Posts Tagged self-hatred

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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Damsels in distress, the chivalrous caliph, and the misogynistic scholar: a modern fairy tale

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.

And that's why brothers don't need to bother trying to understand women! Epic lulz!

“The first time that someone shows you who they are, believe them” (Maya Angelou)

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!

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Why did we do it? (II)

But why is it that some converts accept Islam, adopt some of the practices and rituals, make some Muslim friends, maybe get a bit self-righteous for a short while…

Oh, the judg-y questions we used to ask in Sisters' Study Circles: Is it permitted to attend a family dinner if there will be wine on the dinnertable? Is it halaal to attend a baby shower for my neighbor who's living with her boyfriend? And so on....

Oh, the judg-y questions we used to ask in Sisters’ Study Circles: Is it permitted to attend a family dinner if there will be wine on the dinnertable? Is it halaal to attend a baby shower for my neighbor who’s living with her boyfriend?
And so on….            [shirt credits]

…but soon come back down to earth and manage to live a relatively balanced and “normal” life involving good relations with their non-Muslim family and neighbors, a happy marriage, fairly well-adjusted kids and making positive contributions to the well-being of society?

While some other converts end up cut off from their non-Muslim families, former friends and neighbors, or suffering psychological harm, or getting into bad or abusive marriages, perhaps only managing to get out years later if at all, with traumatized kids?

I don’t know. It does seem to depend on a number of factors: When and where people convert, their social location (gender identity, race/ethnicity, social class, religious background, educational level, age, occupation, sexual orientation, etc), what sort of Muslim community they get involved with, where they are in their lives at the time, how their family and friends react… and a whole slew of other factors. Some converts seem to be more resilient than others. Some are more able to access the support they need, whether inside or outside their Muslim communities.

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If you know what your life is worth…

Several months ago, I ran across a short film on youtube about twospirit people. The thing about it that particularly grabbed me was Joey Criddle’s description of traditional Native teachings on people who are different:

“You know, there’s a saying we say—We don’t throw our people away. So, people who are born differently, whether mentally, physically, emotionally, whatever, were considered sacred or holy people. There was a reason why the Creator made them different. So historically, traditionally, twospirit people were viewed as very special people. That all changed with the coming of the Europeans. When the Europeans came, they attacked that….”

Wow, I thought. That’s just such a really, really different attitude to human variety than what I am used to.

A particularly difficult part of putting my life back together has been learning to see my life as being worth anything. Some days, it seems as though all that's left is shards of cheap glass. The remnants of something that was not worth much in the first place, and is now simply worthless. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broken_glass,_Belfast,_April_2010.JPG)

A particularly difficult part of putting my life back together has been learning to see my life as being worth anything. Some days, it seems as though all that’s left is shards of cheap glass. The remnants of something that was not worth much in the first place, and is now simply worthless.
(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broken_glass,_Belfast,_April_2010.JPG)

I can’t even begin to imagine any of the Muslim communities I have been involved with looking at queer people—or at anyone who didn’t fit the mold, really—in such a positive way. Especially not if the person who didn’t fit in for some reason was female-bodied. This was just not how we were taught to think about difference.

More recently, I heard a Catholic priest say that God created every single person, individually and deliberately. Which again struck me as just a very different way of looking at human variety than what I am used to

And then, I was rather taken aback. Sure, the idea that God created human beings is a very familiar one, and we certainly believed it. We even believed that God creates and recreates the world continuously—“yas’aluhu man fi’s-samawati wa’l-ard, kulla yaumin huwa fi sha’n.” That nasheed by Dawud Wharnsby is still stuck in my head, about how even an autumn leaf “only breaks away and sails on the breeze / when Allah commands it to do so.”

And yet. Somehow, I hadn’t connected the dots. I hadn’t really regarded myself as having been created individually and purposefully by God, much less thought about what that would mean.

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Ramadan question #2 — how can I know what God wants me to do?

The interpretations of Islam that I was taught had pretty straightforward answers to that question.

At the most basic, the answer was that God has provided detailed and authoritative guidance to all human beings (including me) in the Qur’an and the sunna.

Possible answers to the question of how to access that guidance and apply it to my life varied: Do you need to follow a scholar or scholars? If so, which one(s)? What about madhhabs? As a convert, how would you go about choosing which madhhab to follow?… and so on.

But whatever the answer, it was the sunna that in the end was central. Even the Qur’an was read and interpreted through the sunna. And out of the sunna came a template—a pattern that we were supposed to live our lives by.

What exactly following the life-example of the Prophet meant in reality depended on the interpretation and the community. There were those men who tried to follow it down to the last seventh century Arabian detail—peppering their everyday speech with Arabic words, carrying miswaks in their pockets, wearing short thobes or even turbans. (Mind you, their poly-cotton blend thobes had been made in China, but let’s not get overly technical here….) Then, there were other men who argued that this is taking things too far (especially in North America), but they had their own pet aspects of the Prophet’s example that they saw as non-negotiable, whether it was praying tarawih or wives being forever held hostage to the appearance of her husband’s guests (who would drop by without calling and who would of course have to be fed and served and might even elect to stay the night, regardless of whatever other plans she might have made).

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Musings on Muslim identity (I)

As God says, “Fa-aina tadhhabun?” (Where are you going?)

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In the beginning, it seemed quite simple: belief that God is one (as opposed to belief in a trinity), belief in the prophets with Muhammad as the last, reading quranic passages in my personal prayers more frequently than Bible verses… I couldn’t even pretend to fit into any Christian church any more. My religious beliefs, my ritual language, were undeniably becoming more and more Muslim.

But that was before I had encountered a Muslim community. I had met individual Muslims—most of whom were students who weren’t very practicing, although a few nonetheless plied me with dawah literature. But they were not an organized conservative community, with clear ideas of who was “in” and who was “out,” or an interest in policing what people believed or did. So at that point, gradually becoming a Muslim was primarily about my own individual, private spiritual practice.

Once I married my ex, however, the specter of community slowly began to rear its head now and again.

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Awesome

Today, I tripped across a Muslim woman’s letter, asking for advice on how to deal with the fact that her pious, Muslim husband had cheated on her.

Don’t read it, every instinct told me. Don’t read it. It will only trigger you.

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Because I thought that I knew what the answer will be. Some slight bits of sympathy will be tossed this woman’s way by the advice-givers (so as not to seem too harsh)… and then the words of blame would inevitably follow: Hints, perhaps tactfully delivered, that she probably hadn’t been doing her wifely duty “properly.”

That she needed to try harder to dress up for him at home, to cook nice food for him, to keep the house even tidier and the kids even better behaved… and that she needed to make sure that she never, ever denied him sexual access within the limits of Islamic law.

That she needed to look critically at herself in the mirror: Maybe she needed to lose weight? Get her hair done? Join a sisters’ exercise class and tone those flabby arms? Do more crunches and reign in those sagging stomach muscles? Or that maybe the problem was more about her character: She needed to be more feminine, more content, more grateful for everything he does for her, and never let a complaining word cross her lips in her husband’s presence.

Or even, that she needed to just accept that her husband was the sort of man who could not be content with just one woman, so she needed to encourage him to marry another wife rather than committing zina.

I braced myself for some or all of that… and didn’t find it.

I was astounded that the advice given to the woman was actually reasonable and compassionate.

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