Archive for March, 2013
My ex, his family, and some of my older kids have what one might charitably call a creative attitude to the law. [BTW, for anyone panicking at this point: “Muslims! Law-breaking! What, is this a Security Threat?!”—uh no, that’s not the sort of thing that I’m talking about at all. What I do mean is what has been called a “culture of illegality.” Here’s a post about what I am talking about, though this woman definitely had it worse than I did.]
Which means that now and again, they get themselves into situations. Back in the day, when I was still married and involved in very conservative, insular Muslim communities, I’d sometimes get dragged into things that I wanted nothing to do with. And looking back, my ex in particular was an expert at putting me into positions in which I was made to feel that I had to cover for him, bail him out (figuratively, not literally, but still in terms of money, time or resources), or deal with the trouble, worry and upset caused by whatever-it-was that he had gone and done—although he had gone and done it either without my knowledge, or after I had objected to him doing it.
That sort of thing always bothered me a lot. It was humiliating. Whether or not people found out, I felt wrong. Unclean, even. That was how strongly I felt about it. And all the religious, cultural, political and other excuses that my ex and others came up with to justify things that they did never quite convinced me. I wanted to accept those excuses. Sometimes I almost did. But I couldn’t, and as time went on, I became more and more disturbed by what was going on.
So, one of the benefits of being divorced and moving away from those communities (I thought) would mean that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen any more.
But unfortunately, I was wrong about that.
I read a number of blogs written by women (and sometimes men) recovering from Quiverful and other similar very conservative Protestant movements or churches. As the links on this blog indicate. I can relate to a lot of the things that they write about—patriarchal family dynamics, ridiculously high levels of intrusion into people’s lives, cults of personality around self-styled leaders, destructive scripturally-based “counseling” and rotten “marital advice” dished out by such leaders, victim-blaming rhetoric, the after-effects of isolation from “the world” in favor of living in a religious bubble… and the list goes on.
Sometimes, the things they write about help me to think through things that happened to me. Sometimes, they make insightful suggestions about how to deal with particular issues. Sometimes, it’s just nice to know that you are not alone in dealing with the aftermath of such things.
But unfortunately sometimes, reading these blogs is more like realizing the answer to a question that been haunting me ever since I saw a memorial display with the statistics (broken down state by state) for lynchings of African-Americans in the twentieth century: Where does such visceral, violent hatred go? What happens to it, when it is finally driven more or less underground? Does it die for lack of oxygen? Or does it lie there in wait, perhaps mutating into something more socially acceptable so that it can rise again?
Posters and commenters in particular in some of these blogs (and others like them) sometimes use a sort of short-hand that expresses that certain ideas, practices and institutions are oppressive:
- a fundamentalist, controlling Christian community is a “fundystan”
- any oppressive, hyper-controlling church or group is a “taliban”
- conservative Christian teachings (especially on women’s roles) are a “mental burka”
- to question and reject said teachings is to “throw off the mental burka”
- Hepzihah House is “Hezbollah House”
- and so on
Basically, any media word/part of a word that is associated in one way or another with Muslims is equated with oppression, violence, cruelty, or danger, regardless of what the word means in the language(s) or community(ies) that it originally comes from.
“O you who believe! Stand up for justice, bearing witness for God even against yourselves…” (Q 4:135)
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So far, my musings on Muslim identity have been very much centered on MY particular experiences as a white North American convert. Which is unsurprising, but also potentially distorting in a way. Perhaps the problem is not so much with all the racial and gendered dimensions of conversion in North America, but… me?
I mean, sure, conversion to any religion is bound to have its challenges. And becoming Muslim in North America in the early ’80’s was very much a leap in the dark. I thought that I knew what I was doing at the time, of course, but looking back, I just shudder at how remarkably unaware I was of the implications of just about everything that I was doing. Yes, those were the pre-internet days, and I was young and very naive about the way the world works, but really….
And once I had begun to get a sense of how race and gender and class and a whole host of other factors were going to make my relationships with both Muslims as well as non-Muslims a lot more complex now that I had converted and become a practicing, conservative Muslim, then surely any half-way sensible person wouldn’t still expect any sort of warm welcome, much less a sense of belonging? Maybe I just had very unrealistic expectations—not only due to the dawah literature I read, but due to… white privilege. After all, in this racially polarized society, how was it reasonable to have expected anything other than what ended up happening?