A response to : Life of a Muslim Feminist Huh?

Dear Faraz,

You may well be over the whole #lifeofamuslimfeminist kerfuffle but you cared enough to write a blog post about it. A passionate, concerned blog post at that and I appreciate your engagement with the discussion. You also welcomed responses and since you didn’t give us a deadline, I thought I’d post my concerns about your concerns. After giving a lot of thought to what you wrote, here are a few things that I’d urge you to reconsider:

On the public relations fail that was the #lifeofamuslimfeminist hashtag:
“…you need to see and judge the impacts of your actions…Many who don’t know about Islam in any sort of detail will see this and instantly get an awful impression of what it must be like to be a “practicting/religious Muslim.” [sic]

We don’t bring people to Islam, only God does (2:72: “Not upon you, [O Muhammad], is [responsibility for] their guidance, but Allah guides whom He wills”). The thrust of your argument Faraz, hinges on the idea that we’re responsible for people coming to Islam or at least Islam’s reputation as something good. Two things 1- As I’ve mentioned, it’s not us that brings people to Islam. In fact, proof of God’s divine guidance are all the people who would – traditionally – be rejected by Muslims, who come to the Deen regardless. For example, there are countless gay people who want to or already have embraced Islam despite the way gay people are treated by Muslims and indeed, in many readings of scripture.

2- While there are many people with limited knowledge of Islam who see it as a good thing, historically Islam has always had a negative reputation because it asks us to reconsider so much: it asks a capitalist society not to exploit people, it asks nationalists to think again about the boundaries of their identities, it asks people rooted in empirical fact to consider that they might not be able to measure everything. It asks difficult tasks of its followers and tells them life won’t be easy. Inviting people to Islam means inviting them to those struggles. Knowing this, how concerned should we really be about Islam’s PR image?

On the unfair depiction of Muslim men:
“the consequences are that you creating a horrible stereotype of Muslim men being horrible misogynistic dicks because that’s what their religion makes them become” [sic]

No one out there, and I mean NO ONE, thinks Muslim men actually live up to the image that traditional readings of Islam imply. That is, no one really believes that they constantly seek God’s pleasure, consistently and sufficiently provide for their families, always protect women while treating them equally and acknowledging their differences. Most people are willing to accept that that’s what Muslim men aim for but we know, and I mean EVERYBODY KNOWS that men, like the rest of us, are fallible. We know that there are and always will be questions and discussions over what it is to be a man, especially in relation to women.

These questions have not been answered and these discussions have not ended. So perhaps consider that it might not be wrong for Muslim women (and men who used the hashtag alike) to acknowledge that there are oppressive injustices that continue to occur in the relationships between Muslim men and Muslim women.  We can’t pretend that non-Muslims don’t know that these injustices exist and denying them only makes us look stupid. Highlighting the repeating patterns of those injustices, as was done using the hashtag, reminds us to keep asking those questions, keep having those discussions about what it is to be fair, supportive and just towards each other.

On the good and bad of it:
“…when people feel the need to clear up the fact that the hashtag doesn’t apply to the religion but rather to certain people, well that’s when you know you haven’t started something good.”

Everything needs clarification. Precious few things in life are so simple that they require no footnotes, no references to context, nothing about discourse patterns, nor a reminder or two about the myriad of ways they can be interpreted. Naturally, during a discussion on Twitter, which limits statements to 140 characters, even less when you include the hashtag, people will feel they need to clarify their brief statements.

More importantly, the subject at hand isn’t binary. There is good in it and there is bad in it. As with all expression, sometimes it can be completely harmful, sometimes it’s completely beneficial, sometimes it’s both and sometimes it’s neither. But if we look to the Qur’an to see how Allah responds to complaints, particularly complaints from women, he very publicly engages with them, he listens and he responds. As Dr. Ingrid Mattson has said, Allah’s overall message to women, time and time again in the Qur’an is that their experiences, their thoughts and concerns are valid and valued.

On the pointlessness of it all:
“…the hashtag is not by any means the proper means to accomplish anything besides a little social media fanfare and controversy”

Here’s what you can gain from a hashtag that extends beyond the social media fanfare and controversy that you rightly highlighted:

1. A better understanding of nuances within the discourse. (You highlighted this at the start of your blog post)
2. A sense of solidarity – the strength of knowing that you are not alone, that other women and (just as importantly) men, hear and experience your concerns.
3. True, genuine friends. People discover each other through hashtags and sure, friendships are built up over time and the ones you build on Twitter are of a different nature sometimes, but essentially, finding people who share your concerns means you stand a better chance at working together more effectively.
4. A sense of progress. See No.1 – the #lifeofamuslimfeminist hashtag made it easy to see just how much the discussion on this subject has grown and diversified. It worked in mainstream feminisms and addressed them, it highlighted the ways women perpetuate patriarchal thinking and it highlighted the various spaces that gender injustices occur from home to work, to Isocs, to mosques, to mothers at the school gates to girly nights in and carefully navigated nights out.

Best Wishes,

Naima

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