Archive for category You owe us an apology
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?
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.
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.
In the last two posts, I have been trying to disentangle why I (and some of my convert friends) bought into the notion that a girl’s or woman’s worth is essentially dependent on her “purity”—her virginity at marriage, and her chaste and modest behavior forever after. Supposedly, all this concern about what girls and women were or weren’t doing sexually was all about morality. Supposedly, it was (sexual) morality that made Islam and Muslims morally superior to “the West”, as well as to all other religions and cultures in the world. Or so we were given to understand.
But the reality as I experienced it was something quite different, now that I look back on it.
I remember various evangelical Christian sex scandals making the news, and the responses of the immigrant or convert Muslims that I knew: We aren’t like this. Because Islam has given us a superior way of life, that protects us from such things. Unlike Christianity, with its guilt about sex and its so-called monogamy, we have a realistic way of life that is in accordance with human nature (fitra), which doesn’t leave anyone any excuse to fornicate or to commit adultery….
To be sure, we didn’t really have sex scandals in the communities I was involved in or had ties with. At least, we didn’t think of them in that way. Because what this “realistic way of life” gave us was the illusion that everyone (or nearly everyone) was being sexually moral—and the means to make most infractions disappear. Men’s infractions, anyway. While girls and women bore the brunt.
An important consequence of this was that we didn’t question the teachings on sexuality that we were given:
- A total ban on dating, or even on male-female platonic friendships
- A ban on anything thought to facilitate or tempt people to commit fornication or adultery
- Gender segregation in most situations, wherever possible
- The requirement that women wear hijab, and dress modestly even in their own homes or in female-only spaces
- The belief that fornication and adultery are very serious sins, that are to be punished by flogging and stoning in an “Islamic” state
- The belief that even same-sex sexual thoughts or feelings are extremely sinful, and probably mean that the person having them is going to hell