A Note to Islamophobes excited to find something they can present as proof of a Muslim woman’s “oppression” because of Islam: This post is not an attack on Islam (I’m a Muslim and always will be; you can’t take that away from me. I also love my religion, and you can’t take that away from me, either. And I have much respect for my Prophet and his wives – again, you will not take any of this from me). This post is about men feeling entitled to being heard, to policing women’s spiritualities, to commenting on the way women speak of religion, and so on. If you’re looking for proof from Muslim women that Islam is inherently evil and misogynistic, you’re reading the wrong blog. I do not believe Islam is inherently evil or misogynist; on the contrary, I *know* (not just believe) that it comes closest, of all religions, to being as feminist in nature as was possible before the 19th century. So shove it if you are here for dishonest reasons! But before you leave in disappointment, which you should, read this article I once wrote called As a Muslim Feminist – it explains briefly how your Islamophobia is one of the struggles that we Muslim feminists are constantly facing and why y’all are a part of the problem we are forced to deal with.
Now for the post itself…
These days, I’m reading a lot of texts on the Prophet’s (pbuh) life, relationships with his wives, his companions, and the early Muslim community in general. They include the Prophet’s biographies (both English and Arabic) as well as biographies of his wives and the companions (again, both Arabic and English sources – yes, including hadith, but I don’t need to legitimate or defend my perspectives, so I’m not going to). Some of the information is new, other not so; some of the information is unsettling, other not so. So I decided to write a post on Facebook about discord in the Prophet’s household — and this is general information that a person can know without necessarily reading about the Prophet’s household because it’s all basic human problems, things that have to do with human relations on basic levels, problems that no one is exempt from no matter how amazing and how pious. So I put up a long status message on my FB about how the Prophet’s wives were actually NOT happy with each other, resented each other, were jealous of each other, didn’t want him to bring more and more brides; the Prophet (s) even got angry at them in response to their reactions to each other and didn’t speak to them for one whole month – a verse was revealed to give them the choices of remaining the Prophet’s wives and having goodness in the next world OR being divorced and enjoying the luxuries of the world. In this message on FB, I also expressed concern over the fact that we Muslims have romanticized the Prophet’s wives’ relationships with each other only to exploit Muslim women’s sincere desire to not disobey God, to the point that telling women that when they’re jealous or resentful of co-wives or not letting husbands to have multiple wives, they’re committing a sin. This is not only disingenuous but also inaccurate even according to hadiths themselves that have survived that discuss the Prophet’s wives relationship with each other.
And what happens when I do that? What could possibly go wrong when a Muslim woman sets out to break false claims about the Prophet’s wives through obvious facts that are not even secret but easily found in hadiths? What could possibly happen when a Muslim woman does this knowing that many Muslims have simply chosen to turn a blind eye towards these facts and the reality of the tension in the Prophet’s home because it interrupts the perfect, linear narrative that we have fabricated about the Prophet’s wives’ relationships with each other and with him? Well, obviously, a man decides to regulate the mannerism in which I will discuss these issues and concerns. But, of course, he does not succeed because my women friends are too smart and aware to let men feel like they have power over us.
People, all of them Muslim women, responded to that post admitting that they had had similar suspicions, similar thoughts, similar questions and doubts – and they were glad that it was being discussed openly. Someone said she’d be excommunicated if she dared raise that issue on her own Facebook, and I told her that, yeah, at one point in my life, I would’ve felt the same way, but now I’m the one to initiate the excommunication because I no longer have space in my life and heart for anyone who cannot respect me. I no longer interact with anyone who does not respect me. I demand and deserve respect, and if you cannot give that to me, get out of my life. Others thought it was very brave of me to be discussing something SO utterly obvious. Seriously? What’s brave about admitting that the Prophet’s wives were human like you and me? Men go crazy the moment you ask them how they’d feel if their wives shared them with other men; women, too, don’t like it, but the difference is that we’re spiritually blackmailed into doing so, and if we dare to complain about it or protest it, our faith is put on trial. Muslim men, however, never have to worry about having their faith subjected to such scrutiny.
And then one male friend of mine put it upon himself to come and tell us how to talk about the Prophet and his wives the “correct” way! What does he say, though? Well, he basically starts spiritually blackmailing me, saying things like “astaghfirallah” (how patronizing; except I was amused – but honestly, sometimes, nothing’s worse than someone–a man, especially–astaghfirallah’ing a woman, ok?) and that I was being disrespectful towards the prophet, that my “tone” was harsh and disrespectful (disrespectful towards misogynists and insecure men, yes, indeed), and Muslims would be offended to hear what I was saying there! He told us that we needed to respect “Muslims'” “sensibilities,” by which, we all gathered, he meant Muslim men’s sensibilities, since, like all other religious traditions, over the past several centuries, the Islamic tradition has largely served men to the point that many Muslim men equate offense to them with offense to God. These are some of the repercussions of a tradition that strives to please men with rare occasions of respecting women’s sensibilities. Never mind that women have been harmed, even oppressed, by many religious rulings issued and enforced by men – but let’s make sure to point it out to women when they dare to step on men’s right to do whatever the heck they want to do with no regards for women’s emotions and feelings and responses. I did tell him that I knew exactly what I was doing, was not going to take back anything I’d said, not even my tone, and that we can’t afford to censor information using tone as an excuse.
And the moment he started writing about how the information I had shared was offensive to Muslims and how the tone needed to take into consideration Muslims’ sensibilities and whatnot, The Fatal Feminist (TFF / Nahida) wrote one beautiful line: “I knew a man was going to show up with some tone policing.”
In response, he told her to “hold your horses” because he’s not policing anything (uh-huh, sure) and that he’s just concerned that I’m offending Muslims’ sensibilities and that this is a sensitive issue, and so on. So Nahida wrote back with:
I would advise you to refrain from asking me to “hold my horses” before you present a tired list of poorly disguised excuses for your patronizing tone toward [Orbala] and her heartfelt expression of what is obviously a painful spiritual reality for her. (Interesting how tone policers never examine how whiney or privileged they’re coming across in their own tones.)
This is a “sensitive issue” for Muslims? Is [Orbala] not Muslim? Am I not Muslim? Is every woman here who has commented on this thread not Muslim? In fact we have demonstratively proven that the only one who is sensitive here is *you.* And coincidentally–or not–you happen to be a man. And I can speak for [Orbala] when I say she doesn’t care whether or not she’s hurting your sensitivities, just like the male scholars you’ve undoubtedly failed to police in the past haven’t granted a smidgeon of compassion regarding how they “come across” when confronting the religious sensitivities of women like [Orbala] who are appalled by their unforgiving uncompassionate positions on polygamy.
Addressing TFF’s mention of a painful spiritual reality, I commented:
You know, I don’t think most Muslim men realize how difficult it is for us Muslim women to come to terms with some of the stuff we come across about the way the early Muslim scholars thought of us. It can, and it has, crushed faiths! In studying Qur’anic exegesis (compilation of the Qur’an first and then the fuqahas’ opinions on women and interpretations of women-related verses later on) in class one day, one female convert literally said out loud when we were discussing our responses to the new and shocking and unexpected information: “If I’d known any of this before I converted, I’d never have converted.” It’s difficult handling this kind of stuff, and it’s really sad that so many Muslim don’t realize that. I’d love to look into some confessional sort of scholarship out there on Muslim women scholars addressing this, sharing how they feel upon discovering some of the views that exist about (against) us, how they respond to it all, how they cope with it … how it changes or doesn’t change them … and so on.
Smart women. I love them, I love being around them, I love being associated with them, I love having them in my life, I love having them as close friends and associates.
These women recognized what was going on: a man thinking (in his case, subconsciously because I know he understands how patriarchy works) he could enter any space he feels like it and criticize a bunch of women about the way they were carrying themselves and expressing themselves, a man entering a space where a whole bunch of women trusting each other were safely sharing with each other how uncomfortable they are with some of the Prophet’s attitudes towards his wives and how they have often wondered why so many Muslim women are fooled into thinking that they have to accept polygamy as their husband’s right because the Prophet’s wives never complained (!!!) … and a man enters and attempts to remind us how weak our faith is because, astaghfirallah, how dare we speak that way of the Prophet and his wives! Because the women I surround myself with are smart enough to detect misogyny wherever they see it and unafraid to call misogynists out on their misogyny even if they attempt to sugarcoat it–because sugarcoated misogyny is still misogyny–the male eventually apologized and acknowledged that he had been in the wrong. I told him that I accepted his apology and thank him for for acknowledging and accepting why his interjection in the conversation the way he let it happen was problematic.
But now that I look back, I accepted his apology too quickly, and he did not deserve a “thank you” at all for recognizing his male privilege at last. I realize now that I was subconsciously feeling sorry and embarrassed for him because patriarchy tells him that he’s not supposed to apologize, that he has a right to say whatever he wants wherever he wants especially in front of and to women, that he is smarter than women, that nothing any woman has to say can ever be more important or smarter or more valuable than what he has to say. Except that then he is hit by reality where a crazy-ass intelligent group of women refuse to put up with his perpetuation of patriarchy. And he is shocked and ends up having to apologize … and I, while knowing all this, immediately accept his apology because, poor thing, we women put him in a position where he was forced to admit publicly that he was wrong! That’s so effing hard for men to do in a patriarchal society like America! But, ma’lesh – I’m not feeling sorry for men next time they are in such a position. When they choose to implicate themselves as perpetrators of misogyny themselves, that’s not anyone else’s fault. Even if they end up being pushed to apologize, and condemn patriarchy just by admitting guilt.
Everyone should know this. Never, ever interrupt women when they are talking. Never ever tell them that what they’re feeling or thinking or saying is out of place. And especially don’t do it if you’re a man and claim you’re an ally! If the women know what they’re doing, I hope they exercise their power and right to silence you. And not politely. We’re done feeling sorry for men when they apologize just because we know how hard it is for them to admit to being wrong or for them to apologize because it’s just not what “men” do!
As for what I’d said in my FB post, something along the lines of:
People (Muslims) make it seem like all was heaven over at the Prophet’s house (pbuh), that his wives didn’t object to each other or to his multiple and constant re-marriages, that they loved each other like any “true” or “the ideal” Muslimah should/would; in fact, women are often spiritually blackmailed into allowing or at least accepting and recognizing their husband’s right to have other wives in addition to them because the Prophet’s wives allowed him to have that many! (They didn’t quite allow it, actually; he did it without asking them, and they hated and feared it. This whole seeking permission of current wives for remarriage being a sunnah … yeah, no.) But in reality, those women couldn’t stand each other: They plotted against each other, they resented each other, and they were divided in groups and ganged up on whoever was not in their group. And as we all know, the Prophet made his preference for Aisha so obvious to each of them that they resented her just as she resented the ones who were more beautiful or smarter than she was. At one point, Umm Salamah even said to Muhammad, “I see that the rest of us are as nothing in your presence” in response to his intense love and preference for Aisha. When Sawdah, the oldest of them and whom he had married right after Khadija, gave her “turn” to Aisha (for non-Muslims unaware of this: the Prophet divided his nights/days equally amongst all his wives, and each wife had a “turn”), it wasn’t just because she was being nice (maybe so, not unlikely) but more so because she feared that he would divorce her, since she feared he had lost interest in her, and she knew that if she showed love for Aisha to Muhammad, he would appreciate it – because love shown to Aisha was love shown to the Prophet. Later on, another wife (Safiyah the Jew) gave her “turn” to Aisha for a night because Muhammad was upset with her (Safiyah), and she, too, knew that the best way to get his attention back was to donate her turn for the night to Aisha. Then, of course, there was that time when for a whole 29 days or so, he didn’t speak to ANY of them because he was angry with them. [And I’m adding this part right now: And Umar, the Prophet’s friend and father-in-law, graciously packs his male privilege and takes it with him over to the Prophet’s house to tell each of his wives how to be good wives – and that’s where Umm Salamah says to him, “Excuse me?! Who put YOU in charge of us?! If Muhammad doesn’t like the way we treat him, he’ll let us know himself. It’s none of your business.” And all the other wives applauded her for standing up to Umar.]
I mean, c’mon – that many wives married to one man, it’s only fair that so much enmity and discord and disunity take place. Anyone denying it is simply choosing to idealize a relationship/relationships that never actually existed.
Girls, women: Know that when people “astaghfirallah” you, they’re claiming power over you, and you don’t have to re-evaluate your faith in response. Don’t let anyone spiritually blackmail you, question or challenge your faith or your love for God or Islam or the Prophet or anyone and anything else that’s important to you. Feel free to let them know that you don’t give a cow’s dung about offending them or anyone else with an empty sense of faith who thinks that there’s no room for honest expressions of our thoughts even in the spaces we feel most at ease speaking our minds in – just because they find it blasphemous (blasphemy itself is all just about someone insecure in their own faith thinking God is as low as they and would be offended; it’s arrogant, and it’s akin to shirk in that the person’s speaking for God as though God is incapable of speaking for Herself). Give no one, especially a man, permission to control or censor your choices to speak as you choose, as you are comfortable doing so. Control your own circle of friends and generously kick out of it anyone who disrespects you and harms you in any way, or treats you in any way you do not consent to. You don’t owe it to anyone to be friends with them, to love them, to keep them in your life.
Now, before I conclude this, I’d like to just say that coming up is a topic related to censorship and the stifling of critical thinking minds – and basic questioning of established religious presets and “facts” (claims and opinions, really, rarely ever facts). It’s something on how we’re absolutely forbidden from even openly discussing how Umar, one of the Prophet’s companions and the 2nd caliph, was actually quite violent towards women, including his own wives. I’m talking beating women here, not just being aggressive. Stay tuned, good folks.
And, of course, death to patriarchy! Keep fighting it and resisting it in whatever ways you can and are comfortable doing so! It’s working – slowly but surely, it’s working.
P.S. #notallmen, ok?!