It was the day of Eid Al- Adha. This of course, depends on what moon you prefer – sadly, but true to form; this day is not universally shared by all of us Aussie Muslims. Being a staunch but respectful local moon sighter, I was fasting.
In hindsight, this was my first mistake. How could I be fasting when the men in my family declared that Eid was on a particular day? Who exactly did I think I was?
After being approached and
lectured advised by all of my well-meaning uncles about the evils of fasting on the day of Eid, the danger of arrogance, the nature of the nafs and it’s amazing ability to convince us we are right when in fact the opposite is true, we were all sitting around reminiscing about my late grandfather- May Allah have mercy on his beautiful soul. You know, the remember when ….. type of memories that give you a good belly laugh and upon its cessation, the desire to cry and rock back and forth in the foetal position? (That might be just me).
Remember when we were on holiday and Mahmoud* was 15 and disappeared then got caught with the girl from the next cabin and grandpa tried to be serious but couldn’t help but chuckle? Everyone laughed.
Granted – it was not a ‘optimal’ time to ‘sneak’ in my ‘feminist agenda’, but I couldn’t help it. I reminded everyone that while grandpa had an outstanding sense of humour it would be no laughing matter if one of our female cousins was found to be breaching our moral code of behaviour in fact, it would tarnish her reputation and she would be met with severe reprisal.
Rather than helping highlight an unacceptable, un-Islamic double standard upheld by our family, it was decided that I was an opportunistic crazy/angry insert-other-adjective feminist.
And that I am. A feminist that is. I am an Aussie, Muslim, woman and feminist and if you see irony in any of that, then my proposition to you would be that my dear brother or sister have misconstrued what these words mean. I am all of these things not despite any of these labels, but because of them.
I’ll clarify what that means. (Do not fret- I promise I will not pull out my Gloria Steinman or Jackson Katz quotes).
I believe in the radical idea that men and women are equal, should be treated as such and should we should have equal expectations of them. To act upright, dignified, just, fair and compassionate.
Growing up as a second generation daughter of Lebanese parents, I was constantly confronted with sexist, patriarchal double standards. My brothers were allowed to do X and Y but I was not. Simply because I was born the ‘wrong’ gender.
Whenever I protested at this injustice, I was given a culturally grounded ‘explanation’ under the guise of religion. Yet I was taught that our beloved Prophet- peace and blessings be upon him, his family and companions, was the best of all mankind, the best to his wives and the most just to all people – never once discriminating against a woman or sanctioning different restrictions or punishments on women. Even as young as 9, I remember feeling suspicious of this.
I also felt *gulps* oppressed. Whenever I wasn’t listening to what other people had to say (Muslims and non-Muslims alike) about Islam and women I didn’t feel, in the depths of my heart any bit oppressed- I felt liberated.
“Surely the men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the obedient men and the obedient women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women, and the humble men and the humble women… Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a great reward” Quran 33:35
I write now as a woman, who has taken the time to study Islam deeply. Who has felt, seen and lived its beauty. Knowing my parents did the best they could with what they could but vowing to teach my own children Islam’s absolute justice and equality. Who will teach my son how to be a man not just by physical virtue but in every sense of the word? Who will teach my sons and daughters that they will not be treated according to their gender, but their actions alone?
Despite the leaps and bounds we have made in our community, Muslim women are still severely under represented on Islamic boards, still being subject to horrific levels of domestic and sexual abuse, subject to sexual objectification, still feel alienated and threatened to speak out in most arenas and still don’t feel welcome or included at most mosques.
One of the things that I cherish the most about Islam is the revolutionary idea of men having to treat women on the basis of their character. Why have we regressed so much?
Where my sisters are concerned I relay Alice Walker’s important words to you: The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. Educate yourself and your children from the ignorance that suffocates our development.
For my brothers, aligning yourself with the advancement of women’s rights is not emasculating. It’s absolutely crucial to have you on board.
“The thing is, it’s patriarchy that says men are stupid and monolithic and unchanging and incapable. It’s patriarchy that says men have animalistic instincts and just can’t stop themselves from harassing and assaulting. It’s patriarchy that says men can only be attracted by certain qualities, can only have particular kinds of responses, can only experience the world in narrow ways. Feminism holds that men are capable of more – are more than that. Feminism says that men are better than that, can change, are capable of learning, and have the capacity to be decent and wonderful people” Chally Kacelnik
I really mean this with love and respect but I’m sick of seeing Dawah pamphlets and countless books titled “Women in Islam”, “Women’s rights in Islam”, “The Muslim Woman”. This is so stale. Our practice of Islam should be sufficient and demonstrative of how Allah and His Beloved regard women. We sound very hollow if we are calling people to a standard (Islam) we are failing to meet.
When Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan was asked about the best way to establish a Caliphate he responded with a simple but poignant answer. Pray fajr on time and call your mother. We want to run while struggling to keep our balance.
While we are still trying to establish some uniformity in our Ummah and having fruitful discussions/debates with various viewpoints on moon sighting, weddings, music, banking, hand slaughtered vs machine slaughtered and whether to build another mosque or establish an Islamic school, one thing should NOT be up for debate: Women’s rights. There is no and should never be any compromise.
Back to that day. My younger brother, the brave soul managed to speak up and say ‘yeah, you have a point’.
Despite how much flack he copped that day, he stood by me and still does now. He even wears a White Ribbon shirt. Yes, beard, kufi and all. He and so many other bright, intelligent men in my life remind me that men are entrapped by this paradigm as their sisters are but above all, they should give us hope.
My opinion, is that the true mark of a man’s character is how he responds to a system that favours and empowers him over women. I’m talkn bout a revolution, Yo! *Fist pumping in a totally Shariah compliant fashion*
Over and out.
*Not his real name. Cos, haram.
The role of men in my pursuit for women’s equality by Fatima Ali.