Amusingly patriarchal things happened before, during, and after the CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) banquet in San Diego this past November. Generally speaking–and very, very generally speaking–I can only say that the Muslim community and Muslim leaders have a distressing amount of progress to make in terms of acknowledging women’s voices and concerns. And leadership!
You see, The Fatal Feminist (Nahida) and I decided that since we were already in San Diego anyway, we might as well attend the CAIR banquet that was taking place one of the days we were there. I’ll talk about the AAR experience in another blog post—that was AMAZING! Because hamdallah for Islamic feminism.
Before the Banquet
Sheikh Yasir Qadhi had sent out an email to an academic listserv I’m on a few weeks before the CAIR banquet and the AAR conference were taking place, offering a ride to those interested in attending at the banquet. I discussed it with The Fatal Feminist and we were like, yeah, sure why not, let’s go to the CAIR banquet. We kind of regretted it the moment we found out that there was also a Study of Islam reception taking place that same evening, but we found out too late. Next year, inshaAllah, come whatever, we’re going to the Study of Islam reception.
I honestly have no idea why I opted to go. I mean, I don’t even believe in such banquets and expensive dinners all to get donations. I mean, that money you’re spending on that expensive hall you’re booking, the useless decorative stuff for tables, the food, etc.—why not use that money towards whatever you’re raising funds for in the first place? But I know, I know; we’re a lost folk born into consumerism, so, meh.
k, anyway, so Sheikh Yasir, me, The Fatal Feminist, and two Muslim males who I pray are introduced to the concept of women’s rights asap were all gonna attend the banquet in this van. Now, we go meet these folks, and when we’re getting in the van, the boys nicely let me and Nahida get in the van first. So of course, we take the first row. Next thing we know, the boys look at each other all confused and say, “Uhhh, sisters, can y’all please go into the back?” I stare at them, I look at Nahida, and somehow—I really, REALLY have no effing idea WHY—but we both went into the back row! We didn’t even realize what we’d just done, which was … totally submitting to two men’s order and, more importantly, into the idea that women belong in the back every effing where.
The moment we realize what had just happened, Nahida and I start texting each other while in the back row, fuming with anger. We were also then totally ignored as the boys talked with YQ about whatever they were talking about. So rude. We swore that on our way back, we were going to get in the front row and we were willing to start a fight if the boys dared to challenge our decision–and we did sit in the front this time around. The guys were waiting for us to get in first so we could go to the back and there’d be no “touching” or whatever when we had to go into the back row, but we said to them, “No, this time you boys sit in the back. We’ll sit in the front.” And surprisingly enough, no arguments or hesitations or anything! But I don’t think they understood what we were doing. Because Muslim men *never* have to think about their place, ever.
Seriously, enough of pushing women to the back! We suffer from this discrimination in the mosques and in all other religious spaces, and now even in non-religious settings like cars?! What the actual eff.
Also, to those two boys: We KNOW that if we were white non-Muslim girls, you would’ve willingly gone into the back row and not had us do so instead. Because you like to pretend that you’re more progressive and women-friendly than you actually are. Shame on you. As long as you and others like you exist, we will be in a desperate need of (Islamic) feminism.
At the banquet
So me, Nahida, YQ, and the two males were all considered “special guest” because Yasir Qadhi. Okay, cool. Nahida and I are ushered to a table at the very front and are seated next to a few white folks. We told the people sitting next to us that we actually don’t even support CAIR all that much and we explained why. And sure enough, the same reasons we were giving them were being played out at the event; it made our job so much easier to explain the whole thing.
Some of the major issues with the event
1) the speakers
The speakers were basically all men and only one woman. And the one woman they had was the best speaker there. The only good speaker, in fact. Linda Sarsour. She not only touched on real issues affecting Muslim Americans / Muslims in America, but she also boldly expressed her disagreements with many of Yasir Qadhi’s comments, which were really problematic. Besides his point about Christopher Columbus, which I’ll discuss in a second, YQ actually said something like: “We Muslims need to stop complaining about the problems we have in America because we have no problems here. Because we have it better today than we did in the past, and other minorities have it worse than us.” Pain cannot and should never be compared. YQ might not have it hard on a personal level, but he has no right to deny that we as a community have it quite hard here.
That’s another issue with CAIR – it sometimes basically denies that Islamophobia exists and doesn’t always help the Muslims appealing to it for help. I’ve a friend who’s reached out to them for help with a serious case he’s facing that’s linked to Islamophobia and discrimination against him solely because he’s Muslim, and the CAIR chapter in his city has basically rejected him and told him that he’s taking things too seriously and this and that. So what YQ said wasn’t very surprising, but still. “Muslims, stop complaining!”?! That’s not okay. Besides, as a leader, he should also be urging Muslims that even if they as Muslims don’t have problems in America, other groups do; it is our moral responsibility as Muslims to stand up with the oppressed and show solidarity, so if nothing else, let’s stand against the oppression of the non-Muslims if we believe Muslims have it so great here (but we don’t!).
Linda Sarsour was amazing. She’s such an inspirational speaker TFF and I wanted to clap at every point she was making. We recorded half of her speech as well. She explained why YQ’s comment that “Muslims have it pretty easy here and should stop complaining about America” was false, misleading, and dangerous. I don’t remember if she used the word dangerous, but I do believe it is dangerous.
We need more female speakers because they’re objectively so much better than any male speakers we had at least that day.
Besides that, Nahida’s and my main issue with YQ’s talk was that, in asserting the identity of Muslim Americans as “real Americans,” he basically very proudly pointed out that “we Muslims, the Arabs of Spain, sponsored Christopher Columbus’s journey to America! So how can America claim we’re not American?” (Or something along these lines.) While in the car with him, Nahida, said to YQ, “It’s so disheartening to know that we sponsored the genocide of so many Native Americans and blacks!” And YQ’s response, not verbatim: “Astaghfirullah, yes. This is what makes being a public intellectual so hard. My job isn’t easy. I have to keep my audience in mind; there’s a hadith about that, knowing who your audience is and speaking to them on a level they’ll understand.” Important note here: “keep your audience in mind,” as Nahida has pointed out in a recent blog post, is code for: “Try not to say anything that’ll offend white people’s sentiments and ignorance.” So I was like, “Then we’ll never see change. Yes, keeping your audience is important sometimes, but what if your audience is ignorant and Islamophobic and you’re further feeding their ignorance and Islamophobia?” I also told him that there are many other ways he could’ve made the point he wanted to make without glorifying Columbus. He responded that he believes what he said and did was the logical thing to do. Needless to say, Nahida and I completely disagree and had a great conversation afterwards about it.
2) the volunteers
The only time we saw women upfront, besides Linda Sarsour, was in the volunteer appreciation scene—and they were all female. There’s something about females working for free, servicing their communities for free and a mere “thank you for dedicating your time and services to your community for free” that is distressing. It’s this idea that women should work for us for free and if they demand to be paid or for their time and efforts to be recognized through monetary means, they’re being selfish and greedy. Because there’s a whole patriarchal history of women’s labor and contributions not being recognized. There was one male in the line of volunteers, but Nahida and I don’t think he was a volunteer. He was a photographer, and we think he was probably being paid for his service. Even if he was a volunteer, just one out of eight volunteers was a male, but one out of the more than four or five speakers was female. Tell me we don’t have an issue.
3) the audience
The audience at the event, yes, was mostly Muslim BUT we had a few special-guest tables—of all white people, as far as I could see. There were white city officials and leaders, including police officers. And that, beloved readers, is why there was the whole “we Muslims helped create America, Americans! Stop hating us – we’re all brothers!” & “we Muslims in America have nothing to complain about! Thank you, America and Americans, you guys are wonderful to us” sentiments were in play. Because we don’t want to hurt white people’s feelings or make them feel even slightly uncomfortable. We don’t want them to think that when we’re in a majority-/all-Muslim setting, we talk badly about an oppressive system created by them for them against virtually all non-whites and initially even against all non-white, non-Protestant, non-male-bodied Americans.
Nahida has a great post on how “keep your audience in mind” actually means (not in her words) “Keep your WHITE audience in mind! Don’t offend their feelings, or at least remember that they are too ignorant to understand the concepts you’re describing, and so simplify things for them so they don’t appear too foreign to them.” In other words, respect white people’s ignorance. But in CAIR’s case, respect white people’s belief that there’s absolutely no racism or Islamophobia in America and that Muslims should stop demanding equal rights or that America belongs only to white people. And such as.
4) the even leaders’ constant need to reassert Muslims’ “Americanness”
This is very frustrating. It’s literally like, “Pleeeeeeeease accept us Muslims as real Americans! Look, we’re no different from you. For example, we sponsored Columbus’s journey to the Americas! Won’t you accept us now?!”
Our feedback forms for CAIR
Frustrated about 1) the lack of female speakers, 2) CAIR’s so disappointingly desperate plea for Muslims to be accepted as real Americans, 3) the complete lack of discussing on any issues within the Muslim community (like racism, misogyny), TFF and I decided to write some detailed comments on our evaluation feedback. We gave our email addresses in case they had any questions to ask us or wanted to get clarifications on some of the things we were saying. Instead of writing out what we wrote, I’ll just show photos of our forms.
This is us two as we fill out our evaluation forms.
Photos of our forms:
And this, dear people, is precisely why Nahida and I had a blast at the AAR conference! It’s also reason # 821972742 why we need Islamic feminism.
This doesn’t mean that CAIR has nothing productive or positive to offer Muslim Americans. It’s great to see Muslim organizations in America – but it’s not so empowering and useful for Muslim Americans, whom the orgs promise to be serve, when these organizations still care so deeply about white Americans’ and officials’ reactions and seek their approval.
Feminism zindabad! Death to patriarchy.
Oh, yes – P.S. Ever noticed how men and male speakers can shout however they want when trying to make a point to their audience, but when a woman shouts especially when giving an inspirational talk or trying to be heard because few have the decency to listen to a woman, she’s dismissed as being “emotional” (as though that’s a bad thing) or being uncontrollable or not knowing how to make her point without yelling? Feminists, especially, are condemned for shouting when they do. Yet again, another reason why we need feminists. And asap.