Watershed Post

So this is one of those “watershed” posts that took me a while to write, and that really comes from deep down. I hope that everyone can spare some time to read it, and I would love comments, advice, criticism, and discussion. Insha’Allah. And I hope you like the new layout! It was designed by one of the most amazing people I know. Thanks AC.

I just began reading “On Being a Muslim” by Farid Esack, and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Islam, particularly post-modern Islam. It is such an inspiring book! Not only did it make me get emotional several times, but it changed the way I saw this blog. I realized that more often than not, I blog about the negatives in Islam, because those are the things that occupy me the most. To me, Islam is such a perfect religion and the Qur’an is such a perfect text, that it really bothers me when people twist what is in it. But what’s the point? What am I changing or accomplishing by only writing about the negative aspects of Muslims and Islam? Wouldn’t it be better for others, and for me, to blog about the multitude of beautiful and inspirational things to be found in Islam?

Yes! So i’A from now on, there will be more positive thoughts. Of course I’ll still vent and rant every now and then (let’s face it, we Muslims are facing a lot of problems) but I also want to write about things in Islam that make me happy and inspire me.

Since this is my last post before I start “blogging-positively”, I have one final rant.

Farid Esack is definitely a feminist, and I love this the most about him. In 1997 he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to be head of the Gender Commission in South Africa. His chapter “on being with the gendered other” is phenomenal, despite the fact that it was very hard for me to swallow. This part in particular: “How do women seeking gender justice really derive support and inspiration from a tradition whose icons are either all men or isolated women who inevitably draw their “legitimacy” from their relationship to males: wife, daughter, narrator of traditions, mother of a prophet. Is there really any place for gender justice within a theology rooted in a seemingly ahistorical and stable text such as the Qur’an, which is inescapably patriarchal?” Esack also points out that the Qur’an for the most part, appears to address men.

There are times when I wonder whether there is a “women problem” in Islam at all, or whether I am blowing it out of proportion. Most of the time, though, I know there is a huge problem, and that we need to deal with it.

“There are many sensitive women who simply cannot, with any self-respect, live alongside the idea of a God who reduces them to half of men. For them, and for the men who identify with them, it thus is very much a question of faith, and a very personal and deeply held one too.”

He managed to sum up, in one paragraph, what I have been trying to say on this blog since I started it. He also points out that we cannot go on pretending that the only injustice done to women is by Muslim men. Rather, there are also problems with the Shari’ah. “While in a few areas of life Islamic legal thinking has kept up with human progress and produced new insights, in many others, including gender justice, it hasn’t. The religious landlords among us – all male – have aborted the process set in motion by the Prophet: we have betrayed the prophetic injunction of justice and equality for all of Allah’s people.”

On women preaching in mosques (a la Amina Wadud), he quoted this Christian minister:

“I refuse to preach in a church which does not allow women to preach there. In effect, they are telling me that I am OK because of something between my legs which women do not have and, frankly, I do not think that that is enough reason for me to qualify to preach!”

The day I hear a sheikh (especially an Arab one) say this, is the day I know that we are going somewhere. Esack writes,

“We need to ask what exactly it is that we are afraid of; is it really women speaking in mosques? Is it the loss of our own faith at the hands of “modernists”, the uncertainty as to where all of these “new ideas” will lead? Is it the loss of power that we as males exercise over women? Is it the loss of authority that we as religious leaders exercise over people? Is it our own sense of masculinity that is being threatened? If it is, then is it not more rewarding to look deep into ourselves and personal histories and study this hunger for power, this desire for authority and our own deep-seated sexual insecurity?”

Another subject he wrote about was the idea that Muslims should not befriend Jews or Christians, or non-Muslims in general. He gave this touching example:

“In South Africa there are a number of Muslims who have spent various periods in prison with Nelson Mandela, who comes from a Methodist background. Can these Muslims simply ignore the Qur’anic text that says “Do not take the Jews and the Christians as your friends; they are friends unto each other” (5:51)? If they want to remain Muslims and at the same time remain true to the experience of a shared comradeship in the jails of apartheid then they have seriously to rethink many things connected to this text. What is the context of this verse within the rest of the text? What is the context of its revelation? Who were the specific Jews and Christians referred to in this verse? Under what historical circumstances was this revealed? What are the different meanings of awliya (allies)? What is the sense of this verse in the light of other such verses and how do they qualify or amplify each other? What does this verse mean in the light of the basic spirit of the Qur’an which is one of justice and compassion?

To me, believing that we cannot interact with non-Muslims means that we are reducing our complex identities to just being “Muslim” and nothing else. What about my identity as a woman, as a student, as Egyptian, as Dutch, as Zambian, as a sister, as a daughter? Should I cut all of that out if it involves interacting with non-Muslims? My mother is not Muslim, some of my best friends are not Muslim, many of my professors are not Muslim, and about 95% of Holland is not Muslim. What does that mean for me? I’m sorry, but I cannot and will not reduce myself to such a narrow interpretation of the Qur’an, because it does not seem logical to me that God would want me to reduce my identity to being only one thing. Like Tariq Ramadan said in his debate with Hirsi, “don’t reduce me to being only a Muslim.”

The questions above that are in bold are key for me. I think if we use them to understand the Qur’an in general, then we can probably reach a better and more enlightened understanding of the text than if we just believe whatever the ulama say. The ulama have a role, but so do we. And I think those questions will especially help me tackle the gender aspects of the Qur’an, especially those regarding polygamy, “beating”, inheritance, and bearing witness.

“You should really visit our area the next time you come. You’d be delighted to know how alive Islam is there; you won’t find a single woman on our streets!” Esack’s guide in Uzbekistan.

“We are terrified of our own weakness. Most of us feel so terribly inadequate as persons that we require another species to feel superior to. It is, of course, unfashionable, at least in public, to feel superior to the Blacks, the Berbers, the Bushies, the Pathans, the Miabhais or the Kashmiris. Thank heavens, women will always be around! (If not, we’ll always have the Jews to fall back on of course.) Unable to assume responsibility for our vulnerabilities, we blame women and they end up carrying the burden of both their own fall – after being pushed by us – and our fall.

And then we say that women are the weaker sex?” Farid Esack (my new hero!)

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