers, who have a LOT of problems that need to be addressed and dealt with. Women whose role models are the Ummahaat al-Mu'mineen (Mothers of the Believers, used to refer to the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him), the Sahaabiyyaat (female Companions of the Prophet), Maryam Umm-'Eesa (Mary, mother of Jesus), and Aasiyah the wife of Fir'aun (the Pharoah mentioned in the story of Moses): these are the women whom the Ummah is in desperate need of. Stop taking Oprah, J. Lo, and Tyra Banks as your role models, and start taking the great Muslim women of the past as your role models!

O Muslim women, where are you? Why do you not aspire to be like those women whom God has said were the best women in the world? Aasiyah, Maryam, Khadijah, Fatima... chosen by God and purified and raised in status above all other women!
Where are the Aasiyahs, the Maryams, the Khadijahs, the Fatimas, of today? You want to know why Muslim women are viewed as poor, oppressed, brainwashed slaves? It's because we, the Muslim women of this Ummah, have strayed from the Qur'an and Sunnah. It is because WE have stopped aspiring to be like the great women of Islam in the past. It is because WE have been content with seeking the material things of the Dunyah, of this world, that will be of no use to us when we die. It is because WE have stopped seeking that which will lead us to Paradise. It is because WE have allowed others to take advantage of us; because WE have not educated ourselves regarding our roles, our rights, our responsibilites, in Islam.

If we are to blame anyone, we must blame ourselves. No one is responsible for our situation but ourselves. So now, let us stop complaining about our situation, and do something about it. Let us educate ourselves about our religion, and let us go out and do as the Ummahaat al-Mu'mineen did, as the Sahaabiyyaat did. Go out there, and educate others. Work with your fellow sisters in Islam, teach them their religion, help solve their problems, provide support, and strengthen the bonds of sisterhood in Islam. And in this way, we will improve ourselves, and the Ummah, and THEN we can expect our sad situation to change for the better - insha'Allah. After all, God helps those who help themselves.

May Allah help us all become better Muslims, and help us help make the world a better place, and improve our situation as an Ummah, and make us successful in this world and in the Hereafter... Ameen!


Frazza said...

Assalamu'alaykum sister,

There's something to be said about educating Muslim women, but I think the problems you mention really do come from us Muslim men. You can't really blame lack of education/devotion amongst Muslim women for honour killings, forced marriages, etc..

I don't know about other countries, but Pakistan has some serious problems when it comes to these sorts of things. I think that the da'wah-minded people (mostly Tabligh) have done exceptional work in Pakistan in bringing both men and women away from ignorance and towards the light, but there still remains so much to be done. The worst part is that many among the ignorant then come to the West, and use the promiscuous nature of the West to justify their anti-women attitudes. Basically, they see themselves as "protecting" their women from the evils of the West by keeping them caged and within their twisted understanding of gender relations.

I also have a lot of respect for people like Dr. Farhat Hashmi, who has resonated with Muslim women all over the world while preserving modesty, tradition, and family values. Of course, she's getting a lot of criticism both internally and externally. I can understand that the Western media would be somewhat intimidated by her, but the harshest criticisms come from Muslims, it seems. They label her with all sorts of labels, and reject any of the good that has come from her teachings.

It's a sad situation, but I'm always encouraged when I read or hear of young sisters like yourself and others with such a strong desire to rectify the situation. Within my university, it was always the sisters who did all the work for the MSA. They worked so hard, and accomplished so much, masha-Allah.

May Allah accept all your efforts, and all sisters (and brothers) striving for the deen everywhere!

DA said...

It is unfortunate (but true) that real Muslim women have not received the attention for their true Islamic reforms. As far as I can tell, it is mainly shameless media darlings and "cultural muslims". I don't want to declae takfir but honestly a LOT of what Manji says, especially, makes me doubt that she is still a Muslim, and Amina Wadud will straight up declare that Muslims must say no to the Qu'ran sometimes.

On the other side of the coin, we have a cultural setting wherein any Muslima who asserts herself or demands rights and justice (as she is not only allowed, but required, to do by Islam) the men start screaming them down and calling them kafirun and "feminists" (No! Anything but that!). I mean, I disagree with a lot of what Asma Gull Hassan writes, but there is room for sincere disagreement in iterpretation as long as one's niyyah is pure. Yet a lot of Muslims would heckle her, threaten her, and even compare her to Manji, Nomani, et al.

I think faraz is absolutely correct that men need to get their house in order. One HUGE factor is the decline is the way many nations pick students of shariah. In many arab countries, you take aptitude tests for college. At the top of the grades, students go to law, engineering, etc. And at the bottom? They study shariah! we're deliberately putting our worst students as scholars, and we wonder why we're in such a mess.

Men selectively enforce the shariah so much that it creates an impression that Islam does oppress women. I certainly thought so when I was younger. Often, with Arabs, you'll see a family go to the beach. Men will be rocking tiny bathing suits (totally haraam, I might add) and diving right in while women in hijab walk to the edge and wade in up to their ankles. In many countries, boys are essentially expected to go sleep around, but if the girls do it, watch out. Iran and Pakistan have made it so hard for a woman to charge a man with rape (since they risk their own adultery convictions if they do) and have essentially given men free lisence to prey on women.

The thing is, Islam is NOT gender blind. Men and women are not the same, and al-hamidullah; imagine how boring it would be if we were! So men and women do have different roles to play, yes. But Islam perscribes equality and dignity, and le's face it, a LOT of Muslimas are not getting that right now.

If I read you correctly, you are saying essentially that Islam needs to clean it's own house using true Islamic law, and we need to stop both the abuse of women and the untrustworthy progressive "muslims" mugging for attention. If so, I agree 100%.

Anonymous said...

Isn't hijab also a cultural practice?

AnonyMouse said...

Faraz – yes, I agree that men to get involved too, that’s why I said that “We need both men and women to do this job, because both men and women play a role in carrying out these cultural traditions.” :) In this post I focused on the women because many say that it is men who are responsible for these things, but people would be surprised at what a big role women play as well. However, insha’Allah I will dedicate another post to writing about Muslim men getting active in this area as well. :)

DA – The thing is that in many Muslim communities (here in the West, I mean) there ARE amazing Muslim women who ARE really active and do a great deal of work. The city I used to live in, at the Islamic centre I used to attend, was a perfect example of that. We had FOUR women studying at Islamic universities (correspondence universities, which let them study but also enabled them to stay at home and look after their kids and stuff), and they, along with several other sisters, did so much for the women and girls. We had regular duroos, we had activities for teenagers, we had a support group, counselling, loads of it. Those women were the ones who helped me become who I am now. They got me through some tough times, they were always there for me, and they taught me so much. That experience that I had is something I will never forget – and it is something I want everyone else to experience, too. If we just had more women like them, I think that the Ummah would be almost totally different.
But yet another thing is that these women rather fear ‘coming out’ and going, well, public. They’re afraid of saying something wrong and ending up misguiding people, even though they don’t intend to do so. And, of course, they have their own lives to live, their own problems to deal with. While I totally understand that, I think that we really need women like them to do more, to be more publicly active. I know that there are many ‘dangers’ involved, but we need it! When people like Irshad Manji and Amina Wadud go on TV and spew their filth (pardon the language), we need REAL MUSLIM WOMEN to be able to stand up and fight back. Women who have TRUE knowledge of Islam and can refute them – but without the threats that end up just giving the ‘progressives’ more fame and fodder for their smear campaigns. We have to stop with the death threats and start with the real Da’wah, in the manner of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam).
It makes me furious when I see Manji go on TV, or the radio, or write in the newspapers, things that are totally contrary to Islam, things that only reinforce the stereotypes that the West has against Muslims, and remain unchallenged. Every time I asked my parents why they wouldn’t do anything or say anything (Manji came to our hometown a couple times, was on the radio, and gave several talks), they just shrugged and said it was out of their hands. I hate that. It is NOT out of our hands. As Muslims, we’re obligated to enjoin good and forbid evil. What are we going to say on the Day of Judgement – “Oh, well, we were scared people would say mean things about us or get mad at us, or that CSIS was going ot come after us”? The Prophets, the Sahaabah, the Taabi’een, faced much greater danger. They placed their trust in Allah, took Allah as their guardian, and fought back against the evil that was being said and done. THAT is what WE need to do. NOW.

Colman – Nope, hijaab is something that was commanded in the Qur’an.

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, headcover, apron), and to draw their veils all over Juyoobihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)…”

al-Noor 24:31

The hijaab of the women during the Prophet's time is also described in the Hadith.

Anonymous said...

Hi Muslimah, right on, I remember this 'blood-on-marriage-sheet' supposed to be a Catholic custom in Sicily, honour killings and forced marriages not unknown to the Mafia ...
so, it is not about religion it is about subcultures, men and families ...
keep it up

DA said...

Anonymous- very good point about Italy, very true. It's also not unknown in some Spanish-speaking cultures.

Man, when I've heard about the brides' fathers in some countries triumphantly parading through the street waving the bloody sheet....Eww. Just freakin Eww.

AnonyMouse said...

DA - same here! I only found out about it a little while ago, and I was totally grossed out... and how absolutely MORTIFYING for the bride! I'd crawl under my bed and never come out, or run away, or something... :O

AnonyMouse said...

Thanks, anonymous! :) (By the way, call me Mouse)

Taysiir said...

Sometimes, I wonder, are you really a teenager? You really are a talented blogger mouse, I really appreciate that article. Keep up the good work. =D

Oh, and if you can, read this book, "Aisha". It's a nice little book ...

AnonyMouse said...

Taysiir - yup, I'm pretty sure I'm a teenager. Short, skinny, and stuck in high school... :( But insha'Allah not for much longer! Just two more years to go, and I'll be freeeeeeeeee!!!!! :D

Who is the author of the book, may I ask?

Taysiir said...

weird arab name :P, I will look for it ... gimme a few hours, need to find where I put it :)

Anonymous said...

But Mouse, nowhere in the Quran does it say cover your head. That is an interpretion.

AnonyMouse said...

Molly - again, you've got to remember that there are aHadith to accompany the Qur'an.
From the Hadith, we realize that the Hijaab is the covering of the woman's body, including her head (and some say her face).
Here's a link that explains it:

Anonymous said...

I think the fault of the sisters in our religion is minimal. Most of the fault lies on the men. The prophet said:

"u will not be successful unless you treat your women properly"

So as Sisters, Mothers, Daughters, Aunts, Aunties are not given the freedoms Allah and His messenger have bestowed upon them we will continue to suffer.

Anonymous said...

As-salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh :)

Sister Mouse!! Awesome job! I agree 100% that we as Muslimas need to REPRESENT.

take care,


Angel101 said...

How comes two thought of school say force marriage is permissible. Then say islam is fair to women when large amount of scholars say it is okay to force women to marry a particular person.

Angel101 said...