For a number of reason, many of which I outlined in my last post, Eid al-Adha was far from being my favorite holiday back when I was a conservative Muslim. In the insular, very conservative community that I belonged for a number of years, Eid was really a celebration of patriarchal power and privilege.
While I and my convert friends did our best not to acknowledge this, and tried so hard to get into the spirit of things, to find some spiritual nourishment in the whole thing—or failing this, to at least make it memorable and fun for our kids, it was practically impossible for us not to notice that its overwhelmingly patriarchal focus left barely any room for us or our children. It was a celebration of a particular type of hyper-masculinity that all but erases every way of being that doesn’t fit into that mold, and damns to hellfire all those of us who can’t help but protest the injustice of being negated and shoved to the margins.
But as this year’s Eid al-Adha approached, I began to hear things that made me wonder if perhaps I hadn’t written off this holiday too quickly. One mosque had invited a woman to give the sermon at the Eid prayers. And another was having a woman lead the Eid prayer. History was being made, apparently—and on this day of all days, when the story told in innumerable sermons around the globe studiedly ignores female subjectivities, and real live women are most typically relegated to the kitchen. I could hardly believe it.
But I was skeptical. The holiday is what it is, I thought. How could a few women giving sermons or leading prayers make any difference? Wouldn’t it be the ritual equivalent of… I don’t know, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?
However, once these Eid prayers were held, and I came to know what all went down, I was really moved.
At first, I could hardly process it. Such an inversion of what I was used to. Arab women—Arab women—giving an Eid sermon (in one case that I heard of) and in another, actually leading an Eid prayer!? And a straight white male convert giving an Eid sermon at a queer-positive Eid prayer.
Wow. Just wow.
Oh, I had seen white male converts giving Eid sermons before, all right. Highly conservative white male converts robed in their manifold privileges, eloquently reaffirming patriarchal values before a largely brown immigrant Muslim crowd.
And I had certainly seen Arab women at numerous Eid prayers. In the various conservative communities that I had dealings with, Eid was yet another occasion when immigrant Muslim sisters would have the opportunity to display just how authentically Muslim they were. Of those I encountered, many seemingly equated (female) Muslim authenticity with hyper-femininity and accepting demeaning treatment—and in some cases, with harshly judging other women who didn’t seem to be fitting into the hyper-feminine mold… especially “western” female converts.
I had never ever seen a white conservative male convert, or an Arab Muslim woman standing up for justice on Eid. Stand up for justice, even when they knew that many in the wider Muslim community would not agree with them, and would in many cases harshly judge them. Knowing full well that it could cost them.
Just knowing that that took place was a sort of fish-out-of-water experience. They say that a fish only realizes that it is in water when it discovers air. The Eid al-Adha that I had long been accustomed to (I now began to realize) was first and foremost a day when we were all falling over ourselves to flaunt what privileges we had—patriarchal privilege, racial and ethnic privilege, economic privilege, geographic privilege, straight privilege, cisgender privilege—to revel in our entitlements, and to celebrate those who had even more. Those of us who had less privilege might resent those who had more (and then try to suppress our “ungodly” resentment…), but what we wouldn’t do was to reflect on our own places in the hierarchy of privilege, much less question it.
We wouldn’t take a stand. Sure, those who had the means would give charity to “the poor” on Eid, meat from the slaughtered animals would be shared with the less fortunate members of the community, and collections would be taken up on behalf of “the brothers suffering/fighting/being persecuted in…” (fill in the blank with the Muslim cause du jour here). But none of this ever risked calling into question the hierarchies of privilege in which our “authentically Muslim” lives were embedded. None of this ever summoned us to stop and think about how our privileges were built on the marginalization of others who were even less privileged than we were.
None of this ever challenged us to stand for justice. To reread those ancient stories. To ask why some supposedly must be marginalized, deprived of a voice, airbrushed from sacred history, and to refuse to do so, no matter how many “good, knowledgeable brothers” or “shaykhs who spent X years studying in Y, maash’Allah!” say that it’s righteous to treat any human being like that. None of this ever called into question the notion that Abraham’s sacrifice was in effect a call for us to kill our own consciences.
So of course I found it an empty experience. Because for me, there was nothing there. Nothing but a lot of frantic activity designed conceal from ourselves the creeping realization that something was seriously amiss.
This Eid, an unbearably heavy burden was lifted from me. And for that, I thank those sisters and brothers who were brave enough to put themselves out there and stand for justice.