Archive for October, 2012

When your theological status is a game

When your existence, your theological status is a game. A counter in someone else’s hand, that can be used for scoring points against an opponent in a debate. A joke, even. What can you do?

So little is really given to us to know. But an important part of my recovery from life in a very conservative religious community is countering the messages I internalized that in effect made my life a triviality. One thing I do know is how damaging that can be.

As a female convert, I soon encountered two things: One, an apologetic discourse that claimed that “according to Islam” women had certain rights, that could not be taken away because God had given these rights to them. Two, communities and individuals with leading or influential positions in these communities who were never short of arguments explaining that although in theory a girl or woman might have the right to do or have X, in reality, taking that right away was perfectly justifiable in that circumstance.

The result was that almost any right that girls or women supposedly have was always up for debate. You could never count on being able to continuously enjoy rights you had, either, because it could at any time be decided that the circumstances that had previously made this justifiable had changed.

You could educate yourself in the ins and outs of the apologetic discourse all you liked. For many years, I and my convert friends were convinced that this was THE answer. Out-quote those who want to severely limit your education/keep you out of the mosque/tell you you can’t laugh in the hearing of unrelated men/prevent you from working outside the home/keep you from talking to your best friend because she’s getting some unorthodox ideas/refuse to pay you your mahr/etc. Quote the Qur’an, the hadith, the views of scholars past and present, historical examples… and get your “legitimate” rights.

It took us a while to realize that the whole thing was rigged against us. Because in the end, it is about power.

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Conversion, privilege, leadership… and taking responsibility

Did you know that:

Slavery actually wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, it gave slaves the priceless opportunity to be rescued from paganism and an awfully low standard of living.

Women should never have been given the right to vote. Because women just can’t handle power. Society would be so much better off if women would focus their energies on their homes and families, like God commands, and leave politics to men.

Executing rebellious children is not such a terrible idea, either. Because if kids only knew that their parents had the legal right to end their lives, then they would behave far, far better. So, the law should be changed in order to allow rebellious kids to be stoned to death—after due legal process, of course.

These particular nutty notions have all recently been brought to us by extreme right-wing American Christian opinion-makers (for those who didn’t follow the links).

Reading about such pronouncements from ultra-rightwing Christian fundamentalist men (and occasionally, women) is depressing, but also enlightening for someone like me, who is trying to work through a lot of the truly crazy stuff that went down in (some) North American convert circles in the ’80’s and ’90’s. Because in trying to make sense of so much stuff that was said, sometimes advocated, and sometimes even acted upon, I have long been wondering where exactly this all came from. I mean, how is it that there were converts who were actually defending, justifying, rationalizing… or sometimes, even advocating practices that had (I thought) been rejected decades ago as cruel, inhuman, oppressive and beyond any kind of rational justification??

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How to leave an abusive marriage

To the person who searched “Islam: how to leave an abusive marriage” and found my blog:

Here is a good resource on what an abusive marriage/intimate relationship is, and how to leave it:

(For some reason, linking directly to it doesn’t work. Don’t know why.)

Nobody deserves to be abused, no matter who they are. No religious justifications can made it right. None whatsoever.

As for the “Islam” part of the equation: That is more complicated. There will be people who will lay religious guilt trips on you in order to encourage you to tolerate abuse. Or even, so that you can’t see when you are being abused.

Looking through this booklet that I have linked to, I am sharply aware of all the hadiths and Muslim-y sounding rhetoric about your duty to your husband and obedience and humility and not giving into your nafs and the importance of family and being patient that is too often thrown at women in bad marriages. It is as though even now, I read simple statements such as “nobody deserves to be abused” through a veil of pious-sounding “yes, but…’s”. Yes, nobody deserves to be abused, but maybe I deserved to have X done to me because….” I lived that way so long. And I was numb. I could hardly feel anything. And I didn’t think I really had a choice. I had several young children, no money, no resources, no friends outside my small, conservative Muslim circle, no job skills worth mentioning, I was out of touch with the wider culture having lived for years in a conservative Muslim bubble, I was consumed by religious guilt.

For years, I felt as though I had painted myself into a corner, and there was no way out. I remember visualizing my situation in my mind: myself in a corner, paint-brush in my hand, unpainted portion of the floor shrinking, and no way out… except possibly above my head? Which would be impossible anyway.

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“Crazy” women, “crazy” men

The last post got me thinking about the word “crazy.” It was applied to women and to men, especially in my ex’s ethnic community, but it meant different things. It was a very gendered idea.

A “crazy” woman was a woman who supposedly acted strangely (meaning, not in accordance with community norms). Or, she was unduly upset by things that no woman in her right mind would be upset about. She was “nervous” (anxious and/or quick-tempered).

Once a woman had been labeled as “crazy,” it meant that her perceptions, her opinions, her wishes could be completely discounted by everyone.

It didn’t mean that she should be helped or given medical treatment. It meant that she was falling down on the job. She wasn’t acting the way she should be. How embarrassing  for her, her husband and her family. They had better rein her in.

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Telling sad stories

Why do I tell sad stories about my past life, on my blog and sometimes IRL?

For sure, they aren’t easy to listen to or read. For that matter, they aren’t easy to tell. I do not like to relive them. I also worry about being rejected by friends when I tell them. After all, there is presumably a certain point when enough’s enough. Most people like to be around friends who make them feel happy, not friends who seem to be consumed with sad things that happened in the past. So I try not to tell them too often IRL.

Sometimes, I tell them because it’s like a poison that is taking me over. A poison that I am trying to expel. Maybe if I write it or speak it, it will leave me for once and for all. Maybe it will be like vomiting—you feel awful before you do it, you feel awful while doing it, you feel awful afterwards… but then ultimately, whatever-it-was that disagreed with you is gone, and you feel better. Maybe I can finally shed these awful memories, and somehow become like everyone else. Like, not haunted. Normal.

Well, that’s the hope. But so far, it hasn’t worked.

Sometimes, I tell them because they still bother me. It’s like the thorn in your foot that left a bit of itself behind even when you pulled it out. A bit that’s too small to see, but it still hurts. Yes, the story is in the past, but it still haunts me, because there is something about it that I can’t figure out. Usually, why things happened the way they did. Sometimes, I can’t figure out if a particular person who acted a particular way was in the wrong or not. Or what the incident should or should not have told me about his or her personality or priorities. So, I tell the story hoping that someone will know the answer. Someone whose judgment is better, who knows more about human beings and what is or isn’t acceptable behavior than I do.

No, I don’t want pity. I want insight.

I am not the only person who tells these stories. My kids do too. But they do not usually tell them as sad stories. To them, these are odd, sometimes funny, yet strangely disturbing stories.

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National Coming Out Day, or why coming out matters to me

So, it’s National Coming Out Day. The day that marks the importance of coming out for LGBTQ folks.

A lot has changed since I converted in the ’80’s. LGBTQ Muslims are becoming increasingly visible. It is becoming much less tenable for imams and community leaders to pretend that LGBTQ Muslims don’t exist, or to dismiss them as people who have chosen to live in sin. (The signs in this picture were carried by members of IMAAN in the London Pride Parade several years ago.)

In the insular, conservative Muslim communities that I have been involved with in the ’80’s and early ’90’s, coming out was unacceptable. It was so far from acceptable that it was rarely even acknowledged as a possibility.

Coming out—or more often, being found out—was usually equated with having supposedly made the choice to be a sinner, and to sin openly.

This myth—that being LGBTQ is a choice which people willfully  make because they want to indulge in sin—was believable to so many for so long in part because almost no one came out.

Oh, some brothers dodged marriage for years, claiming poverty or studies or “they just hadn’t found the right woman yet.” There were those women who put off getting married—or once divorced, didn’t seek to marry again—or who stayed in loveless marriages and poured their emotional energies into very close friendships with other women. Some people might suspect, or even whisper about them. But they didn’t speak openly about their experiences and lives, so the community didn’t have to deal with the reality of LGBTQ Muslims in their midst.

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October 11 is National Coming-Out Day

Happy National Coming-Out Day to everybody, especially to converts who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgendered, gender-queer, intersexed, questioning….

I have to go to work, so more later.

But to those folks who keep finding my blog through search terms such as “deep and narrow closet” and aren’t doing home renovations: Closets are for clothes, not human beings.


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