Posts Tagged abusing religious authority
Now and again, I get these questions submitted as comments: Are you still Muslim? If you are still Muslim, then why?
I don’t usually answer. Partly, because these questions are often at least implicitly judgmental. Answering them risks touching off a string of cut-and-paste rants about how if I am Muslim, then I need to know that I’m doing X wrong and that it’s a sin to say/do Y.
But aside from that, it’s triggering. The conservative communities I was involved in were very concerned about defining exactly who is and isn’t a Muslim, what words, deeds, or even thoughts put a person outside of Islam, etc. That sort of environment fosters constant self-doubt and self-censorship. Until today, I have issues with automatic self-censorship, that happens so quickly and unobtrusively that I only know that I’ve done it again when I realize that I know something is missing or unsaid or not quite honest in what I’ve said or written… but yet I can’t put what it is into words.
But even when these kinds of questions aren’t motivated by judgmentalness, there’s something about them that deeply disturbs me. But I didn’t know exactly what. Until I received this comment:
Yes actually, the question [why are you still Muslim—ed.] came from a place of sincerity. I didn’t mean to offend. I only asked because I thought however you came to still stay Muslim would help me do the same despite those concerns.
Hoooo boy. A really triggering comment—though unintentionally so, I realize. But it is triggering because it sums up so many of my experiences with convert–immigrant born Muslim interactions in a nutshell: The idea that, as white, North American female converts, we have worth because we can potentially provide reassurance and affirmation (along with a generous side serving of halaal entertainment) to certain types of immigrant or immigrant-descended born Muslims.
A couple of weeks ago, Abu Eesa Niamatullah’s publicly expressions of misogyny was met with a spate of posts and tweets from Muslims from different walks of life who made their opposition to this clear. In a number of these posts as well as some comments on them, disgust, shock and a sense of betrayal were palpable. How could a scholar be doing this? It was clear that not only did many Muslims feel revolted by Abu Eesa’s comments, but that they do not think that this kind of thing is acceptable… and they were determined that this would not stand uncontested as a public representation of “what Muslims really think” about women.
Down through the years, I have encountered plenty of sexism and straight-up misogyny in North American Muslim circles (to say nothing of pamphlets and books written about Islam by Muslims, for Muslims). So, it was rather strange for me to watch this negative and very public backlash against Abu Eesa. But I also allowed myself to hope: Was this a proverbial straw-that-breaks-the-camel’s-back moment? Is there now a critical mass of Muslims in North America who are fed up enough by this sort of thing that they will publicly speak out about it?
Who knew. Only time would tell.
Well, we didn’t have to wait long.
Because now a hateful article written by a Muslim lawyer on the Huffington Post, “Why Gay Marriage May Not Be Contrary to Islam” is making the rounds. I was sent the link, and stupidly clicked on it, thinking that while the title seemed a bit oddly worded, it would probably be a step or two forward in the tolerance department. Maybe it would even be a useful resource for kids like mine.
After reading it, I wanted to curl up and die.
A long time ago, in a galaxy that is unfortunately not nearly as far away from me as I would like, I was taught that the reason for all the problems that women face today—especially in “the West”—is that relations between men and women are seriously out of balance.
Western women have been misled into rejecting their divinely created feminine natures. They don’t value marriage and motherhood, and try to emulate men by cutting their hair short and wearing masculine-style clothes and having careers and being promiscuous. Therefore, men are understandably put off by them, can’t respect them, feel emasculated by them, and don’t want to marry them. As a result, the family is in disarray, single motherhood and juvenile delinquency are on the rise, men feel lost and confused, and women are wondering where all the good men have gone. But (we were told) there is a simple answer to all these problems: Return to Islam. Go back to “the True Teachings of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah” (as the Salafis would phrase it), or to “Sacred Tradition” (as the neo-traditionalists would say). To the fitra—the innate, divinely given nature of every human being, which says that “true” men are hyper-masculine and “real,” god-fearing women are ultra-feminine… and anything that doesn’t fit into that binary view of gender is just laughable. Go back. Nothing else works. Anything else is rebellion against God.
Because women don’t need autonomy, or independence, or feminism, or godless “human rights.” What women need (and really really crave, deep down) is to be protected, cared for, and put on a pedestal by good men. Every woman should do her best to deserve to be treated like a queen, by being pious and modest and home-oriented and accepting of male authority. And if women are deserving, then of course good men will step up and act like good men should, by protecting them and their children, respecting them, and supporting them financially.
And there are no problems with this simple approach. None at all. Underage marriage, domestic violence, child abuse, or rape? Ha ha ha!! Only those western feminists get all upset about such non-issues for no reason, because they are silly emotional women who hate Islam / don’t understand what True Islam (TM) teaches / are misled by their modern sentimentality and rebellion against God’s perfectly just Law / secretly envy the veiled Muslim woman who is pure and beautiful and respected, and they want to bring her down to their level / they are misguided by their nafs and the shaytaan / whatever. Misogyny? What?! Of course we don’t hate women! We respect our women!
Rethinking Islam has an awesome post entitled, “Can Muslim Women Be Sexist?” In it, the blogger dissects a sexist “joke” recently tweeted by a prominent Muslim woman:
“…Why am I dissecting this joke? It’s not that Yasmin Mogahed unwittingly tweeted a joke that’s saturated in sexism. The point is that this sort of sexism and gender stereotyping is very much in line with the type of Islam that Mogahed and many other women promote. This reading of Islam is marked by gender difference: men are (to be) manly and women are (to be) feminine. The stereotype that underlies the joke above – that women are fickle and susceptible to whims – is much at home in this scheme, and in fact would serve (and does serve) as a convenient excuse for male social authority and “guardianship” over women.
Mogahed may not go so far as to say all that, but the stereotype of women being emotional/sensual would fit nicely into her worldview. She not only encourages women to embrace popular ideas about gender difference; she also criticizes women who do not adhere to them. She justifies and naturalizes unequal rights for women by arguing that their lesser rights are really a sign that God sees them as “special”. In her view, women who aspire to equal rights are “degrading” themselves by literally trying to become men:
“Given our privilege as women, we only degrade ourselves by trying to be something we’re not–and in all honesty–don’t want to be: a man. As women, we will never reach true liberation until we stop trying to mimic men, and value the beauty in our own God-given distinctiveness.” [emphasis mine–xcwn]
As a former conservative Muslim, I still receive emails from time to time that hark back to my past. (Part of the issue is having ended up on various mailing lists….) Among the emails that I have recently received has been one from ISNA (no, not the Intersex Society of North America, unfortunately).
Give this season to ISNA…
Most of us are familiar with the concept of the “giving season,” which arrives toward
the end of each year. People find ways to be more generous and kind to others, try
to make a positive difference and contribute to organizations they believe in. For
Muslims, this is often emphasized in Ramadan, but fortunately, this time of year
allows us another similar giving opportunity.
Our wonderful supporters enable us to continue working diligently to promote a more
harmonious society, through community development, interfaith collaborations and
education. Without your support, we could not succeed.
Although 2013 is ending soon, our work continues as we set new and higher goals
for ISNA, in order to reach and impact communities further.
We need you! If you want your donation to be tax-deductible for 2013, you must make
your gift by midnight on December 31st.
Well, when I read that you could have practically knocked me over with a feather.
Because, for the last several decades, the Christmas season has basically been utilized by North American immigrant-dominated orgs in several predictable ways: (1) To remind us of all the ways that our beliefs differ from (and are superior to) those of the Christians. (2) To remind us that we absolutely must not get sucked into celebrating Christmas in any way, shape or form. Don’t put up a tree or lights, avoid work Christmas parties, try to even avoid wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” (3) To provide alternative, sternly pious ways for the youth especially to spend their time, by holding Islamic camps or gatherings over the holidays. (4) To rant about the empty materialism of Christmas and especially to “expose” the pagan origins of Christmas trees, Yule logs, Santa Claus, etc in shocking detail.
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.
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:
- the question of willful blindness masquerading as “interpretation” or even as a straightforward reading of the Qur’an,
- the larger problem of patriarchal authority in the family, and
- 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).
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.
- So much for sisterhood: conversion, appropriation… and is there a difference? (II)
- So much for sisterhood: Conversion, appropriation… and is there a difference? (I)
- Losing creativity… and towards reclaiming it
- Setting men up to lose
- Guest post: Reflections on slavery, hijab, male authority, and convert neo-traditionalist apologetic bafflegab
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