Image

It’s Not About The Headscarf

Written By: Elyse Keelani*

Why is a Muslim woman’s worth symbolized by a headscarf** or the lack thereof?

In Western societies, the lack of a headscarf makes a Muslim woman blend into secular society; whether or not she’s a practicing Muslim is less important. Usually, as long as she looks the part, she is accepted. A lack of a headscarf in the eyes of the West means that she is not oppressed, and that she has found freedom.

its not about the headscarf

However, the West fails to see that their own society confines women also, and that women are treated simply as objects. If a woman wears a bikini on the beach, she’s fine. If a woman wears a bikini on the street, she’s deemed “loose”. If a woman of the right body-type wears a low-cut top, she is seen as sexy; If a heavy woman does the same, she is trashy. There are so many rules to follow, it’s hard to keep up.

“Do I look confident or self-absorbed?” “Do I look strong or do I look overbearing?” “Do I look sexy or do I look slutty?” The lines are drawn according to a woman’s race, body type, socio-economic status, etc. Then a woman might find that the lines are drawn differently in some Western countries, or in some areas of Western countries.

The worth of a woman is often narrowed down to fabric, but that worth was taken away long before anyone saw how she was dressed. Being “Jane” means less opportunity in life, less pay, more risk of being a victim of violence, etc.

Clothing is simply a symbol of how well a woman is fitting into the society that already oppresses her.

Read more

Advertisements
Feminism: Hijacked by White, Middle-Class Women

Feminism: Hijacked by White, Middle-Class Women

What follows is a speech given by Myriam Francois-Cerrah on the problems with feminism as it is viewed from the lense of white middle-class women. Being a white, middle-class woman, a feminist, and a Muslim it feels strange to reblog this. But as Francois-Cerrah says, “If it takes my white privilege to amplify this message, at least it will have served one positive purpose in the broader struggle for human equality”.

myriamfrancoiscerrah

This is the transcript of a speech given by Myriam Francois-Cerrah in an Oxford Union debate on 12 Feburary. She was speaking in favour of the successful motion “This House believes that feminism has been hijacked by white middle class women”, alongside Ava Vidal and  Linda Bellos OBE. In opposition: Inna Schevchenko from FEMEN, Michael Kaufman and Natalie Bennett (Green Party).

Ladies and Gentleman, it is a pleasure to be here with you this evening.

I know, I know – the apparent irony of my being a white middle class woman who believes feminism has been hijacked by white middle class women will, I’m certain, not be lost on you.

But – it is in many ways a vindication of my case.

After all, I am a minority within my own community – unrepresentative of Muslim women either here or in the global south, in terms of my either socio-economic profile…

View original post 1,303 more words

The Muslim Woman’s Struggle: Diversity in Feminism Part II

The Muslim Woman’s Struggle: Diversity in Feminism Part II

Part I here

Written by Theresa Corbin, co-authored by Saadia Haq

A Voice from the West

Recently I have gotten a lot of heat for identifying as feminist and a Muslim. I did it very publicly so I am not surprised at the response. I am however, surprised that purported feminists had such a problem with my identity they have gone so low as to call me- a fellow woman they have never met or spoken to- a stupid cow (because having and exercising my basic human right to choose my religion makes me a farm animal), a moron, an attention seeking … fill in the blank …

Aaaand these “feminists” have even perpetuated a harmful female stereotype, by saying that my identity is the result of daddy issues, as if everything a woman does must have something to do with a male relationship- there is no emoji that exists that can express how massively I would like to roll my eyes at this.

But the lack of support-and virulent abuse-I received from my fellow “feminist” was so hideous that it made me wonder what exactly they think feminism is. I know for sure they had no idea what being a Muslim meant outside of what they hear about Muslims and Islam on the news, stereotypes, or from Islamophobic talking heads and reductionists (terrible sources, y’all!).

Then I realized that these ladies (and some men) were only upset because I challenged their misconceptions about what it means to be a Muslim woman, what is means to be a feminist, and by doing so I challenged their very identity (we often define ourselves by negation and not being validated pisses insecure people off). I realized this because I understand the rhetoric in American society and Western culture at large that Islam = bad for women.

The reason I realized this was because I too had many of the same misconceptions about Islam that these people have. That was before I knew what Islam is. You see, it is hard not to carry around these misconceptions when on a daily basis you are receiving messages from everywhere that hijab is a tool of oppression, that Muslim men are somehow more violent and domineering than their Western counterparts and that Islam is just more oppression of women under the guise of religion.

While there are problems that women face in terms of dress, male dominance and religion being used as a tool for oppression (that Muslim feminists are addressing), it is a fallacy to think that these things are only Eastern or Muslim problems as we see them play out daily among non-Muslims in the West. But the stereotypes persists and are amplified of late.

The roots of these stereotypes come from Orientalists’ intentionally mutilated understanding of Islam. And its feminist roots were planted by women like Carrie Chapman Catt and Aletta Henriëtte Jacobs, who travelled the world to unite women in the cause of equality and they should be celebrated for their efforts. But these ladies and many women like them couldn’t get over their own superficiality and arrogance. When they saw Muslim women dressing modestly in hijab, they took it as proof that men were using all they could including clothing to control women.

These feminists clung to their Orientalist understanding of Islam (some say it was only propagated to create reasons to colonize Muslim countries. i.e. Christianity good/Islam bad therefore, the more “advanced” Western Christians must “rescue” people from their “backwardness”) and they never once thought to ask the Muslim women why they cover their bodies the way that they do. Or even if it was something that Muslim women wished to do of their own accord. No, they just assumed it was because Muslim women were too weak or feeble-minded to even see how they were being oppressed. (See Unveiling Scheherazade)

These early feminists completely ignored the fact that these Muslim women used the public space and political forum to fight for their causes. These efforts were ignored because Muslim women weren’t fighting for the causes Western women thought they should be fighting for (removal of the veil). So they took it upon themselves to free these “poor” women from the things they didn’t need saving from and ignored the real struggles they faced. This was par for the course in Western colonial dealings with indigenous peoples.

and some are still at it.

I have felt this attitude and its far reaching effects through time and place in my own life. When I compare how I was treated as an identifiably white women to how I am treated now that I wear hijab, the difference is striking. I was, previous to my Islamic identity, treated like a competent, actualized, thinking human being. I was listened to and even sought out for my opinion. The story is totally opposite now that I am recognizably Muslim. Now I am often treated like a child, talked down to and even flat out ignored. So much so that I often wonder if I am invisible or on mute. I suffer from the legacy these first feminist left to future generations as to how to treat the “other”.

Sure, I know what you are thinking, feminists have moved past this type of thinking and acting. And I would have to agree with you that many modern, Western feminists have gotten past this. Some of my best friends are third-wave feminists. These ladies understand that each women’s struggle is her own and should be heard and dealt with in the way she wishes for her life.

And third-wave feminism arose partly-or largely, depending on whom you speak with- because of the failure of former feminists to understand that women are diversified and that women of all ethnicities, nationalities, religions and cultural backgrounds are also entitled to equality and agency in the ways they see fit for their lives.

So why are so many feminist still stuck in first and second wave feminist thinking? It all goes back to what the media is selling and what the masses are buying. Stereotypes that is (definition- where a few cases are taken as representative of the whole. Thought it would be better to clear that up now instead of in the comments.)! They are sold fresh and hot off the presses daily. And this creates a weirdness where feminism is growing and supporting women in their choices, but many still cling to colonial mindsets that says to be actualized you must first be Western, White, and Christian (today that translates to: If not Western then at least westernized. If not white then at least whitewashed. And if not Christian then at least not Muslim). And if you “fall short” in any of those categories, you will be dismissed. It will be assumed that you are not capable.

In the Western culture, we have done little to address this arrogance in our thinking and we see it acted out by groups like FEMEN who wish to “save” and instruct the Muslim woman on what feminism really is. It is this idea that somehow someone else (here: FEMEN-style feminists) has a better understanding of what is best for you (here: Muslim women) than you do, that has a distinct smack of patriarchy by way of feminism.

Muslims women are not now and have never been interested in being told what our struggle is. We are not interested in being spoken for. We are not interested in being rescued.

Because the thing is that Muslim feminists have been doing a lot in terms of bettering our sisters’ lives, the lives of oppressed minorities and humanity at large, from within the framework of our faith. The thing is Muslim feminists have a lot more work to do in terms of being heard, gaining rights and ridding our lives of barbaric cultural practices. We just choose to do so in a way that WE see best.

Our struggle is real. And we understand it better than anyone else. We don’t need anyone adding to our struggle by judging us incapable based on the religion we choose, the hijab we wear or don’t wear, or the color of our skin. We don’t need to be reduced to nothing more than our scarves or dress code (a form of objectification and a huge obstacle within feminism). It makes our efforts ten times harder.  How can we engage at all if you treat us as lesser beings? Respect is critical and for all.

So if you are interested in supporting us in our struggle ask us how (see part I). If you are a non-Muslim who wishes to “enlighten” us as to what our religion is, we are not interested in your superficial reading of Islam or your condescension. If you are interested in telling Muslim women we cannot be feminists, understand that you have no right. If you are interested in telling Muslim women how to be feminist, know that you missed the point of feminism.

The Muslim Woman’s Struggle: Diversity in Feminism Part I

The Muslim Woman’s Struggle: Diversity in Feminism Part I

Part II here

Written by Saadia Haq, a Pakistani Human Rights worker, author at The Human Lens, and Muslim Feminist. Co-authored by Theresa Corbin

I find it very enlightening when Non-Muslims are frequently shocked at my ability to laugh loud, shout in public protests and say outlandish things, and be who I really am – Pakistani feminist Saadia Haq

764036-hand-1411055272-520-640x480

A Voice from the East:

Women across the world are still fighting for rights, as basic as the acceptance that women too are human beings. Be it American women, Ethiopian, Pakistani, and Cambodian and so on. Yes, white women are fighting for equal rights, likewise Muslim women are fighting for equal rights; but why can’t we work together?

We haven’t been able to work together because of the corrosive history within feminism itself. A big issue is mainstream feminism enforcing the one-size-fitsall feminist narrative on us all. (See part II for more on this history)

Now most dominant mainstream feminists enjoy a luxurious position that makes them feel a responsibility and in some cases-gulp- the right to speak for the silenced and oppressed women where a lot of focus is placed on “Muslim women.” The saving of Muslim Women syndrome is very much alive. And policing bodies of the “OTHER” that is “Muslim Women” is not new.

This I tell you from my own experiences of being a woman of color (brown), Pakistani, Muslim woman and feminist. To begin, with women of color feminists are quite rightly exhausted with the mainstream feminism’s tactics of controlling our bodies and life choices. Given the reality of this dismissive behaviour of leading mainstream feminists towards what we have made in bringing positive emancipatory changes in Muslim communities is a sign of arrogance that we can do without. We have been vocal with withering criticism for this “deliberate silencing” of our voices.

Secondly, it would not be wrong to tell you that many women of color and Muslim feminists are aware that love and respect is for white women only. We aren’t white and therefore we aren’t meant to be worthy of love and respect. We are relegated to fetishes and see all sorts of stereotypical imagery and media portrayal telling us so.

As a feminist that has been associated and struggled with several initiatives, I realized the nuances of religion, race, color and citizenship within feminism. There have been times when my Western feminist colleagues totally disregarded my opinions as if I had no mind of my own. And the icing on the cake has been the repeated dismissal and disbelief in my gender based research work, just because I am not white and I don’t have a fancy degree from Harvard.

Let me narrate an incident from 2008 while in Jordan where I represented Pakistan on a global assembly of ending violence against women. My paper focused on how cultural and socio-economic issues work behind honor related crimes in my country. Now this was an event where extremely distinguished and visionary academics were also a part of the panel.

After my successful presentation, which was applauded by dignitaries and acedemics and followed by an equally interesting Q/A round, things went down hill for me personally. I was questioned and interrogated on my research paper by several Western feminist participants. It was as if I was in a court hearing for some unknown crime that I had committed. At the end, I was made to understand that if this work had been presented by a white, Western feminist, it would have been acceptable.

This was not the first time this sort of thing happened to me and it wasn’t the last. But I did start thinking about the mainstream processes through which white women are created as social actors primed to reproduce racism within the feminist movement.

Another issue that comes across very strongly is the sleeping elephant known as “Third World Women” syndrome that systematically makes feminism bound within class and privileged. How so? The feministic theory all women are equal and all women deserve equal rights and benefits only works well for equality amongst white feminism.

I know for a fact that in all my time within the movement, I’ve worked with a variety of white-dominated feminist organizations where most white feminists held power and decision making positions. That also meant following without questions the campaigns decided by those in power, again a brutal reminder that we as Muslim feminists co-workers weren’t supposed to think and voice suggestions. I can safely say that the days of meekly following a dictator have long gone.

Then there are those who want my “token presence” in campaigns designed by them, and all I am supposed to do is fit in where they tell me. The fact that I don’t wear the hijab is another gleeful moment for my Western comrades. But after calling out FEMEN’s topless hijab “solidarity” controversy, I was dished out toxicity for months and remained a target of hate messages. But, you know I do have a mind of my own.

Honestly, I have sidelined myself from such “solidarity” because it doesn’t treat me equal and a lot of it does happen because of the color of my skin, even if people want to negate that. Mind it, Muslim women have a history of our own and this is ignored by many Western eyes.

Within the whole debate of “Leaning In” towards the mainstream feminism doesn’t settle well with Muslim feminism because despite being the same gender, there are other diversities at work. And how can we engage if we are treated as lesser beings? Respect is a two-way street.

I no longer feel comfortable to work with people who view me and other Muslim women as backward, helpless, and useless. It’s time we become more sensitive and inclusive of women to continue this battle for equal rights.

If Islamic Feminism and Muslim feminists are lagging behind and have short comings, this void is NOT going to be filled by mainstream feminism. One has to take into account that Islamic feminism is certainly reacting and broadening its horizons with critiques and the needs of Muslim women across the globe. It’s within itself too diverse to be lumped into one frame work.

Muslim feminism is continuing to react towards the traditional, non-historical understanding of Islam, which is refusing to recognize the more diverse, progressive and alternative understanding of Islam on women issues. And that is not all; Islamic feminism is also reacting to popular dominant Western feminist trends, according to which to be a feminist you have to be secular.

While we are battling on all turfs, home and globally we also acknowledge that there is a long history and current exclusion of the Muslim woman in feminist spaces.

Being a Pakistani feminist and outspoken critique on issues related to women and religion, I can give you what I think means to be an ally to us.

  1. Number One: Do not pity me or construct me as a victim and refrain from doing this to other Muslim women too. Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s early portrayal was made to look like she was a victim of the bad religion Islam, and that she was provided “wings of freedom” in the West.

  1. Number Two: Let us, Muslim women define what liberation means to us, instead of coming down with the usual heavy whitesplaining and condescending. You see us walking away from FEMEN’s topless jihad for those very reasons.

  1. Number Three: Don’t at any stage of time assume that you have the right to speak out on some one else’s behalf. Yes, if I and others asked you to speak, please do it keeping in mind what we feel is best for us, instead of what you feel is best and right for us. Recall the problematic “the First World’s Third World Mona Lisa” – Afghani Sharbat Gula’s photograph.

  1. Number Four: And I cannot stress enough on this. Accept me as an equal despite the differences in our colors, religion and citizenships. Think again, authors Patricia Reott and Martin Reott’s book; Sharia Law: How to Control Women is quite an eye opener.

  1. Number Five: Again there is no compromise on this one. Please don’t force me to accept your arrogance and objectification of my body because it suits your purpose and because you have the power to get away with doing so. Shuddering at Lady Gaga’s “solidarity” in the form of “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peek underneath the cover?”

  1. Number Six: Finally, don’t take away my agency and presume to dismiss my credentials because I am not into mainstream power positions. Recently, atheist academic Richard Dawkins spent devotional feminist energy in his white knight crusade against Islam and not allowing a Muslim feminist to be equal to him. After all, he belongs to a world, where Muslim women “need” Richard Dawkins to “rescue” the damsels in distress.