Archive for category Marriage

Setting men up to lose

A lot of the posts on this blog deal with the impact of certain hyper-conservative interpretations of Islam on my life, as well as on the lives of other female converts that I have known. I have repeatedly blogged about the difficulties of trying to recover from living in certain very restrictive and stifling situations, and trying to (re)build a life for oneself and one’s (often confused and sometimes troubled) kids.

But one angle of these situations that I haven’t really dealt with is the impact on (some) men. On my ex, for instance. On some of my friends’ exes. On conservative, often immigrant, Muslim men, who became “born again Muslims” after living for a time in “the West” as young male refugees or students. And for that matter, on some of our now-grown sons, who were raised in very conservative, insular and controlling Muslim communities.

One reason I don’t deal with this subject much is for much the same reason that I don’t write about the 1 percent. I mean what—the problems that are consuming you at the moment are that your butler quit, and junior has started spouting  some kind of lefty nonsense about how rich people should pay more taxes? Do you even have a clue how many people in the world would love to have your “problems”?? It’s not just the male privilege that these conservative Muslim men have that tends to leave me thinking that I don’t have much to say about their situations, it’s that unlike many women exiting rotten or abusive marriages or trying to distance themselves from toxic community dynamics, these men usually have considerably more power.

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Oh, how they lied

I’m in the middle of reading what is so far a pretty awesome book: Ayesha Chaudhry’s Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition.

It's awesome because it's honest... at least, what I've read of it so far. Which is sad, really---why is being honest about "the tradition" so rare? What does this say about the self-styled bearers of "the tradition" who I dealt with that they couldn't be bothered to be  honest, or actively didn't seek to be? What is a tradition worth when people can't tell the truth about it?

It’s awesome because it’s honest… at least, what I’ve read of it so far. Which is sad, really—why is being honest about “the tradition” so rare? What does this say about the self-styled bearers of “the tradition” who I dealt with that they couldn’t be bothered to be honest, or actively didn’t seek to be? What is a tradition worth when people can’t tell the truth about it?

This is quite an experience. Parts of it are very triggering, frankly. Reading through all the medieval interpretations of Q 4:34 as well as the views of the jurists who followed the four Sunni madhhabs, was really something. Much of it I had encountered before, mostly through reading… but that was in dribs and drabs. The overall effect of all that delivered at one fell swoop was really, well… horrifying. Just bone-freezingly horrifying.

For several reasons: Because the misogyny of “the tradition” was simply undeniable. Because it kept mentioning things that had happened to friends of mine, or to me, or which had been reported on the news… and we had been assured that it is “unIslamic” and that “no true Muslim would do such a thing” or “this is a misinterpretation.” And it wasn’t true. Which brings me to the third, and in a way, the worst reason: Because they lied. Those imams, shaykhs, community leaders, study circle teachers, people we looked up to and trusted… lied.

I can’t count how many times down through the years that we were told in so many ways that marriage “according to the true teachings of Islam” is ultimately all about love and compassion. That while men and women have different roles in marriage, this is according to the design of the all-wise Creator, and therefore these differences are intended for the benefit of both of them, as well as for the benefit of the children, and society as a whole.

Well, not only does it turn out that this idea derived from 1950’s-’60’s functionalism (a very secular sociological theory devised by non-Muslims, btw—the horror!) rather than the Qur’an, the sunna or “the tradition,” but medieval Qur’an commentators and jurists to a man saw marriage primarily in terms of what men (aka not women, or even children) were entitled to. And among the things that most of these scholars held that a man is entitled to is an obedient wife. We’d heard that often enough… but with the edges of the definitions of “obedience” typically softened.

We heard different definitions of “obedience”—everything ranging from a woman performing her ritual duties properly, to obeying her husband in everything unless he commands her to do something sinful. But we never heard the opinion that a wife who, say, had been in the habit of meeting her husband with a smile but ceased to do so is “disobedient” and therefore should be admonished, separated from in bed, and if he deems it necessary, beaten. (!?)

This is the sort of interpretation that had me wondering wtf?? Since when does hitting someone for not being cheerful or welcoming enough make them more rather than less cheerful or welcoming? The author wryly points out that she can think of any number of reasons why a woman might not be in a smile-y mood (illness, tiredness… I’d add pregnancy or cramps or in-law problems) that have nothing to do with her attitude to her husband. But the scholars with this particular take on disobedience were not at all concerned with trying to understand why a wife might behave in a way that her husband finds less than satisfying, as the author points out—their focus was on what the husband is entitled to. He was entitled to a wife who pleases him. She however was not entitled to a husband who pleases her. If she got that, then that was a bonus, but she had no legal or moral right to it, in their view.

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Thinking about stories of holy women

I see that the Feminism and Religion blog has an awesome article up about stories of holy women in Islam. This got me thinking about a number of things. I was one of those converts who was really drawn to those stories. Still am in some ways, I guess.  And I wasn’t the only one. A number of female converts I knew were into stories about holy women, whether these were women in the Qur’an, stories about female Companions, Sufi women, or Muslim women today. We devoured books like Daughters of Another Path (about American women converts). We loved hearing stories about Muslim women political activists such as Zainab al-Ghazali and Merve Kevakci.

What was that all about, exactly? Because, looking back, I recall that (as Laury points out in that article), that having “too much”  interest (aka more than a superficial passing interest) in such stories was discouraged in the Muslim communities that I was a part of. And, that even though this interest of ours was fairly controversial, we ardently pursued it… although now that I think of it, once you’d read several of these stories (especially about Sufi women or modern political activists) then there wasn’t usually too much that was surprising in any of the others. In other words, they were often pretty stereotypical. Why would they be controversial, when they were so utterly harmless? And what effect did reading them have on us?

And… along comes another Debbie Downer. 😦

I think that our interest in these stories was suspect because this was something that the male leaders in our communities weren’t really comfortable with, and feared that they couldn’t control.

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Making 70 excuses for your brother (but not so much your sister)

One of the things that struck me most in all the backing and forthing over Abu Eesa’s misogynistic comments was how willing most people were to make excuses for him, minimize the significance of what he had done, try to understand where he was coming from… even many of his critics. While some called on AlMaghrib to fire him, a number of those who were very critical of his comments still didn’t seem to think that he should lose his post or suffer any long term consequences.

I found this all the more striking because in my experience, this is absolutely not what happens to a girl or woman whose behavior is seen as embarrassing or offensive to the community.

And it’s not just because he is a scholar with a wide following, either. Yes, that likely helped—but being given the benefit of the doubt (and being quickly forgiven even when caught red-handed) is one of the many perks of patriarchal power and status. Generally speaking, the higher status a person has in a community in terms of their race, ethnicity, social class, gender, educational level, health, sexual orientation, etc, the more likely they are to be given the benefit of the doubt.

Oddly enough, I’ve known that for a long time. Back when I wore hijab, when I would walk into a store, my presence would immediately be noted, and within a few seconds somebody would usually come bustling up to “help” me find whatever it was that I wanted. Nowadays, my shopping experiences are much more relaxed and leisurely. Nobody acts like they find my presence unsettling, or that they want me to leave. I knew what was going on then, and I know now. But somehow, I didn’t connect the dots until recently. Because in the Muslim communities I was involved in, religion was used to cover, legitimize and excuse everything.

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A call in the night

Something woke me up. Wasn’t sure what it was, at first.

Then, I realize that the phone is ringing.

I reached for it, and picked it up, dimly wondering who on earth it could be at that hour. A wrong number, maybe? Not that many people have my phone number, and anyone who knows me knows better than to try calling me at 2 am.  I’m barely able to string a sentence together at that hour. Especially not when I have work the next day.

It was one of my daughters. Her voice was shaking with sobs. I asked her what was wrong, and she began to talk about… her memories of when I was still stuck in polygamy.

Her father shouting at her to do the cooking and cleaning while I was off at school (trying to get some skills training so that I could get a job because now that he had taken another wife, I needed to find a way to support myself and the kids). The feeling of being made to be the woman of the house, although she was not even in high school yet. The other woman—now called her “other mother”—coming to visit from abroad for the first time, with her kids, and my ex telling my kids that these are their siblings now.  And then, after my ex divorced her, she and her kids vanished… and my daughter wondered what became of them. How could they be her siblings one month and no relation at all the next?

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Q 4:34—Enough is enough

Laury’s comment on the last post pretty much wrote this post for me (thanks a lot!):

I recall when I first was confronting this abuse, M. Fadel said to me the problem in the verse is not hitting it’s authority over women. He was right, but I wasn’t there yet and needed to deal with the hitting (why God used that word was more disturbing to me at the time than why God put men in charge of women).

I know this book is going to open the conversation up significantly. She apparently has no time for apologists and sharply takes contemporary leaders to task.

http://www.oupcanada.com/catalog/9780199640164.html

Looks like an awesome book, and I can’t wait to read it. (Though it must say that it’s so sad that after all these years of Muslims in North America writing about women and Islam, that I get excited when I see something that’s actually honest instead of apologetic, because that’s just so damn rare. Honesty shouldn’t be rare—we should be able to expect it as a matter of course from our scholars and imams and academics and da’is. But unfortunately, it’s as scarce as hen’s teeth.)

But to business. Laury’s comment raises several issues for me:

  1. the question of willful blindness masquerading as “interpretation” or even as a straightforward reading of the Qur’an,
  2. the larger problem of patriarchal authority in the family, and
  3. the patriarchal authority of the “scholars” (aka men who studied for several years at the University of Medina, or for longer with shaykhs, imams, or anyone in North America who has somehow managed to become known as “shaykh so-and-so,” whatever his qualifications might or might not be).

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Q 4:34–Don’t tell me pretty lies (cont.)

Recently, I encountered the claim that wadribuhunna has some meaning other than “beat them” in a speech given by Yusuf Estes in the film, The Mosque in Morgantown.

According to the film, the back-story of that speech was that Yusuf Estes had been invited by conservative Muslims to give a speech at the university in Morgantown. Given the timing, it appears that this was intended to counter the bad press that the mosque there had recently received due to its opposition to Asra Nomani’s quest to be able to enter by the front door and to pray in the main prayer hall. The talk was about whether “in Islam” women are treated as equal or with equity.

[Just lol at the optics of that—counter “bad press” caused by a brown woman publicly protesting discriminatory treatment at her mosque… by bringing in a white male convert who is well known to be conservative (and to have come from a Southern Baptist background) to talk about… wait for it… women in Islam.  It’s the sort of thing that makes me think that a Muslim Steven Colbert would never, ever be short of material. Hell, maybe I should consider a career in comedy. I suppose it’s never too late.]

Anyhoo… Nomani googled Estes, and found a speech that he had given, in which he said that Q 4:34 allows a man dealing with a disobedient wife to “roll up a newspaper and give her a crack” or to use a “yardstick” on her, if his attempts to rein her in by admonishing her or refusing to share her bed hadn’t had the desired effect. Horrified, she wrote an article for the university student newspaper condemning the invitation of a speaker with such views.

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