Posts Tagged self-righteousness
Nowadays, it seems that converts can’t stay out of the limelight.
The latest dust-up about Umar Lee’s video announcing that he has left Islam (and returned to Christianity) is unfolding along the usual lines: Some are questioning why, and mocking his stated reasons for leaving. Others are lamenting that Muslims drove him away “with our bad behavior” and urging that the problems he mentions be decisively addressed. Yet others complain that his criticisms are one-sided and that he doesn’t seem to have noticed all the positive changes that are happening in some Muslim communities in North America. Some claim that he can’t have been a real Muslim in the first place, or that he is being “paid” by “the enemies of Islam” to go through the theatrics of leaving Islam, or that he is really just doing it for money, or media attention. And of course, some are smugly pontificating that the problem is that Lee never really understood Islam “properly,” because he was a Salafi and not a neo-traditionalist (as though no neo-traditionalists have ever left Islam… lol). And yet another claim: his “real problem” is that “he has issues.” That he is “unbalanced.”
In other words, it’s the same tired old lines that are trotted out every time something like this happens.
I didn’t read much of what he wrote, back when he was blogging. And most of what I read, I didn’t agree with. His misogyny and his attacks on people he didn’t agree with were certainly disturbing to me—not because he was too far outside of “the norm” of conservative, Salafi-ish discourse that I was used to, but because he seemed to reflect its most disturbing aspects far too well.
I didn’t know him. I didn’t have any dealings with him. So, I can’t speak to “what really happened.” And my focus here is not to try to diagnose Umar Lee, but to look at these tired claims that are made whenever anyone leaves Islam (or seems to be about to leave Islam, in the view of some Muslims). Especially, the claim that the person “has issues” or is “unbalanced.”
But if people “have issues” or are “unbalanced,” so what??
Sometimes, commenters write posts for me… and Jenny has now done it.
Jenny’s comment is written in response to a recent drive-by commenter, who wanted to know “if I am Muslim.” Jenny writes:
to this Mak person, who asked similar questions about CharmedShiva being Muslim or not–just in case he missed my response to his horrible post on her blog, here it is:
Bismillah ArRahman ArRaheem
First of all, your sentence structure strongly suggests that English is not your first language–in fact, it speaks of a certain grammar closely associated with Islam…(just sayin’). I sense a “born-Muslim” here, shocked that one of their beloved Sisters has seen the inside of the “Ummah” and Islam as it is interpreted within, and found it rotten. I’m sorry if you feel all naked and yucky and exposed (how dare she show the world our warts!) The author’s writing here is 100% spot on. I am a Muslim, and will remain so IN SPITE of Muslims like you. I suspect, mak, that YOU are one of these “born Muslims” , who get all warm and fuzzy listening to dawa videos on youtube…you know you are a Real Muslim (which TODAY is nothing more than an ugly reflection of the worst parts of your native-cultures). The author doesn’t malign Islam…It’s the FAKE, hollow Muslim apologists, and dawa workers who cover up the truth of life within the “Ummah” who do that.
What do… jumpers, alternative communities, religious hip-hop, incense, Malcolm X, traveling to Asia to find a religious teacher, long denim skirts, reading Rumi’s poetry, religiously-motivated home-schooling, Sufi chanting, preachy children’s videos, religiously-themed nursery rhymes and squeaky-clean boy-bands singing religious lyrics for audiences of ecstatic pre-teen girls have in common?
They are all North American Muslim fads that I have lived through.
Man, do I feel old.
Reading a post over at Love Joy Feminism, which quotes Julie Ann asking how she as a homeschooling mother ended up getting sucked into buying an entire conservative lifestyle “package” that included wearing jumpers, I was reminded of when I and a convert friend of mine experimented with them.
Our problem in the clothing department (as we saw it, back in the ’80’s and early ’90’s) was twofold: to somehow discover a way of wearing hijab that would not look alien to North America, but would also be “modest” enough to fulfil what we were taught were the requirements for a Muslim woman’s dress in public, and to devise something similar for our young daughters to wear. For a time, we saw jumpers as the answer. I designed and sewed jumpers for myself, out of plain broadcloth. For the first one I made, I used recycled fabric—it had originally been sewn into and used for something else. My friend had slightly more fashionable ideas (and more money to spend); she bought heavy cotton patterned cloth, and paid a woman with better sewing skills to make it into a jumper for her.
At the time, we thought pretty highly of our efforts to dress “modestly”, yet also not stick out too much. We sewed jumpers for our little daughters to wear too, over t-shirts and pants, and with matching hijabs. We thought they looked cute, yet also suitably modest, especially when compared to the “unsuitable” clothing that other girls their age were often wearing. We thought that we had managed to strike a balance between timeless “traditional” values of female “modesty” and the need to relate to the time and place in which we were living, by wearing North American clothing….
But when I looked at the photo of Christian homeschoolers wearing jumpers that Julie Ann linked to, it was unnerving. It was like looking back through time at ourselves and our daughters… and suddenly realizing that actually, we must have looked pretty… strange. Frumpy. Self-righteous. Cultish.
In the last two posts, I have been trying to disentangle why I (and some of my convert friends) bought into the notion that a girl’s or woman’s worth is essentially dependent on her “purity”—her virginity at marriage, and her chaste and modest behavior forever after. Supposedly, all this concern about what girls and women were or weren’t doing sexually was all about morality. Supposedly, it was (sexual) morality that made Islam and Muslims morally superior to “the West”, as well as to all other religions and cultures in the world. Or so we were given to understand.
But the reality as I experienced it was something quite different, now that I look back on it.
I remember various evangelical Christian sex scandals making the news, and the responses of the immigrant or convert Muslims that I knew: We aren’t like this. Because Islam has given us a superior way of life, that protects us from such things. Unlike Christianity, with its guilt about sex and its so-called monogamy, we have a realistic way of life that is in accordance with human nature (fitra), which doesn’t leave anyone any excuse to fornicate or to commit adultery….
To be sure, we didn’t really have sex scandals in the communities I was involved in or had ties with. At least, we didn’t think of them in that way. Because what this “realistic way of life” gave us was the illusion that everyone (or nearly everyone) was being sexually moral—and the means to make most infractions disappear. Men’s infractions, anyway. While girls and women bore the brunt.
An important consequence of this was that we didn’t question the teachings on sexuality that we were given:
- A total ban on dating, or even on male-female platonic friendships
- A ban on anything thought to facilitate or tempt people to commit fornication or adultery
- Gender segregation in most situations, wherever possible
- The requirement that women wear hijab, and dress modestly even in their own homes or in female-only spaces
- The belief that fornication and adultery are very serious sins, that are to be punished by flogging and stoning in an “Islamic” state
- The belief that even same-sex sexual thoughts or feelings are extremely sinful, and probably mean that the person having them is going to hell
I seem to have arrived at the core. Or, at the foundations of it all. However you want to phrase it.
Some of the feedback I have received about the previous post is along the lines of: Aren’t I still being really judgmental about women who didn’t or couldn’t live up to my standards of “purity”? Why do I appear to continue to buy into patriarchal standards of women’s sexual “morality”? Why don’t I just tell those nosy immigrant Muslims that my sexual history is none of their business? etc.
I am just being honest here. This is not a recovery blog for nothing. Yes, I know that I am still way, way too judgmental, and that patriarchal attitudes to sexuality continue to have a lot of unconscious influence on the way that I see the world. That is where I am at right now, unfortunately.
Part of the reason is that over two decades worth of social and religious conditioning can’t be undone in a day. And, as the previous post explains, the pressure to internalize these kinds of attitudes was intense. But part of it is that—as I am now realizing—this was in fact the core of our faith.
No, not tawhid. Female “purity.”