Recovering from religious patriarchy

As converts to Islam in the early ’80’s, we were usually given to understand (both by conservative Muslims, as well as by the wider non-Muslim society) that the teachings on gender, family and sexuality that we received were uniquely Muslim.

Meaning, that if we had a problem with these teachings, we had a problem with God himself, and if they didn’t work out well in our lives, there must be something wrong with us and not with the ideas themselves (from the perspective of conservative Muslims). Or meaning (from the perspective of the wider society) that this only goes to show that Islam and Muslims are innately misogynistic, and choosing to be Muslim inevitably means choosing to be oppressed.

These ways of framing the issues we faced isolated us. We didn’t see the larger picture for the longest time. It made it difficult for us to see where abuse was taking place, much less to consider seeking help. It made us feel guilty about questioning certain practices, because we couldn’t “let the side down,” so to speak. Admitting that some practices were causing needless suffering was somehow seen as capitulating to “outsiders'” stereotypes of us as uniquely and inevitably oppressed.

The first time I saw the Power and Control Wheel, I didn’t know what to make of it.

A (Muslim) friend who had recently exited from an abusive marriage had emailed it to me. I looked and I looked, but I couldn’t recognize my experiences in it. Because the standards that it implied of what a non-abusive marriage ought to be like didn’t seem to be something that I could be justified in aspiring to. According to what we were taught, a man is supposed to be the head of the household, and a good wife obeys her husband. She does not have the right to work–or even to leave the house, in most cases–if he forbids her. And so on. Which is not to say that all husbands–or even the majority of husbands–took it so far that they forbade their wives to leave the house. They didn’t, in the communities I lived in. But at the same time, we knew very well that if a man wanted to do this, he had the legal right. And that if a husband reminds his wife to “fear God” when she opposes him, or threatens to divorce her or to take another wife, or tells her that God will not be pleased with her if she does not do X, he would not be seen as abusive, but as living up to his God-given role.

Sure, the more middle-class professional element of the communities I was involved in might look down on or even deplore a husband who threw around his patriarchal privilege too crudely, especially if they were Islamists–because in their view, a wise husband should have been able to “educate” his wife to see things his way rather than having to coerce her. But if a man did decide to throw his weight around, the typical advice that women were likely to receive was to “be patient” and to avoid shaming the community or endangering her faith by calling the police or going to a women’s shelter.

When discussing wife abuse (on the rare occasions when this was in fact discussed), people would parse verses from the Qur’an, or hadiths, or the views of scholars past and present. Never was it presented to us in a larger context, as the ways and means that abusers the world over use against those they abuse, religious pretexts or not.

So, we had leaders who would get up and say, with a straight face, that wife abuse is not allowed “in Islam,” but that a wife has to obey her husband unless he orders her to do something sinful, and if she does not, he should warn her, and then refuse to share a bed with her, and lastly (if none of these measures work) strike her lightly with a toothbrush. Nobody would object and say that this is abuse, because there was no recognized standard outside of our (narrow) frame of reference for determining what abuse is or isn’t. Which is of course a recipe for abuse.

The psychological impact of living with these ideas is not a small thing. In order to believe them–or even, to tolerate them in theory–you have to believe on some level that you aren’t as worthy of respect, security and human growth as a man is. And even worse, you believe that this is what God says. So that if you start to question this, you often believe that you have to choose between your own sense of self, and your salvation. For many religious women, this is no choice at all.

All these years later, I came to discover that a lot of the attitudes and practices that we were taught were nothing particularly special–they were unfortunately typical of right-wing patriarchal religious groups in North America in the ’80’s and ’90’s (and until today, in some cases):

  • a strong distrust of “feminism” in any form whatsoever, including explicitly religious feminism
  • strict limitations on women’s exercise of any type of religious leadership
  • emphasis on the notion that the husband is the head of the household
  • teaching that God has commanded wives to obey their husbands
  • a strong emphasis on women getting married and having children
  • discouraging higher education for women, unless it is in a field that is seen as necessary in order to fill community needs and is said to be in accordance with women’s “nature,” such as nursing or school teaching
  • discouraging women from working for wages outside the home
  • concern with regulating what women wear (while not paying nearly as much attention to men’s clothing)
  • teaching sexual double standards as divinely given (e.g. putting the onus for “modest” dress and behaviour on women; allowing males more freedom to select a marriage partner and/or get a divorce, allowing men to take more than one wife)
  • a strong suspicion of the public school system because children will be exposed to different views on religion, gender roles and sexuality
  • strong advocacy of shielding children by taking them out of certain classes/events at their public school (e.g. sex ed, gym, field-trips), or by setting up religious schools, or homeschooling them
  • a heavy emphasis on parents’ control of children’s behaviour, especially of daughters
  • shunning and rejection of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or other gender or sexual minority members
  • marked ambivalence or opposition to contraception, and/or abortion, even by married women

I realize that in many conservative “mainstream” Sunni North American Muslim communities, a lot of these ideas are increasingly passe, or even openly rejected by some more recent converts, to say nothing of the younger generation. Which to my mind is all to the good.

However, just because we now (thankfully!) have some leaders who object to the notion that husbands can strike their wives with toothbrushes, or even entertain the idea that maybe women can lead prayer does not erase the harm that was done to many of us who lived for years in communities where these ideas were regarded as mainstream. To say nothing of the harm often done to our children.

Many of us are still dealing with the fall-out. There is practically no recognition of this from Muslim leaders or organizations, much less resources designed to help us. Recognizing that our experiences were often not all that different from those of women in groups such as the FLDS, Quiverful, or Christian Patriarchy enables us to access resources that are already out there for women exiting or trying to deal with the effects of religious patriarchy.

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  1. #1 by Ify Okoye on May 9, 2012 - 8:46 am

    Even though I converted two decades after you, I see myself, my friends, and my community in your story. I am also in the process of recovering from religious patriarchy. Thank you for writing so eloquently about what many of us experience but rarely discuss so openly.

  2. #2 by xcwn on May 9, 2012 - 11:43 pm

    Thank you for your comment, Ify.
    I was hoping that things had changed significantly for newer converts. Hopefully, people will become more open about these issues.

  3. #3 by Elizabeth Asmaa Valencia on May 31, 2012 - 8:19 pm

    You have some interesting thoughts here that I look forward to reading more. think part of the problem within our Ummah – if not THE problem – is simply the ignorance of the message of the Quran – LOVE and MERCY. When Love and Mercy fills everything, we can then begin to look at everything with that eye of mercy as well. For me, the journey has been an amazing self-discovery but it has had serious ups and downs, which NOW I can appreciate, but not so much then. How many don’t make it?

    • #4 by xcwn on June 1, 2012 - 12:41 am

      Well… it all depends on who is reading the Qur’an, and from what perspective.

  4. #5 by Elizabeth Asmaa Valencia on June 1, 2012 - 2:50 am

    Right. Sadly, that’s the problem – we cannot agree as to its most fundamental message.

    I have been reading a fabulous work by Prince Ghazi that I recommend called Love in the Holy Quran. His goal is to prove that the main message of the Quran is love and mercy and he does it by mainly quoting the Quran itself. It can be downloaded online for free at altafsir.com. Since I’ve begun to read this book, I can see what much of the Muslim community (as a whole) has missed and this is reflected in the problems we face today (of every sort). The intolerance, the judgements, and anger…all of it is due to us not seeing that God really wants from us love for Him and for all of mankind. “My Mercy encompasses everything” (Quran). We have too much to reflect upon just on that verse alone.

    • #6 by xcwn on June 2, 2012 - 10:51 am

      I’m not sure that the problem is lack of agreement on the Qur’an’s message; more like that so many of the communities I have known give free rein to—even encourage—religious bullying. As for love being the answer, that depends on how “love” is defined. It can be and often is defined in a very narrow, “us and them” kind of way. Such as those who like to go on about how one should “love for the sake of Allaah and hate for the sake of Allaah” and who are no less grounded in the Qur’an and hadith than, say, Sufis who preach about love.

  5. #7 by The mamá on July 8, 2012 - 1:38 am

    I’m sorry you’ve had such a terrible experience in your marriage and with the “Islam” that was altered for you to know. I truly am sorry ppl allow others to ruin islam, life and all of it at once almost byt buying into what their told instead of learning TRUE Islam. May Allah TRULY envelope you in His Mercy and Grant you Peace ameen.

  6. #8 by xcwn on July 15, 2012 - 2:04 am

    Mama: your comment comes off as pretty condescending. And most of the practices and beliefs discussed in this post were `mainstream` in the `80`s and 90`s. They were presented to us as True Islam. They still are being presented to a lot of women as True Islam, for that matter.

  7. #9 by Hajar on August 4, 2012 - 9:44 pm

    Dear writer,
    I have been reading a number of posts on our blogg and it has made me think.
    Especially the one about piety and ramadan got me interested!!
    I’m a convert to islam of over 3 years from a Western society, recently untill now happily married to a muslim man. We currently live in a muslim country.
    I do recognise a lot of your feelings and ideas, i experienced a few anti-femine issues myself in the community back in the western country i come from. Such as men telling us at the mosq to enter via the safety escape back door of the mosq instead of the (one) regular entrance and the fact that so often when you go for a lecture or khutba in the mosq, the speakers of the womensroom are left off so we hear nothing and therefore came for nothing. Going up to the mens room to complain is a big nono.
    However in the religion itsself i find that there is a an ideal way for a society to work (and live) as a whole. Though i understand your feelings you expressed for example during ramadan where you felt that you where used as a cook for the husband, babysitter for the kids, unable to go out for taraweeh, unable to find time to worship as you wanted etc etc. I cant help but wonder what would be a better system. I mean ofcourse the husband should help the wife more, ofcourse the mosq and its imams and sheikhs should be open to women, we are human beings, with the same if not more value as a man, remember we keep humanity alive, we bear the children. but what i mean to say is, someone has to do the cooking, and since the husband is required to work outside the home for the family income, it would be a bit harsh to ask him to cook after he comes home fasting and working.
    For example till i find a job, my husband works outside 6 days a week to make income, adding to this he does the shopping for food (and pays for it ofcourse) and i cook, clean the house, do the wash etc etc. and when it comes to private time together, according to islam and the sunnah, this should be a joy for both partners. And remember women are allowed to work, and they get to keep all their income for themselves.
    Looking at my parents (atheists) marriage of over 25 years i see actually the same pattern (although they wont admit it) mom stayed home with the kids, did all the house work. Dad worked. In fact my husband helps me more then my father helped my mother. I see no abuse in their marriage, they seem content.
    So my question is, what is the solution? What is the system that would work better then islam, if practised the way our Creator intended? Could you make an article about not what you want to heal from, but what you think should be the ideal way for family life and community life in islamic society?

    Lastly i want to add that in my opinion, patriarchy is something not typical in islam, but typical in the whole world, for men in general. They seem to for some reason have the desire to control, to be in power and to use and abuse this power. they like to demand and to give orders. but i believe our God is fair in judgement and will set them that abuse others straight in the day of judgement…

  8. #11 by Sage on August 6, 2012 - 3:18 pm

    Your blog is amazing; thank you for everything you’ve shared here, and I look forward to your future posts. I converted to Islam in 2007; this was after a decade of on-and-off considering conversion. Since marrying in 2009, I’ve basically completely stopped observing Islam due to feelings of extreme alienation and disgust with the Muslims in my community, particularly my spouse’s extended family—I have been unable to compartmentalize my observation of Islamic ritual and the revulsion I feel toward the people in my circle. Recently I’ve found that I feel as close to God as I ever have when I go for a simple walk in the woods—during which I don’t have anyone harping at me about my dress, my wearing of nail polish, my whistling, my confident attitude, whether or not I use toilet paper, etc., or have anyone sticking me behind a curtain or into a segregated space where I can’t be with my husband and two sons. I’m not sure at this point whether I even want to work through this all to continue being ‘Muslim’—-the whole experience of being observant in this religion feels thoroughly contaminated.

    • #12 by hqas on March 16, 2014 - 10:23 pm

      I’m so disturbed by all that you have faced and thank you for voicing out these intricacies which I call the war within Islam that is war on women and hatred of women. I hope you will process these experiences and come at peace, either ways. No one should tell you to remain Muslim if your heart does not feel it.

  9. #13 by Louise on August 18, 2012 - 3:45 pm

    I converted to Islam in the late 80s. I left Islam in 2000. Islam flourishes in the West because Christianity is under attack since the Reformation and the so-called scientific revolution. Islam is anti-science, anti-woman, undemocratic, patriarchal, and downright vulgar. Islam thrives because the Left and atheists actually defend it. Being a Muslimah was a torturous experience. Always watched, always condemned, always lectured to, always criticized – why women think this is such a great experience, such a great lifestyle, so freeing!, is beyond my imagination.

    Of course, Muslims tell you that this is not how the religion is supposed to be even if women are treated like garbage in the Muslim world. Really? So, if this is so, can anyone please show me where this great Islam is supposed to be practiced? Nowhere? Since it is practiced nowhere – that its prejudice, violence, and vulgarity are endemic in all Islamic countries – then why package Islam as the greatest religion on earth since no one practices it anywhere? Islam relies on false advertising to attract members. Islam is a marketing scheme. Muslims come to the West to escape these so-called repressive regimes to institute the same traditions and power structures here that the lived back home. What hypocrisy!!!!! Muslims are in the West to drag it down to their levels.

    The happiest day of my life was when I left Islam. I took off the Hijab and when I felt the wind flowing through my hair, I realized how wonderful it is to be free from perpetual servitude and slavery to the opinions and regards of others. The hijab is the symbol of what Islam is: covering yourself from knowing about truth and reality.

    • #14 by xcwn on August 18, 2012 - 8:56 pm

      Louise—I hope that things are better for you now.

  10. #15 by maryam on September 6, 2012 - 1:27 am

    Islam itself is, to me, neutral in terms of gender. Patriarchy is the prism through which it is interpreted. Understanding that much of proper Islamic behavior is frozen in time and that what was normal behavior and thinking 1400 years ago helps to move on to the spiritual stuff, which is the reason I became Muslim in the first place. Absolutely nothing opened my eyes more than living in Egypt for the past year. I began to see the patriarchal bullshit for what it is – men have a God-blessed right to totally control every aspect of a woman’s life, and this mentality doesn’t come from the Quran but from the hadith, which are obsolete and irrelevant to modern life. Shit, how convenient to have God himself say it’s OK to hurt women physically, psychologically and emotionally, right? It’s cool to turn women and girls into chattel, turn them into breeding animals and housekeepers, just tell them how they’re pleasing Allah by going along.

    • #16 by charmedshiva on December 8, 2012 - 7:42 am

      How do you resolve that the “bullshit” you refer to is actually part of Islam? At least, the Islam that we have evidence for from Quran and hadith…
      I’m also struggling in life, just trying to figure myself out and what I believe in… It’s difficult to know that I entered into a religion that I think I don’t even agree with. You know what I’m saying? I was presented the very basics of Islam and I loved it. I still love it. When it came to women’s issues, they focused on hijab, which I quickly came to accept (and I still do). They also fluffed up the situation by saying things like “Oh, well men’s degree over women really refers to responsibility.”

      Well, if it refers to responsibility then why am I responsible for submitting to his word about my social activity, about leaving the home, about working, about breast feeding, about sex, etc.? I don’t see how all of that should be a natural counterpart to him being responsible for buying me food and making sure I’m clothed….
      To me it just sounds like we don’t agree with Islam itself, not that traditionalist Muslims have interpreted Islam incorrectly. Why are we trying to redefine the religion? It is what it is. That’s the thought that often comes to my head.
      I’m just so confused. Sometimes I wish I had never looked into religion at all. What would my life have been like then? I can’t even imagine because I’m so stuck.

      I want to be a Muslim. I want to be devout. I want to please God. I want to know that what I’m doing is right. I want to excel in religious studies. I want to raise my future children with God in mind. Etc. And before I had all these problems with certain Islamic rulings, before I had my questions and doubts, I felt spiritually satisfied. I felt like my purpose was fulfilled and that I was on the right path.

      Now I oscillate between two really uncomfortable thoughts: either I’ve been deluded about Islam this whole time, thinking it was a perfect religion and that it was fair and humanistic; or I’m giving in to my nafs by questioning God’s religion and I’m only bringing hell upon myself for all of this, because in reality I’m the inadequate one who just don’t understand the wisdom of Islam.

      I feel so lost.

  11. #17 by Mary Rogers on October 23, 2012 - 6:14 am

    Interesting how all the characteristics match perfectly to the religious CHRISTIAN RIGHT who argue for a Christian theocracy. Of course THEIR VERSION would be completely different from the Muslims because THEY WOULD BE RIGHT (according to their delusional world view.) And the arguments here from those defending Islam have a very similiar ring to it…I have a hard time with people who deny what is plainly said in their religious tradition. Or if they acknowledge it then they have figure out some way to justify it or sweep it under the rug.

  12. #18 by charmedshiva on December 8, 2012 - 7:21 am

    “…you often believe that you have to choose between your own sense of self, and your salvation” is how I feel right now, but I think maybe for different reasons. There are only a handful of things about Islam that I find troubling. The majority is perfectly fine. I really don’t understand people’s anti-hijab attitudes or why there is attention on women leading prayer. It’s just not a big deal. The things I have problems with, I think, are much deeper than that… I think we’ve been presented good arguments for hijab and practices of prayer, and they definitely have textual sources to refer to. They make sense to me so I don’t object to them.

    But, like you mention, women not being able to leave the house without husband’s permission… Or marrying another woman without the consent of current wives… Or the bloody history during the time of Caliph Ali and beyond, and the excuses that scholars make about the blood that was shed. Or the keeping of concubines… Or being cursed by angels all of the night for not committing to a husband’s every call for sex…
    I mean, those are things I don’t understand and I’ve tried really hard to come to terms with. I often resort to labeling myself as stupid or inadequate for not accepting and understanding God’s wisdom in setting such allowable practices. I resort to assuming that I’m hell-bound for my doubt, that God is punishing me in this life for mistrusting the religious rulings and the scholars and I’ll eventually end up in hell for it. I’ve become a very depressed person.
    Somehow even though I many times resort to blaming my own inadequacy, I’m not willing to just conform to those Islamic rulings and practices. I feel like sheep. Sheep just do. There’s no thinking, there’s no “Does this make sense?” I don’t want to be like sheep, yet I want to be a devout person at the same time. It’s hard. I don’t even know how to articulate myself. Does anyone understand me?

    Sometimes I really do feel like maybe I just accepted Islam into my life prematurely. Maybe what I thought I had entered really wasn’t reality. I was just deluded.

    I don’t know. I have a lot of negative thoughts these days.

  13. #19 by xcwn on December 9, 2012 - 1:36 am

    Charmedshiva—First of all, you are not stupid. The comments you have made here raise good questions.
    For whatever it’s worth, I don’t believe that a merciful God would punish you for asking questions—especially not questions that stem from your sense of justice and compassion. Didn’t God give us brains and consciences so that we would use them?

    Second, I am very concerned by your references to self-blame, fear of hell, and depression. In my experience (especially in The Cult), this sort of thing can easily becomes a mutually reinforcing loop that it is very difficult to break free from. Our leaders fostered this (particularly among the sisters) by claiming that the true, authentic Muslim woman is one who never questions, who never feels uneasy about any aspect of the Sharia, and needs no more to be happy than to have the opportunity to serve her husband and family. Any woman who couldn’t live up to this ideal supposedly had something wrong with her.

    They also dealt with questions about their teachings that they found too threatening by labeling those asking them as “lacking hikma” or “contaminated by modernity”.

    This kind of religious “guidance” is not “guidance” at all—it is psychological and spiritual abuse. It is attempting to build up a group, a community by appealing to some peoples’ desire for “certainty”, by running roughshod over others.

    You need to get help with your depression. This is very important. Depression is a treatable medical condition. If at all possible, see a doctor or a counselor.

    I wish you all the best.

    • #20 by charmedshiva on December 9, 2012 - 9:34 am

      Thank you for showing concern. I am getting treatment for my depression. It’s been a long struggle and I only seem to be getting worse. I don’t know what else to do to help myself.

      This part of your comment really hits home for me, especially the last sentence:
      “Our leaders fostered this (particularly among the sisters) by claiming that the true, authentic Muslim woman is one who never questions, who never feels uneasy about any aspect of the Sharia, and needs no more to be happy than to have the opportunity to serve her husband and family. Any woman who couldn’t live up to this ideal supposedly had something wrong with her.

      They also dealt with questions about their teachings that they found too threatening by labeling those asking them as “lacking hikma” or “contaminated by modernity”.

      I definitely do feel like I’m in a loop that I can’t break free from. Those thoughts of self-blame and, I can easily say self-hatred, ring in my head a lot, even though I am also outspoken. I’m so confused. What happened? I was so happy in the beginning? Religion was my every source of fulfillment. What happened?

      • #21 by xcwn on December 12, 2012 - 3:15 am

        Charmedshiva—I am glad to hear that you are getting treatment.

        What happened? I can’t say, I’m not you.
        In my experience—which may not be yours—self-hate is a terribly corroding thing. And, unpicking that web of teachings that has held me in that place of self-hatred has been a long and complex undertaking. But I believe that it can be done.

        I don’t believe that God intended us to be miserable. Or to spend our lives blaming ourselves for what we are not and never can be. It makes no theological sense.

        Be well.

  14. #22 by mary on December 9, 2012 - 7:45 am

    It’s better to walk away from Islam than to torture yourself with doubt and guilt. I still have the guilt, it’s not big but it comes out at times. Just as I found myself explaining to non-Muslims in the US why I converted, I find myself here in Egypt explaining why I drifted away from “traditional Islam.”

    The difficult thing is that the religious training itself gets to you – you wonder if your doubts stem from the Shaytan whispering in your ear, or as another commenter mentioned, “giving in to your nafs.” Just last night when having a conversation with a Muslim man wherein I was telling him I am the mother of a lesbian (non-Muslim) daughter, I was verbally pummeled with verses from the Quran and as I walked away, was told that by loving and accepting my child as a creation of God who in his wisdom saw fit to make her different, I was “throwing the Quran against a wall.”

    NO God worth worshipping places one sex above another and subjugates them. This is a belief I cannot change. As such, it makes me question the very divinity of the Quran. If it is the words of Allah, it is words meant for a time and place which are in the distant past. The messages of the Quran cannot and should not be taken literally.

    Having made the above conclusion, I was able to break out of the “hijab mentality,” which is what I call the traditional, mainstream mindset in Islam. Being in Egypt at such a tumultuous time is a huge lesson. I hope I do not offend anyone, but I see how this mindset has held this country back from social and economic progress. And the life of women here, although on the surface it appears to be “equal” to men’s, is anything but. A woman can’t divorce her husband except under very limited circumstances; women are sexually harassed mercilessly on the street and in the workplace; a woman is expected to “obey” her husband; many Muslims believe it is a sin for a woman to travel alone or with a man who is non-mahram. But generally, holding back half the population from the freedom to fullfil itself paralyzes and stunts the growth of that society.

    • #23 by xcwn on December 12, 2012 - 3:07 am

      Mary—Ah yes, that everlasting fear of your own ideas as just “satanic whisperings.”

      Thank you for accepting your lesbian daughter. That is awesome. As for that meaning that you have supposedly “thrown the Qur’an against the wall”, technically speaking, the Qur’an doesn’t say a word about lesbians. It doesn’t have much to say about female sexual subjectivities at all.

  15. #24 by hajar on December 9, 2012 - 11:34 am

    [The comment has been edited with the aims of this blog—recovery from patriarchal religion—in mind]
    Dear Charmedshiva,

    To start with, im really sorry to read that you feel so depressed and as xcwn wrote, if you feel so down or so bad, please find help. See your GP (family docter) or a counselor and they will help you get back on your feet to become a vibrant, happy, confident and positive person. Life is hard and there are always tough times, but this doesnt mean we deserve to be sad or depressed. A loving Creator wants His servants to be happy and healthy in body, mind and soul.

    I am a convert and I come from an atheist background. I very much understand the things you are concerned with in islam, I share your feelings.

    But to help you get on in life, i would like to say this:
    It’s your life and like xcwn very truly said, don’t let your level of religion of your selfworth be affected by what some cults / groups / imams say. Islam is a religion of peace and variety. Your Creator made you with love and remember that one drop of blood of a muslim is important to Him.

    [I would like to think that one drop of blood of ANY person matters to God… but anyway]

    Like i said, i see your concerns about women, i also struggled much for example with the hadeeth that if we dont answer the call of sex, the angels will curse us till the morning, of marrying another wife without approval of the first wife.
    But what I find the best thing to do is to deal with problems when they come, what i mean is, it makes you feel bad to think about these kinds of things, but although perhaps it may be allowed or true in the religion, its not happening to you (I hope) and its not helping you to focus on it. For myself i have decided after a while of thinking about these issues: it not happening to me, its also not happening to any woman i know, i have never met or seen a man who had more than one wives . and remember that although you and me and most others think this is absolutely horrible and unfair, some women actually dont mind (i have talked to some of them who say they dont mind), so if all parties agree, then who are we to say no in this case.

    [Ok—lucky I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read this, or I’d have ruined this computer. First of all, I can’t see this line of argument as moral. So, if something isn’t happening to me, I shouldn’t care about the others that it has happened to/is happening to/will happen to? Does the world really need any more people running around with a “not my problem” attitude? In a well-known hadith, the Prophet said that he has come to perfect people’s character.

    Second, if you really believe that polygamy (for example) is rare today, or that the supposedly few women who are in polygamy “don’t mind,” then I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I wanna sell you. 🙂
    Look, practices like polygamy go on regardless of the law. Including in North America, where it is illegal. I was in polygamy (against my will), and I know others who were in polygamy too. Perhaps you might like to give some thought to the social and economic as well as religious factors that lead to women getting trapped in such situations.]

    And what also made me feel better is when i confronted my husband with the hadeeth about having to answer the call of sex, he said but you should see that you are cursed not forever, but only till the morning, then all is fine (i know its still bad but it put it into perspective a little for me) AND he added that women must remember that they might be cursed for one night in this life, but if a man does not treat his wife with dignity and respect for her feelings then he will have to answer to Allah on judgement day. He said that he knows that is he would ever ask such a thing of me, and i do it but i dont feel good about it and he knows it, then I wont be held accountable for anything, becoz i did my part and will be rewarded, and if i refuse ill be cursed only for the remaining hours of the night, but the husband will be blamed for pushing me to doing what i didnt want after death, and perhaps punished then, while ill be rewarded.

    [Only cursed til the morning?! So, if I die that night, then what? And do you really want to sleep even one night while believing that you are being cursed? As for the “pie in the sky by and by” argument… words fail me. Since you haven’t had the experience of having sex forced on you by your husband, perhaps you might like to stop pontificating about how those women who have had this experience ought to think about it?]

    It may be said that men have a grade over women, but they will also be held accountable for the way they deal with this grade. every decision they make on our account is recorded and will be dealt with by Allah.

    [Sigh. That “degree above” is legally real, in this world. It has serious implications for women’s (and their children’s) lives. If and when you have directly experienced it, you may not be so blithe to claim that a man’s punishment in the next world somehow balances out injustice in this world.]

    Im still like you somewhat upset sometimes by the things you mentioned, but then i remind myself: in this day and age, men dont marry two wives, its not even legal in most countries, having concubines is something that is also not of this time.
    But what is of this time is the massive cheating that both men and women do to their partner, also the amount of pregnant women who get left by their boyfriends, Our religion does not allow these things.

    [Sorry, but unfortunately concubinage isn’t entirely a thing of the past. It still goes on in places. And, it has also been used recently in order to justify atrocities committed against women in war in some instances in the last several decades. As for the claim that “our religion does not allow” pregnant women to be left by their boyfriends… sigh. Maybe you could google “Ahmed Fishawy”. Or “summer brides – Egypt.” All sorts of practices like that go on in the name of Islam. Unfortunately.]

    Dont let those few things make you upset, just believe that Allah knows best and will deal with any injustice people do to each other.

    I wish you the best in life and may you find peace and tranquility!!

    [God knows best—and God gave us consciences. And brains.]

    • #25 by charmedshiva on December 12, 2012 - 7:21 am

      Sister Hajar,

      I’m surprised that you say you come from an atheist background. Atheists are usually much better involved in logical reasoning than that.

      The “I’m not dealing with it in my personal life so it doesn’t matter” type of attitude doesn’t serve a person in search of the Truth. If I’m going to think like that, then what’s the point of accepting a religion in the first place? I didn’t enter religion in order to simply belong to a group of people. There are many groups out there to belong to. I entered it for its (supposedly) righteousness and sensibility, and for fulfilling the purpose of my life. So if something exists in religion that is troubling, it must be taken into consideration and given heavy weight, regardless of whether the specific practices are still executed in modern times. If principle X is condoned or accepted in Islam, then principle X is part of the religion of Islam, and Islam as a WHOLE is the religion of God. That holds regardless of whether or not principle X is still applied in modern times. The issue is not what I am personally experiencing. The issue is what Islam teaches in principle. Being Muslim is to accept Islam, not to accept only experienced parts of Islam. Islam is a whole religion, not just my or your experience.

      I noticed a lot of reference to polygamy. I don’t have a problem with polygamy in and of itself. What I have a problem with is non-consented or forced polygamy, which apparently is allowed and has been practiced in history. I also have a problem with the idea of unlimited concubines whilst Islam takes so much pride in being the first religion to set a numerical limit on the number of wives a man can have. It’s kind of like limiting a child to 4 chocolate sweets per week, but then allowing him however many white chocolate sweets in addition to those 4. It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it.

      Regarding only being cursed until the morning… The issue is not the duration of cursing, the issue is the very principle of being cursed in the first place. Being cursed by God’s angels is a significant thing, even if it only be for a second.
      Secondly, that cursed woman enters into a state of nushuz. Nushuz has it’s own consequences, for which many classical scholars have even interpreted that a wife loses her right to being financially taken care of. In other words, a man’s responsibility for taking care of his wife is only in exchange for her full-time sexual availability, as well as her submission to her husband’s will regarding when she can leave the house, if she can work, who and when she can visit or have guests, and whether and when she can fast at times other than Ramadan. So being taken care of financially is only in exchange for obedience in those areas.
      Thirdly, your implication is seemingly that although a woman is cursed all night for not having sex at her husband’s immediate command, a man will be held responsible for misbehaving towards his wife and thus we should take no worry from this teaching. That makes absolutely no sense. If a man is misbehaving by claiming the right to have sex at a time she deems inappropriate, then why would Allah’s angels be cursing her? And if a man is not misbehaving by demanding that, then we’re back to square one.

      It’s not about what people actually do. It’s not about what your husband does or what you experience.
      It’s about what’s actually allowed and sold as moral within the religious code.

  16. #26 by hajar on December 10, 2012 - 8:20 am

    [Edited to fit the objectives of this blog—which is recovery from patriarchal religion]

    Hey Mary,

    I just wanted to make a short reaction to what you said.
    I am sorry to see you feel that walking away from Allah swt is your solution to the mistakes of muslims, not the mistakes of islam. but its your choice in the end ofcourse.

    [Passing judgment on people’s “Muslimness” will not be tolerated. Equating someone questioning their faith as “walking away” from God is insulting and dismissive.]

    I just wanted to say that I also live in Egypt, and although I have often heard that women complain or harrassment and ofcourse I believe them!! I have never myself experienced it, nor any women in the fam of my husband. Almost all the women in my husbands fam work, and none of them has problems with men.

    [Ok—I can think of several reasons off the top of my head why women might not like to admit to being sexually harassed, and I can also think of social and economic factors that would affect how much harassment many women have to deal with, but anyway….
    Why is this claim even relevant? Just because something isn’t happening to you (or apparently, to anyone you know) doesn’t mean much. I’ve never in my life seen crack, but addiction to crack is a problem where I live. That I haven’t seen it is a measure of my comparative privilege, not that it isn’t a serious problem.]

    My mother in law is the director of a governmental teaching center, a job she could get after choosing to stay home for 10 years to take care of her 3 kids. Thats something that is impossible in Europe where i come from, if i leave the work force for a year or two, no one will hire me back again.

    [Errr…. there are so many questions that immediately occur to me about her job. Like, is this a temporary or a permanent job? Hours? What is the pay scale like? Benefits? Opportunity for advancement?

    But even if you mil has the most awesomely paid job ever, again… why is this relevant? Is the point that you think that you’ve found in Egypt what you didn’t find in Europe—the opportunity to “have it all,” with years of being a stay-at-home wife and mother, and then being able to seamlessly return to the workforce unscathed and enjoy financial independence?
    If you want that, I hope you do find it—but you may be disappointed. You might also ask whether this is the experience of most Egyptian women, and if not, why not.]

    Also about divorce: what you said is as far as i know incorrect. If i want a divorce, ill just travel to Alexandria, to the place where we got married and then i state to the officer there that i want to be divorced. I dont need to give any reason and ill be divorced right away. no limitations or anything. Only we do have the waiting period in islam, in case we women might be pregnant and we should know who is the father.

    [Not sure how the recent political events have affected women’s legal rights to divorce, but that question has long been controversial among Islamists in Egypt. If you are ever in that position, you might find that it is not as easy as you think—especially if you have been a stay-at-home mother for years, and cannot afford to relinquish your mahr.
    As for knowing the father… DNA testing, anyone?]

    I dont feel that Allah made the sexes inequal, but he did make them different with different roles sometimes. a woman can bare children and during that time its up to the husband to secure an income for example. I have different needs from my husband than he does from me.

    [Ah, modern conservative “family values” Islam. However, this is not how pre-modern Muslim jurists thought about gender roles or family organization—and fiqh is based on the assumptions that pre-modern jurists made, not modern apologists.]

    I do see that in Egypt there is still a very very long way to go for the people to be more equal and progressive. And its indeed a male dominated society. But this is not an islamic thing, rather its an arabic cultural thing. its even worse in many other african countries, where they are not islamic at all. It’s also true in many Latin American societies where islam is also non existent.

    [And when in doubt, start slanging “arabic culture.” Because there’s only one Arabic culture, of course. But let’s keep that racial hierarchy in place—Egypt is not of course a part of Africa, it just happens to be on the African continent…. :-/ ]

    May Allah lead us all.

    [Can I get an “amin”??]

  17. #27 by Anonymous// on December 10, 2012 - 9:23 am

    Two notions that all reading here would benefit from, both by Sherman Jackson: the ‘false universal’, and the ‘new anthropomorphism’. This statement is an example of both (more the second, really but it implies the first): ‘NO God worth worshipping places one sex above another and subjugates them.’

    • #28 by xcwn on December 12, 2012 - 4:17 am

      Meh. Better than apologia for patriarchy would be Amina Wadud’s “tawhidic paradigm.”

  18. #29 by mary on December 12, 2012 - 9:26 am

    I thought I was having a stroke reading that, but it was just lil ol’ me hallucinating again. I have been in Egypt for 18 months, and in the middle east for almost 2 years. My work involved meeting lots of women, literally hundreds, and I made a point of asking them to talk to me about their lives. Believe me, your story does not reflect in any accurate way whatsoever how women live in Egypt. My own experience is also vastly different.

    For one thing, sexual harassment is such a problem that citizen groups are forming to combat it. I don’t know more than one or two women who haven’t experienced it. I myself have experienced it several times while out on the street. Divorce? Yes, a woman can divorce in Egypt, but she has to go to court and the only kind of divorce she will get is absolute – she will give up her children and everything but the clothes on her back. I think you are talking about Islamic divorce in your comment, but even then, you have to explain to the imam why you want one. And no, it is not automatic by any means.

    I’m wondering why you are commenting here, except that perhaps you have some doubts about what you;ve been taught to believe and have come here to face them. Interesting that you should assume that I have left Islam based on what I’ve said. What I’m looking for is a way to be a Muslim without losing my identity and my rights, and I’m seeking Islam’s true face, not the one painted by men with the countenance of male privilege.

    If Islam is supposed to be misogynistic then of course I want no part of it. But I don’t believe Allah is a misogynist. What I find sad is that women have been conditioned to hate themselves for doing what it’s OK for any man to do – to question, doubt, seek other directions. How terrible it is that women turn their anger and outrage inward against themselves and become depressed. How much better it is to embrace those feelings and use them as a tool to know ourselves and respect ourselves more.

    I’ve known my daughter was different ever since she was about 3 years old. I know for a fact that she was created by Allah to be who she is. I’ve watched her struggle with her own identity, including a suicide attempt 7 years ago. Alhamdulilah, she is fine now. But I would be damned if I would allow some sanctimonious loudmouth Muslim male tell me that Allah did not make her who she is. Sad thing is, this is part of the patriarchy thing too. A group of men – scholars, whomever – have determined who we shall be and how we shall live. This is not faith, it is control.

  19. #30 by Ambaa on December 19, 2013 - 3:15 pm

    The thing I wonder is, what draws us to these things?

    In the west there are lots of stories about brave, strong girls who never wanted to fit into the role they were told they belonged in. In the west we love that story. But I could never recognize myself in it.

    I bought into the patriarchy: hook,line, and sinker. It hurt all the more when I realized how terrible it was for me. I felt really betrayed. I believed in it. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know why I was so susceptible to believe that I was a lesser being.

  20. #31 by Lauren on December 25, 2013 - 8:52 pm

    Assalamu Alaykom everyone,

    I’m struggling with this right now. I’m 21 years old. I’ve been Muslim for the last 6 years,alhumdulilah. My father just became Muslim a year ago. I was very excited when he took his shahada. However, I am very much struggling with a few things within the religion. Yes, I have heard that if you doubt or disagree with revelation and ahadeeth than you are questioning Allah, thus a kaffir. I’m just trying to figure out all of this, subhanALLAH. I just got done with university and it just seems to me that I am really thinking more about this. I am a feminist and believe that women and men can be perpetrators of patriarchy. I’m against patriarchy AND matriarchy. I don’t agree with one gender being over the other in subjugation. I don’t believe in thinking in binaries either. I think patriarchy is violent, oppressive, unnecessary and problematic on TOO many levels. I used to like the idea that a man would take care of the home and my children in exchange of me being obedient and a good servant of Allah SWT. However, I was on a roll for a while in wanting to get married and having proposals. In reading about marriage and speaking with various men, I found myself at a crossroad and still do.

    I hate this whole aspect of obeying your husband. I was never raised in this way and my mom have always taught me to be an equal to my husband. Also, I should be independent and have my own stability before marrying a man because anything could happen (death, divorce, sickness,etc). And I understand what she means now because Islamically a woman doesnt have to work because that would be her husband’s job. However, she COULD work IF her HUSBAND gave her PERMISSION. I just never understood that. How can your husband or a man stop you from earning your own money? And I always hear from shuyookh and imams that a woman is best at home. Islamically, it is stated in Qur’an and Sunnah that a woman’s blessings is at home and her job is to take care of her children, watch over her husband’s property, protect her chastity and to make her obligations to ALLAH. That’s all fine and well, but I just don’t like this issue of having men being in the public-sphere and women being in the private-sphere. I think motherhood/fatherhood is very important, so its not like I’m saying we can’t be mothers. Wallah, not at all. I’m just saying that I believe a woman shouldn’t be cut off from being a career woman/a housewife, or etc. Nevertheless, I am really upset about this business of a man putting his hands on his wife because she did something sinful or disobeyed her husband. My dad is muslim but my mom is Christian and I’ve been bugging them about this. They told me that this shouldn’t be an issue for me because no man should EVER lay his hands on me and if he do then call the police and lay it down on him. Enough said! Anyways, Islamically a man COULD hit his wife (lightly with a toothbrush) is just problematic. That’s a form of control and it is abuse. What else is it? Lets just keep it real. I am totally against this. The prophet sallalahu alayhe wa salam never hitted any of his wives, but Quranic text definitely give men the right to discipline their wives. Furthermore, I hate this other business of a woman having to have sex with her husband whenever he calls her to it OR else the angels will curse her until the next morning. What is this? This seems like abuse in and of itself. Your salvation relies on giving your husband sex, as if he can’t control himself if you said ‘no’. During your menstrual cycle he can’t be with you, so I believe he can find other means of satisfying himself. Men are not animals as we would like to believe. They are human-beings like we are. And I read in the ahadeeth that if you anger your husband then the Al-hurayn will get mad at you because they will be with your husband in jannah. And I just cant get down with ‘asking’ for permission to do something. I am grown. I am a grown woman…a wife. Why do I need permission to do anything? Of course, you should let your spouse know that you’ll be back in x,y, or z time so they don’t get concerned, but to ask like you’re a child….nope. Not even it. I’m sorry, but I disagree with this whole aspect of having a wali( guardian) for the marriage when the men aren’t obligated to have one. Women aren’t dumb. Women arent weak. We are human-beings that can rationalize things and reason. What the world? So, I am really not feeling marriage. I love Islam. I do, but I am really having a problem with disregarding or turning a blind-eye to some of its patriarchal principles. Its like…what now? Its hard for me to listen to lectures because I have to hear something patriarchal. You cant say it isn’t apart of Islam because it is. You cant try to put a spin on it and say it isnt there because it is. So, what do you do? I want a family and I want kids, but I want my kids to know that patriarchy isn’t okay. I want my daughter(s) to know that they should want a spouse that will treat them as his equal and not a second-class citizen or a child. I’m really struggling. I know I am.

    I’ve had friends tell me to go back to Islamic classes and stop listening to the shaytan. Also, I should just accept what Allah has said and leave it at that or else I may come from the religion. Also, I was told to not think so much and to stop believing what the Kuffar says. I just can’t stop thinking about these things.I’m at a loss for words. I can’t get married to a muslim man with these expectations because I know I wouldn’t be happy and my children wouldn’t be happy. Patriarchy is violent and oppression. End of story. There is no way around it.

  21. #32 by dmk on February 10, 2014 - 7:11 pm

    Lauren,
    Congratulations for completing the university. Education and economic independence and choosing the right partners are very important. I hope you live in a country where you have right to make your own decisions as you are an adult. If not then i would suggest that you go to a more free county for higher education. Make these decisions quickly, its going to be harder as you start getting older and feeling pressure to get married and have a family. It seems you are on right track in terms of actions and thoughts. Just fkeep your focus on education and career. Even in islamic countries rules seem to be relatively different if you have ability to earn vs if you cannot earn. Do not ever get caught into the guilt of not being able to strictly follow all the primitive/biased rules. They might have worked in primitive times when women never ventured out of their homes on their own and did not have experience, ability to make decisions and lead their family outside household matters. Only men went to study and be scholar etc so they lead prayers and women followed as they instructed guided. All of thise rules are not needed today but why would men let those go because those are their favor. What better excuse to use these outdated rules than to make women believe that this is what Allah wants them to do! You can feel close to the supreme Allah/God by just being good to others, working hard, and having a good heart. I wish you very best for your future. Focus on your education, career and economic independence. Dont ever agree to staying at home and leaving your study/job. I mean if someone else wants you to do it. However, If you yourself want to focus on raising kids and take a break with your own free will thats a different thing. I wish you all the Luck!

  22. #33 by J on April 1, 2014 - 5:08 pm

    Thank you for putting your writing out there. We all need to uncover the silent war that lurks behind the final revelation sent to the pagan Arabs who were burying their female babies alive.
    I am ashamed at how these people claim to have so much spirituality yet live in a barbaric culture which punishes females for being females.
    This cannot possibly be from a Merciful Creator. The men get possibilities of up to four wives, plus get to own their wife and shame her if shes not dressed up in pre-Islamic desert garb. Then slap a sticker on the front saying how dignified all this is. So how is it dignified to lose your status as a free-willed human being again? Men and women have been fighting for equality all this time and we enter into a religion that actually will put a woman into chains. There is a certain type of hell only a certain amount of women know about. You cannot please these angry people, no matter how much I covered up, face veil and gloves and humiliation after humiliation. My husband was never happy with me. This is not what I signed up for.
    I feel really bad that these people are so brainwashed that they shun abused wives and give them shame and lay on them the entire image of the religion. A woman does not have to wear the pre Islamic or Bedouin garb as a requirement of her acceptance of the last prophet of God. You know why, because in order for it to actually be a Universal Message, then each culture will live harmoniously within their environments. According to Arabs they alone have the perfect culture so they add it to the religion. This is ignorance and pride. It’s evil and it’s full of hatred.

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