Humanity! Salaam ‘alaik! It’s Women’s History Month. Of course, women deserve centuries of recognition and celebration, so this one month isn’t sufficient at all. But I’ll meh-ok this one month for now, given how rampant misogyny still is–and that misogynist in le ‘Murrica can make it this far in elections and be taken so seriously. God protect us from the evils of patriarchy, aameen!
So it’s women’s month, and and I haven’t written one single post about women, Islamic feminism, or Kashmala–my 6-year-old niece and the littlest feminist human we all know, may God grant her a beautiful life, aameen! I feel like I’m betraying my feminism, especially my Islamic feminism, by not having written anything this month, at least to celebrate the work of the many feminist scholars and academics who have influenced and continue to influence my own work and views. And to celebrate those women themselves. (There are some men, too, yeah, but, I actually have my suspicions, and I feel like, with the exception of at most 3 men, they can never be feminist enough, at least from the conversations I see of theirs outside of their books – like in listservs. But this isn’t a discussion I’m willing to have publicly. Yet. So I’m going to limit my celebration of Islamic feminism only to the women pioneers of the movement.)
But I promise I have legit reasons for not having blogged much! When I grow up, I’ll write about what it’s like being a (future) academic and a blogger, and you’ll all understand then. But basically, I’m working on some dissertation-related stuff that’s taking longer than I thought it would/should, and since much of what I have been blogging about lately is very relevant to my dissertation, I will get back to blogging asap, inshaAllah.
I am tempted to promise to write about at least one Islamic feminist scholar every few days this month, but in case I’m not likely to fulfill that promise, I’m going to plan three things I know I can definitely commit to that shall take place in no particular order:
1. one blog post that provides a general overview of Islamic feminism / Islamic feminist scholarship
2. one blog post celebrating at least a few of the most important contemporary Islamic feminist scholars by sharing brief bios of theirs and talking about their scholarship. These would include: Amina Wadud (who initially didn’t identify as feminist because of what the label entailed until recently, but she does now), Asma Barlas (who does not identify as a feminist, but I certainly think her work can be safely classified as feminist), Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Kecia Ali, Juliane Hammer, Ayesha Chaudhry, and Aysha Hidayatullah – these are all some of the women I have had wonderful conversations with, and my own work, my feminism, and my sense of spirituality would not be possible without theirs. And they’ve been great mentors and guides for me, and I will always be grateful to them. But, of course, these women are all academics. Muslims are also blessed with a great number of feminist activists, who, like the academics, come in different shades of feminism, and I think they all deserve recognition no matter whether we like their forms of feminism or not.
3. a blog post on Kashmala the Ultimate Feminist 🙂 She’s my little feminist hope for the future of humanity. I have been longing to write a detailed post about what it’s like raising a feminist niece, what it’s like to receive a phone call from this little feminist miracle niece of mine to tell me, “Shanu!! Patriarchy happened today!!” And “Shanu! I was telling my teacher about patriarchy today and she told me I should say that in front of the whole class so I did.” Such words bring a glow to my face and my heart every time she utters them. She can spot patriarchy from a distance, and she calls “patriarchal people” out on their patriarchy. It’s an absolutely pleasure teaching her (and her brothers, too, actually) about the evils of patriarchy, and I have every reason to believe in a fairer world because of little humans like her and her brothers. #DeathToPatriarchy
But anyway. Oh, and before I continue, lemme say something:
I am not of the opinion that “Islamic feminism” is a new phenomenon or that before the Muslim women academics of the late 20th century, no attempts to interpret Islam using feminist approaches or in a gender-egalitarian way were ever made. This is completely false. In the post I just promised above that I’ll share on the history, trends, etc. of Islamic feminism, I’ll address what I think the origins of Islamic feminism are as well. For now, know that I’m highlighting only contemporary, living women scholars of Islam and appreciating their work.
standing on the shoulders of the giants in the field
A good friend of mine, who’s also a graduate student, and I were discussing the different, let’s say “levels,” of feminism in the first and second generations of Islamic feminist scholars’ works. With the second generation now starting to critique some of the earlier Islamic feminist work, in respectful ways that still acknowledge the contributions of the earlier generation and the fact that the latter generation’s work is basically incomplete without the works of the earlier generations of scholars. And my friend and I agreed that this is critique is actually a testament of how far Islamic feminism has come that different feminist scholars can now draw from each other’s scholarship, critique it constructively, and offer new ideas for the advancement of Islamic feminism and for future generations of feminist/Muslim scholars. And this goes without saying, but, again, I think the second generation (and my generation, too) is not only fully aware but openly acknowledges that our scholarship would be impossible without the scholarship, the work, the findings, the contributions of the earlier generations of feminist scholars. I mean, while Fatima Mernissi (may she rest in peace) might make some potentially problematic points and conclusions, or use potentially problematic terms, in some of her work (such as in Beyond the Veil), we can’t deny that her work is incredibly important and without it, we’d still be far behind in a more egalitarian understanding of Islam. Similarly, while Amina Wadud’s Qur’an and Woman might read and look like a very simple book that makes “obvious” points, it’d be ignorant and silly to deny that the book was groundbreaking in its own time, and, actually, those points weren’t and still aren’t “obvious” at all. Same thing with Riffat Hassan’s works on Islamic feminism.
And speaking of Riffat Hassan and Amina Wadud (and add to the list Azizah al-Hibri), I highly recommend Aysha Hidayatullah’s remarkable book Feminist Edges of the Qur’an for a critical and constructive discussion of these women’s scholarship. But I suggest reading Hidayatullah’s book really as a celebration of Islamic feminism, as a continuation of the conversation on Islamic feminism, as the “What’s next?” step towards advancing the movement.
The point is that when we read the earlier texts written by Muslim feminist scholars (or by scholars of Islamic feminism or gender-egalitarian interpretations of Islam), we have to respect the contexts in which they were writing. We have to acknowledge that they were among the firsts addressing issues that for some people today feel like nothing. Every step that the earlier generations of Muslim feminists took was a milestone that brought us to where we are today, where I as a graduate student can use certain terminology, make references to certain sources, rely on certain scholarship, raise certain points on social media and in the Muslim community that all make it possible and easier for me to say what I need to say because the harder parts of the struggle have already been accomplished by others before me.
Juliane Hammer makes an excellent point in her Feminism And Religion article titled Invisible Giants: On Women, Mosques, and Radical Activism. Discussing an ISNA panel in which the panelists were emphasizing the changes that the mosques in America have witnessed regarding the inclusion of women in mosques, she writes:
I really did try to appreciate the efforts, the speeches, and in a way, I also appreciate the ISNA statement. I was, however, disappointed and dismayed that no one mentioned Dr. Amina Wadud, who, in March 2005, led a mixed-gender congregation Friday prayer in New York, Asra Nomani, the lead organizer of that prayer, or Laury Silvers, one of Muslims involved in a gender inclusive mosque in Toronto. It was as if acknowledging their work, their tears, and their contributions to this conversation and effort would taint the statement. When I inquired about this omission (gently, I swear) I was told that it was too important to achieve and then maintain community consensus and any mention of “progressive Muslims” would jeopardize that goal. I have argued in my writing on the woman-led Friday prayer in 2005 that the event played an important role in moving the debate about women, mosques, space and leadership forward and that that connection has been ignored. The women’s mosque initiative, launched in January 2015 in Los Angeles, albeit a very different radical space for (only) Muslim women, too, I suspect, has something to do with this 2015 ISNA initiative.
Shabana Mir, also on this idea that we must “work within the system and slowly accomplish some goals, impact a large number of stakeholders, and slowly achieve change,” puts it well when she says:
With all respect to warriors on the path, quiet, patient work within the system is one of the paths. We need all our warriors on this path. Scholar-activists like Amina Wadud have
blazed a path for all of us. Whether you agree with her or disagree, she helped raise everyone’s expectations. For my part, whether you find your spiritual home within the status quo or not, if you work toward egalitarian ideals, we are all sisters & brothers.
But even if I love your community service, be warned, some of us wage war against the status quo.
We have to be honest with ourselves and our communities and openly, publicly appreciate the role that all sorts of warriors play in fostering positive change in our world. Often, the more radical they are, the higher the expectations that they’re setting! Besides, they’re all a fuller, better, more honest reflection of actual Muslim societies and communities, where we have women that will fall on every milli-inch of the spectrum from extreeeemely A to extreeeeeemely Z. And that’s not just all right, but it’s actually necessary.
I think it is arrogant of anyone to attempt to downplay the contributions of women, however “radical” these women might be, only because of the fear that appreciating them openly would “jeopardize” some goal towards egalitarianism. How can we reach any goal towards egalitarianism when our struggle and intentions are founded on exclusion and rejection?
That should be all for now. More another time, inshaAllah.