Owning space

This post should probably come with trigger warnings. At least, the quote below was very triggering to me, when I first read it on Side Entrance.

“When our sisters are deprived from the right to come to the mosques, or given sub-standard accommodations and treated disrespectfully, it is only natural that some of them will take matters into their own hands and counter-react.

Some of that counter-reaction will be legitimate, and some illegitimate.

Rather than worry about what various counter-reactions have been and how legal they are, I believe we need to concentrate on the root cause of the problem. It is an undeniable reality that women’s prayer spaces (in those masjids that actually have them – for quite a few masjids still don’t even have such spaces) are less accessible, less clean, and less maintained than the men’s sections. Women have to deal with crying children, bad microphones, no visual access to the Imam/khatib, dank hallways to get in and out, and many other issues. Perhaps the worst issue of all: too many of our brothers comment on what they assume is inappropriate clothing when our sisters come to the masjid. This makes many sisters feel uncomfortable simply coming to the masjid.

In a day and age where our sisters are going everywhere, visible everywhere, active everywhere, the BEST place for them to be is in the masjid, praying to Allah, and being with fellow Muslims, and learning about their faith. Rather than believe that they should stay home, we need to contextualize our environment and ENCOURAGE our sisters to come to the most blessed places in their cities: their mosques. We need to make sister’s facilities as neat and clean and well-lit and accessible as the brothers. We either put them in the same hall as the men (as was the case in the time of the Prophet (SAW), behind the men), or provide state of the art AV access to the lectures/khutbah. We need separate rooms (also with AV) for sisters with young infants so that others can also pray and listen in peace. And most importantly, we need to tell our men that it is not THEIR business (unless a family man is dealing with his own wife/daughter) how other women dress. Let the people in charge of the masjid deal with dress codes.

Frankly, in this day and age, if a sister actually comes to the masjid (rather than going shopping or watching a movie or doing any other activity), we should WELCOME her, have the sisters get to know her, and make her feel special. Her priority is not the scarf on her head but her attachment to Allah. Once she feels that attachment, the rest will follow.

Our sisters in faith are our mothers, wives, and daughters. How can we treat them any less than we expect to be treated ourselves in this regard? And how can we deprive them of coming to the masjid when our Prophet (SAW) explicitly forbade it in his own time, and our time requires even more spirituality and education for them?!”

Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Islamic Theologian & Scholar | Religious advisor to MuslimMatters.Org

Wow. Just wow.

To boil all that down to one sentence: We men own the tradition, the ummah, the masajid… and of course we also own our women.

Or to put it in quranic terms: “And Pharaoh said, ‘I am your Lord Most High.'”

Just so much male entitlement is contained in this quote from Yasir Qadhi. It took my breath away. And it took me back on an unwilling tour through years and years of trying to assert our “Islamic rights” to seek knowledge about our religion, to access sacred spaces… only to be condescended to and told that we were a problem and that there must be a problem with our faith that we wanted such things. Of being told that “Islam liberated women 1400 years ago” and that the answer to any and all of Muslim women’s problems was Islam, and then once we offered an Islamic argument in support of our rights then the men in charge would shift the “Islamic” goalposts once again… and deny that anything had ever moved. Constant gaslighting.

I felt for those sisters who started the women’s mosque in LA. Like me, they had been taught that good women should prefer to pray and learn in separate, women-only spaces, especially if they want to be able to lead or speak… and that isn’t it a pity that such spaces are so rare in North America, but then, the community just doesn’t have the resources to support them. That when Amina Wadud led that Friday Prayer in New York this was bad because a woman can’t degrade herself by bending over in front of a bunch of men; women can only lead women. That of course women’s space in mosques was smaller, because women aren’t obliged to attend the mosque but men are, so it’s only fair that mosques cater to men primarily….

Those sisters took such conservative rhetoric at face value, and decided that what was needed was a women’s mosque. Then, women could give sermons, call adhan, lead prayers, and relax without having to worry about being a “fitna to the brothers” due to their very presence. And then—whodathunkit??—the rhetoric around segregation (which had been quite “Islamic” when dictated by men) suddenly shifted from positive to negative.

But I could see the point. How dare those sisters think that they could have a mosque of their own? God forbid that women get up to anything without male supervision… and anyway, mosques are men’s clubs by definition. A women’s mosque is a contradiction in terms. Sure, Chinese Muslims may have had women’s mosques for a couple of centuries now, but those sisters ought to have known that this is the sort of thing that might be mentioned in a talk intended to reassure non-Muslims that Islam isn’t anti-woman, but isn’t to be put into practice in the here and now. Because it would cause fitna. Of course.

This whole kerfuffle isn’t at all unrelated to an article published several months ago on Muslimmatters on “the hypocrisy of feminist outrage”. That’s “feminist outrage” against street harassment of women. The article argues that feminists are hypocritical in holding that women can dress how they wish, while also condemning male harassment of women… because women are harassing men by appearing in public wearing revealing clothing.

Yikes, again.

The article was certainly an enlightening look at the “logic” that presumably drove a lot of bad male behavior that I have encountered over the years from both Muslim and non-Muslim men. Silly me, I had wondered things such as “why are they acting like such pigs?” as I (modestly swathed in a loose plain jilbab and large headscarf) walked with my children and sister-in-law past a seemingly endless row of leering young men in the city center. I had imagined that since I was “modestly” and very conservatively dressed that there was no reason for them to be leering at me. But I hadn’t realized that that wasn’t really the point. The point was that as women, we were seen as trespassers, as intruders into men’s space. As aggressors, because men are entitled to the streets, entitled to take up space, and as women we are not. Good women, after all, belong at home, not outside. Therefore, we deserved what we got, and were lucky it wasn’t worse.

Where do all these space wars leave me, today?

I am so very very tired of it all. While it is so often wrapped in religious rhetoric, this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything spiritual. This is about men’s entitlement (and some women who support it).

Identifying as part of the ummah in any sense meaning living with this entitlement, and the apologetics surrounding it.

To be sure, things are beginning to shift. Several Muslim women pushed back against this bleakly misogynistic apologia for street harassment in the comments, and some even wrote a refutation of it. An Afghani female artist even protested street harassment by wearing a metal suit in the street in Kabul. And yes, women established a mosque in LA. Things are beginning to change. It’s not just a few women speaking up any more.

Is the glass half full, or half empty?

I guess I’m too tired to decide. That, and too worried about the future of my daughters, who deal with street harassment regularly.

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  1. #1 by threekidsandi on March 15, 2015 - 1:18 pm

    I am lucky to have moved to a small town that has not such a culture. Not even the gun and golf clubs here are gender segregated.

  2. #2 by nmr on March 15, 2015 - 3:27 pm

    At a recent coffee clutch, one of my friends noted, “The same men who are complaining about the all-women’s mosque are the same ones that want you covered in fabric from head to toe and then sexually molest you when no one is looking.”
    I replied, “Well sure, how are those predators going to get to their prey when the prey has their own masjid?”

    • #3 by xcwn on March 15, 2015 - 4:49 pm

      Yup, it’s an issue of power and control, ultimately. Those men truly believe that they have divinely given authority and entitlement to control everything and everybody, and can’t accept anyone challenging that.

      When Amina Wadud led the Friday prayer and there was all that conservative backlash, we were given to understand by many of those men that the root of the problem with a woman doing that was basically about the temptation that any female body “naturally” has for men and how a female imam would therefore inappropriately sexualize sacred space, distracting men and “degrading” women.

      But their opposition to a women’s mosque demonstrates that the issue was never really about women’s butts or men’s errant erections at all—it was about preserving the maleness of religious authority. So, now they are saying that a woman leading a Friday Prayer is legally invalid even for an entirely female congregation. Because only a penis-bearer can do that, regardless of how learned or pious any woman might be.

  3. #4 by hoopstress on March 15, 2015 - 4:35 pm

    It is extremely ridiculous when women are supposed to wear hijab so as to avoid molestation or the like when they go outside, but are encouraged to stay at home mostly , so as not to get molested.

    Which one is it?

    It is ridiculous & absolutely stupid when one looks at the sheer amount of nitpicking of women who do wear hijab.
    “She’s “insulting” the hijab by wearing makeup”
    “Why does she wear jeans under her abaya/jilbab? Either one or the other”

    My brain is frying

    • #5 by xcwn on March 15, 2015 - 4:56 pm

      “It is extremely ridiculous when women are supposed to wear hijab so as to avoid molestation or the like when they go outside, but are encouraged to stay at home mostly, so as not to get molested.”

      Yes—as though harassment and molestation never happen to girls or women at home.
      It’s all about blaming the victim.

  4. #7 by Sarah on March 17, 2015 - 1:49 am

    As a woman who grew up in ‘benevolent patriarchy’ – perhaps I can give my perspective. On first glance for me, this wouldn’t have come off as sexist or insulting (whereas, for example, my ‘benevolently patriarchal’ father and I both saw Abu Eesa’s writing as totally inexcusable) – it’s the language of a sheltered person who doesn’t realize that how they speak involves a whole lot of privilege. They’re speaking to their own very sheltered and middle-class community and upbringing – where the bad effects of rhetoric (that you have no doubt experienced first-hand) were very easily ignorable and unseen. My father is like and close to Yasir Qadhi – it has taken him YEARS of my mother’s influence to see more beyond his very rosy upbringing. Look at how long it took Qadhi to realize how bloody Shia/Sunni conflict is very much fuelled by seemingly “innocent” preached rhetoric that he now renounces, and to realize that Salafism was a construct and not “the truth”. To me it’s the same principle with that as with this – ignorance of your own self’s privilege, and inability to see what is going on around you (especially because many raised-religious Muslims are brought up in very insular circles). It was ibn al Qayyim who said “He who knows himself, knows His Lord.” I see it as the vice versa – the person unable to understand their own privilege, cannot know their God – didn’t Allah say that we would find Him amongst the oppressed, after all? Ignorance is no excuse.

    And to be totally frank – I don’t think that replies like that of the Fatal Feminist really help with this. It’s not my place to say this on your blog, which is your personal space – but I think that that stuff simply goes over the head of someone not aware of WHY what they said is problematic. Call it a language difference, if you will. To me it really, truly, used to come off as ridiculous nit-picking by women who seemed to have nothing to do but hate on other Muslims (and be two-faced about Islam), whilst demeaning the fact that good work was being done. It takes hard reality to slap sense into people :/ (and yes, legitimacy via appeal to Islamic logic, which is tough because often orthodoxy is, as you know quite well, just a construct).

  5. #8 by rosalindawijks on March 19, 2015 - 6:36 pm

    A take on all of this by a shaikha. I think it’s quite interesting and revealing to hear how she thinks. Trigger warning included.

  6. #9 by rosalindawijks on March 20, 2015 - 10:23 am

    ” To me it really, truly, used to come off as ridiculous nit-picking by women who seemed to have nothing to do but hate on other Muslims (and be two-faced about Islam), whilst demeaning the fact that good work was being done. ”

    I’m very sorry, but I utterly disagree with you on this. Nahida and Orbala spend most their time studying Islam on an academic level and writing articles and blogs on Islam and specifically Islamic Feminism.

    They’re quite courageous also, since take a stand against racism and sexism in Muslim communities as well as in the wider American society.

    It’s very interesting to see that when a woman takes a feminist and/or critical stand and expresses her opinion, that is dismissed as “nitpicking” or “dividing the Ummah”. Right.

    And hate doesn’t have anything to do with it, either. And what do you mean about being “two faced” about Islam? If any, Nahida and Orbala are always VERY clear and straightforward about their interpretations of Islam.

    I don’t consider it “good work” if a scholar after years and years of Islamic feminist and progressive muslim critiques finally realizes that the patriarchal structures should be relaxed somewhat. It’s a matter of women’s rights and no, I’m not going to give anyone a pat on the back because he or she wants to “give” me a right that always has been mine to begin with.

    Neither would I give a WASP a pat on the back if he or she finally realizes that we black people are humans with equal rights.

    I appreciate solidarity and male/white allies, but standing together with blacks or women and fighting against racism or sexism is something alltogether else then condescendingly claiming that “we” (men) should “put THEM” anywhere, because in this argument, women are dismissed and “THEM” and are talked ABOUT in stead of being talkes WITH.

  7. #10 by rosalindawijks on March 20, 2015 - 4:20 pm

    What do you think about ShaykhaFest? It sounds pretty cool, but I guess they wouldn’t feature Islamic feminist or progressive muslim scholars. (Like Amina Wadud, Asma Barlas, Ziba Mir-Husseini, the grande dame Fatima Mernissi, etc.)

    • #11 by xcwn on March 22, 2015 - 7:02 pm

      I don’t know.
      There was a time that I thought that when women–especially women born and raised in North America, regardless of background–become bone fide “Islamic scholars,” then our problems will be solved. I no longer think this.
      There’s a special feeling of… I don’t know what it is, betrayal?… that one experiences hearing a female scholar defend and promote the same old misogynistic stuff, though perhaps in gentler tones.

  8. #12 by Sarah on March 21, 2015 - 6:20 am

    “It’s very interesting to see that when a woman takes a feminist and/or critical stand and expresses her opinion, that is dismissed as “nitpicking” or “dividing the Ummah”. Right.”

    I’m a bit puzzled – I didn’t try to call anyone these things now. What I was saying that this is how I used to think before I took off my rose-colored glasses. I was commenting because if one can’t identify how the ‘symptoms’ of opposition to the work of women like these works, then it’s much harder to be able to apply the ‘medicine’ of changing viewpoints. To you works like these make sense because you’ve been exposed to a much wider discourse. When you haven’t – when you’re as sheltered as the person being criticized – then the use of such language doesn’t convince them.

    Perhaps we simply approach the same activism in different ways. I think that the work of painstakingly convincing is important, because that was the method that I saw changing MY viewpoints. But at the same time, like you said, you can’t devote all your energy catering your activism towards pleasing.

    • #13 by rosalindawijks on March 23, 2015 - 8:58 am

      Thanks for claryfiying your point of view, Sarah.

      I’m sorry I prematurely jumped to conclusions. My apologies for that.

      I guess my temper & anger about mysoginist practices by Muslims got the best of me. (lol)

  9. #14 by rosalindawijks on April 20, 2015 - 3:57 pm

    Well, here is an interesting case of what happens when women stand up against gender discrimination in the masajid. It just happened to me, today.

    Today, I have been bullied, threatened and intimidated by the chair man of the board of the Djame Masdjied Taibah – Moskee Taibah in Amsterdam.
    I prayed in the back in the musalla/main hall, which is also the men’s hall. I do that regularly. One of my reasons for doing that is that the womens room is dirty, dusty and that the loudspeaker doesn’t work.
    They told me not to do that before, and I have told them for years to improve the womens room. I also always greated them cortously and politely explained them why I did that, complete with ahadith from the Prophet, may Allahs blessing & forgiveness be upon him.
    Today, I started praying and one of the men there starting talking to me while I was praying. I ignored him and went further with my prayers. Then, some of them fetched the board chairman, who told me to go away. When I refused, whilst explaining him why, he started to yell “go away!” at me, while pointing at the door. When I told him I wouldn’t, he yelled at me: “You’ll see how you will be dragged away!” He even had the audacity to call the police, so I had to leave.
    But I did tell him : “You threatened me today and I’ll leave it at that, but if you touch me or ever threaten me again, I’ll file an official complaint against you.”
    The police officer sided with them immediately. Yes, he did let me and the chairman clairify our points of view, but took their side.
    Even though I know a lot about the patriarchy reigning in most mosques, and I also know about police abuses and their often siding with the status quo, I never thought they’d go this far. They chair man also told me that I wasn’t welcome in the masjid anymore.
    This is exactly the way that women are bullied out of the masjid and out of the Ummah.
    It’s bizarre actually, that a woman is removed from the mosque, because she performs prayer, the main reason for any mosque to exist anyway. But they haven’t heard the last of me, and I’m going to either file a complaint or expose them publicly, so help me God. This patriarchy and misogyny has GOT to end!

    • #15 by xcwn on April 21, 2015 - 1:05 am

      That is absolutely outrageous. I am so sorry that this happened to you.

      Do you know the tumblr “Side Entrance”? They might help you get the word out about this. Maybe publicity will “help” the mosque see how wrong their behavior is.

      • #16 by rosalindawijks on April 21, 2015 - 3:38 pm

        Thanks xcwn for your support & kind words. Side Entrance already published my post above actually, without me even having to ask! You can see it here: http://sideentrance.tumblr.com/post/116925549490/today-i-have-been-bullied-threatened-and

        I also wrote the board of the mosque an open letter and put it on Facebook, and contacted various local Muslim magazines.

        People on fb were all shocked & enraged, so this might become big.

        I’m not quite done with them yet, and I aim to cause as much publicity as possible, to expose their unacceptable ways.

        Oh yes, and here is their website – it’s fully in Dutch, but to get a bit of an impression…… http://www.taibah.nl

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