The Perplexity of a Muslim Woman: Over Inheritance, Marriage, and Homosexuality
Translated from the Arabic by Lamia Benyoussef
Lexington Books, 2017. 156 pages. $80
A shorter version of this review is published in the American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences
Olfa Youssef’s The Perplexity of a Muslim Woman: Over Inheritance, Marriage, and Homosexuality—translated by Lamia Benyoussef from the Arabic Ḥayratu Muslima—addresses some of the practical and conceptual inconsistences in traditional, male-centric historical interpretations of inheritance, marriage, and homosexuality. Youssef devotes a chapter to each of these topics and discusses in depth relevant questions, assumptions, and sub-themes in each chapter. A brief Introduction introduces common claims that the book responds to, claims that are treated as truths but which Youssef states have nothing truthful about them (21). She emphasizes that her intention is not to proclaim a final truth, for only God knows the true meaning of the Qur’an, but to merely point out the various inconsistences—the philosophical perplexities—that historical, traditional interpretations of these topics have raised. The underlying argument is that while the Qur’an repeatedly claims that “none knows its interpretation but God” (3:7), male scholars have feigned knowledge of the divine to the detriment of women as well as lesbian and gay individuals.
Since the article by Yasmin Mogahed where she argues against female-led prayer (google it) has been making rounds again and it has some misleading and false statements, here’s a response to it, point by point. Collectively written by me, Zahra K., and someone else. Yasmin Mogahed’s points are in red, and our responses follow. Please note that this post is only a response to Mogahed’s claims and not entirely on female-led prayer. For an article on female-led prayer and how Islam does actually permit it, please click here (it includes references – and I’m gonna link to this a few times below because).
Stop telling Muslim feminists that they’re “picking and choosing” from Islam as if that’s a bad thing and as if that’s not already what scholars have always done in Islam.
Ever since Asma Jahangir’s passing – may she rest in eternal peace, may she rest at last – sadness seems to be my natural state. I’ve never hurt this much over the loss of someone I did not personally know. (Here’s kind of why.) I think about her, I see her face on my FB feed or Twitter, and this deep, deep sadness overcomes me. I cannot believe she’s gone. I cannot believe the world – Pakistan! Pakistan!!! – has lost such a person. I am disappointed in myself for not having celebrated her while she was alive. I never even reached out to her to tell her how much I valued her, how much I looked up to her, what a relief her existence in our world was, especially in Pakistan. I could’ve easily done this, since she was active on Twitter (and she even followed me! What a fool I was to never send her a DM! God forgive me). Just a couple days before we lost her, I made a mental note to myself to reach out to her. I saw something about her, or a tweet of hers, I really don’t remember, and I smiled and was like yeah I need to write to her. And I didn’t. And next thing I know, I wake up to “RIP, Asma” on my Facebook, and my heart stopped. And in a panic, I google “Asma death” to see which Asma this was. And while I’m doing this, the thought running through my head was, “Asma Jahangir has been killed. This was only a matter of time. Of course we’d kill yet another female activist, a feminist human rights lawyer, a woman who’s been fighting for women and racial and religious minorities all over Pakistan for decades. Of course we can’t let her live. And it has to have been her speech at the dharna/protest, #PashtunLongMarch [google this! Twitter search this, people.].” That speech of hers is everything, after all. And when Google said it was indeed Asma Jahangir … I froze (but somewhat relieved she hadn’t been murdered – she died of a heart attack). And I contacted my friend Bia later that day and expressed the pain I was feeling, and we spoke for hours about what had happened and what it meant for us, for Pakistani women, for Pakistani women in Pakistan, for minorities in Pakistan. I’m still not over it, and I pray I never get over it because this woman’s life deserves to be felt this deeply.
I was just telling Nahida (The Fatal Feminist) that there needs to be a word for when patriarchy pits younger women against older women to make a statement about, oh I don’t know, how younger women supposedly think they know better than older women and nonsense like that. This is a special kind of misogyny. And what makes it even more distinctive is that it’s men who do it, men causing and promoting a divide between generations of women. Which is what this ridiculous article I had the misfortune to come across does. (I decided recently to be more compassionate when I’m critiquing something, especially something academic, but then when it’s men writing about women who write/talk about women, or men being patriarchal and dismissive and horrible researchers, that doesn’t deserve my compassion.)
You see, when men write about “aunties,” taking young women’s experiences with the older generation of Desi women apparently now called “aunties,” what you get is a very special kind of patriarchy. While doing this, while trying to redeem and save the aunty from her daughters and granddaughters and other young women of her community, the male writer of color does precisely what he criticizes white men for doing: serving and presenting themselves as saviors of women. Uh, listen, men, we don’t need you to save us or our mothers and aunties and grandmothers. We got this. But also … it’s not just any kind of aunty they want to save: it has to be the one in their imagination, who apparently cannot save, protect, defend herself. The ideal type of aunty who need saving by men like the author of this article don’t include feminist aunties, for example. Which is another reason the article is so ironic: in an effort to claim that we younger desi women caricature the Aunty, the author himself caricatures her by pretending like there’s only one type of aunty. How sad that he has no idea what he’s talking about, that he has no access to the aunties we have access to he’s missing out – and failing at his research.
God says: Say not, of any false thing that your tongues may put forth, “This is lawful, and this is forbidden,” ascribing false things to God. For those who ascribe false things to God will never prosper. (Qur’an, 16:116)
Pre-post: People, calm the hell down about the title of this post. There’s nothing “Islamic” about your claims, your hate against female-led prayers. Your threats to those who support female-led prayers and your decisions that those of us who support it are outside the fold of Islam. Remember that the nonsense you’re saying about those supporting such prayers applies to all the scholars of the past, the revered beloved scholars you take seriously in pretty much all other matters, who supported female-led prayers. The death threats women get for leading prayers, the insults they get, the accusations, the other attacks, would you do the same to the men who support female-led prayers? Because, bruh, among the historical scholars who supported female-led prayers *of mixed congregations* are Abu Thawr (d. 854), al-Muzani (d. 877), al-Zahiri (d. 883), Tabari (d. 923), and Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240). This is a reminder to those who think “all the scholars” agree that such prayers are prohibited. And to those claiming that no woman ever led a prayer, 1) so if you find out that a woman DID in fact lead such a prayer in the past, will you then support female-led prayers? If no, then what’re you doing exactly? whass your point? 2) we don’t have a record of every single thing in Islamic history, so it’s very possible that you don’t know about someone who led such a prayer, and it’s not okay to make prohibitions based on assumptions and a lack of information, and 3) actually, we do got women in the past doing this. But at any rate, which past are we talking about? When would a woman have to have led a prayer for you to accept it as legit? If during the Prophet’s time, then if the prohibition itself isn’t from the Prophet (because it’s not), why do you accept the prohibition as valid but claim that you’ll accept an example from the Prophet’s time as sufficiently valid?… am I confusing you yet? No shit. And here we were, thinking Islam was all clear and simple and stuff.
This brilliance was first published over at Nahida Nisa’s blog, The Fatal Feminist. I’m pasting it verbatim with Nahida’s permission.
by Inas Hyatt and TFF
Non-black Muslims often (mis)appropriate the terms “intersectionality” and “white feminism” to the detriment of black Muslim women. This appropriation ranges from coopting the theory of intersectionality to defend Muslim men who threaten or deflect from Muslim women accusing them of assault, to sidetracking from the migrant slave trade by introducing the subject of western imperialism (or white feminism) in Arab nations.
On comparing oppressions and treating Islamophobia as more urgent than patriarchal oppressions.
I’m so deeply grateful to the thoughtful ways that Muslim women deal with problems in our community. I’m so grateful to be among them, and I’m grateful that I’m in conversation with them. Thank you all ❤ I’m blessed to call you my sisters.
In the last month, there have been several conversations on Facebook on the patriarchy (and racism too but just patriarchy for now) of male academics. Each time it happens, I want to blog about it, and then I’m too tired from the violence of the male academics who participate in those conversations defensively, arrogantly, and emotionally. So here goes it at last.
In a recently conversation on my Facebook on male fragility in academia, a friend commented, “But why are these academics so thin-skinned? None of the ones I know are!”
I responded that most academics I know are thin-skinned–and almost are of the thin-skinned ones are men.
My friend: “Ohhh, I’m thinking about my female academic friends! I don’t know any male academics.”