Posts Tagged domesticity
In the last post, I discussed a number of reasons why I (and many of my convert friends) found conservative Muslim arguments in favor of women being stay-at-home wives and mothers convincing, and highlighted some of the ways that deciding to stay home limited our ability (and even, our inclination) to make independent, adult decisions on a whole range of things.
In staying home, we became financially dependent. And, we didn’t chart our own courses as wives and mothers either—there were not only our husbands to answer to, but also various conservative, insular and often quite intrusive Muslim communities. For those of us who became involved in Muslim cults, that goes double.
I became financially dependent, despite the fact that my ex wanted to have both the comfort and convenience of a stay-at-home wife (and mother), AND the benefits of a wife who also brings in some money—though, one who would work in a way that wouldn’t ever inconvenience him. I tried to do that by babysitting from home. That was supposed to be the ideal balance between the need to generate income, and the “need” to be at home with my kids full-time, without in any way falling short of my wifely responsibilities to cook, clean, etc, or my moral responsibilities to wear hijab and avoid working alongside or closely interacting with men. I also hoped that it would protect me from job discrimination and the type of dismissive treatment that often is experienced by people in low-status jobs. After all, I was working at home….
My kids are angry. They have lots of things to be angry about—growing up in (religiously-induced) poverty, growing up with a lot of religious restrictions that even some other Muslim kids they knew didn’t have, their father’s actions (especially, his cheating, justified as polygamy), my actions (especially, my conservative Muslim idealism that flew in the face of reality), our inability to live the idealized (and for us, quite unrealistic) vision of the “ideal Islamic marriage/family,” our divorce, the bone-headed judgmentalness of those conservative Muslims who couldn’t keep their opinions about our divorce and how the kids were likely going to be affected by my working and dehijabbing and leaving my marriage to themselves….
Sometimes, they turn their anger inward, and become very moody. Sometimes, the younger kids express their anger by squabbling among themselves. Sometimes, by being rude to me. And sometimes, they rebel.
There’s teenage rebellion, and there’s teenage rebellion. Some of it is par for the course in the wider society—piercings, tattoos, skimpy or “gangster-ish” clothing—though not acceptable in the conservative community that they were raised in, where such signs of teenage rebellion are sources of stigma for parents (who clearly didn’t manage to “raise their kids properly”). But some types of rebellion can lead to trouble with the law.
I’m still recovering from Eid. Rather odd, I know. Eid was on October 26, which is what—three weeks ago, now?
But Eid al-Adha (Korban Bairami, Eid l-Kbir, Hari Raya Haji, Baqar Eid, Eid-e Qorban…) was a transformative experience for me this year. Which was completely unexpected, because even when I was a very conservative Muslim, Eid al-Adha was my least favorite holiday.
Why that was so, I never really knew, because I could never allow myself the freedom to be honest about what I was thinking or feeling, especially if that threatened to take me into any kind of doctrinally or socially questionable territory. Early on after converting, I quickly learned that openly expressing discomfort with any ritual practices would lead to me being classified as someone that other sisters would be warned to stay far away from. And I and my convert friends were trying so hard to be model Muslimas, so rather than ask ourselves why we weren’t really feeling the Eid spirit, we threw our energies into trying to make it something we could somehow connect to—or at least, that our kids would enjoy.
As we tried to connect to Eid, we retold the story of Hajar as a model of a pious woman who suffered adversity, but relied on God alone, and in the end, her faith was abundantly rewarded. By focusing on her actions, her faith, and the hajj ritual that required every pilgrim to retrace her steps between the two hills, we could avoid dealing with the many troubling questions that the story raised for us that we couldn’t quite suppress.
After all, here was an African female slave who had been forced to bear children on behalf of an infertile free woman, Sara. There was no suggestion in any retelling of the story we were aware of that Hajar’s consent to either sex with her mistress’s husband or child-bearing was thought to matter in the least. Meaning, it hadn’t mattered to Abraham, nor to Sara, nor even to later audiences down through the centuries. Including the communities that we belonged to.
As in, female piety that doesn’t inhibit or prevent women from being complete human beings. That recognizes and celebrates women’s abilities to think, reason, create, feel, desire and love to the fullest extent of their abilities. I’ve been asking myself this question, and I really don’t know.
Of course, I know what the conservative Muslim communities that I have been involved in or have otherwise encountered in the past would say. When it came to female piety, there was a sort of double-talk that constantly went on. The sameness of men’s and women’s ritual obligations—to pray five times daily, to fast in Ramadan, to pay zakat, to go on Hajj at least once—was stressed. Also, both men and women were often reminded of the importance of seeking to follow the Prophet’s example in praying extra prayers, fasting outside of Ramadan, giving in charity, doing dhikr and reciting the Qur’an.
But as some say, the devil is in the details. In reality, the details of fiqh of salat, fasting, pilgrimage, charitable giving, reading the Qur’an,… constantly remind women and men that they are not equal. And, lived practice in the communities that I was involved in underlined these inequalities even more sharply. Essentially, the fiqh plus the lived practices that I experienced helped to produce a situation in which the body of a woman was never, ever her own. It is never really under her control; unlike a man, she cannot be assured of being able to choose to engage in rituals, or to enter sacred space. And, her body was always at the disposal of others—her husband, of course, and her children, as well as to a lesser extent, relatives and guests. 24/7.
Nothing brought the internal contradictions of these ideas about female piety to the fore quite like Ramadan did. For me, anyway.
In the last post, I wrote: “What we didn’t realize is that in reality (and also, in Islamic law…), responsibility and power go hand in hand. What was marketed to us as freedom from responsibility ended up meaning lots of responsibilities for wives and mothers, but little actual power or resources to deal with them. And, lots of blame for failing to live up to idealized standards of “good” wife- and motherhood.”
And that was the way it was. Men had responsibilities, but also the power to decide what the scope of these responsibilities was, how they were going to meet them, and when they had met them “adequately.” Which meant that, in effect, we women were always in the business of taking up the slack on their behalf. But we didn’t derive much if any power to determine the course of our own lives (or to make the lives of our children better) from doing so. If we managed to do it well, then we were just doing what was expected, because a “good wife” was supposed to cover her husband’s shortcomings. And if we didn’t manage to take up the slack , despite trying—or, god forbid! we got tired of doing so and voiced our objections to the way things were going—then this meant that whatever happened was our fault.