Category Archives: Sexism in the Ummah

To be a Black. Convert Muslim. Female.

Hello everyone. My blog has been rescued from the depths of oblivion after I have read quite a few blogs for the “Convert Truths” blog carnival and felt compelled to contribute. (And yes, I’m way late…sue me). I wanted to share what my own personal experience has been like as a Black, convert Muslim, female living in the United States. Here goes:

I wish I could tell you about the beauty. I wish I could tell you that I took shahadah after being fascinated with Islam and seeing the goodness of Muslims. I wish I could tell you how I found a family, a community and a new place to exist. I really wish I could. And I wish that because I am quite aware of the fact that Muslims don’t want to hear my kind of story. It’s too painful and too much truth for one person to digest. The reality is my convert experience has been a rocky one. It has been, at times, fraught with doubt and confusion as to why I chose to be a part of this community and around these particular people. Once the initial convert zeal wore off, I found myself in a miserable circumstance.

Many of you are quite aware of my story. For those who aren’t I can give you the quick rundown. I converted to Islam when I was 17 years old. I was initially part of the predominately African-American masjid where I took shahadah but became distant from the community after it folded due to mismanagement, personal scandals and a failure to help new converts like myself navigate the pitfalls of the larger world around us. Unwittingly, I fell in with members of the Tablighi Jumat (though I never officially joined it) and eventually the Salafi movement (which I also never officially joined) because my Muslim friends and support were part of these movements. I was only able to maintain that level of Islam for a couple years before I found myself burnt out, tired and wanting more. I “took a break” from practicing Islam for several years. I eventually found my way back after I moved to South Florida and became part of a Caribbean Indian and Indo-Pak mixture community. That is where it all began…

If you ask me what it has been like to be a Black, convert, Muslim, female I will reiterate it has been rough. Having spent most of my Muslim experience in non-Black immigrant communities, I have faced a great deal of racism, sexism and colorism. Though I often heard how we are “all Muslim” and have been reminded of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last sermon where he says, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action,” the reality amongst Muslims was and is far from the ideal. Beyond all the beautiful speeches given to me by my Indian, Pakistani, Caribbean Indian, and Arab brothers and sisters I realized that being Black, a woman and a convert made me less than. The litmus test was marriage. I watched as my fair-skinned Latina friends were repeatedly asked for their hand in marriage. I watched as the White female converts were held in high esteem and absorbed into immigrant Muslim families (their babies will be so fair, mashallah!) and I laughed inwardly at the sisters’ tales of being proposed to at the annual ISNA convention because that NEVER happened to me. Yet, I continued to subject myself to this mistreatment because I didn’t know what else I was supposed to do. It occurred to me that my presence was being tolerated. I was angry at myself because the Afrocentric movement was what had led me to Islam. Before becoming Muslim I was confident and proud of the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the shape of my nose and of my slave ancestors. How did I move from that to being ashamed of taking off my hijab at sisters’ only events? How could I sit silently as people insulted my skin color or asked me if I was a convert or Muslim? What happened to me?

I eventually woke up. I divorced the Arab husband I was married to, left the masjid that I had been attending and rediscovered/reclaimed my identity. I was free and ready to reconnect with my people, Black people. One would think that moving to a predominately African-American Muslim community would’ve been better for me. I thought I would find myself welcomed into my local W.D. Muhammad masjid with full and open arms. I was coming home! However, from the moment I set foot in the masjid I immediately knew I was an outsider, not to be welcomed in. This time it wasn’t because of my skin color or cultural background. I was an outsider because I wasn’t part of the Nation of Islam experience and I didn’t have an entire family who was. I was also an outsider because I was attractive, single and a threat to the sisters. The fact that I wore abayas, full hijab and tended to be more conservative (due to the years I spent in immigrant Muslim communities) didn’t help either. Sure, I could come to Jumah, participate in community events or even help out with the tasks the masjid administration assigned to me but I got the message loud and clear: don’t think you’re going to come in here and change things or try to be a better Muslim than us. Nepotism was the order of the day and I had no family connections.

Outside of the Muslim community I found myself in a strange predicament. Before 9/11 people would assume that I was from the Nation of Islam. That’s what being Black and Muslim meant. However, after 9/11 I was suddenly “foreign” and from “over there.” People assumed I didn’t speak English, that I was passive and docile, and that someone was forcing me to cover my hair and body. The strangest part of all was that Black people no longer recognized me as Black. My light brown skin (once considered too dark in Arab and Indian/Pakistani communities) combined with my hijab made people assume I was East African or a “Black Arab.” There were no head nods, complicit glances, or casual words spoken to me from other Black people. Somehow, being Black meant you had to be Christian. To be anything else was to be a cultural apostate.

One may ask, why be Muslim then? Why don’t you just leave? Why subject yourself to this? After all, I have had so many negative experiences in the Muslim community. Best believe that I have asked myself these questions many times since I converted. To sit here and say that I haven’t would be a lie. So, why do it? Why remain here? I believe without a doubt or hesitation that there is no nothing or no one worthy of worship of worship except Allah (who has no partners, no equals, no sons) and that the Prophet Muhammad ibn Abdullah is his messenger and the seal of all Prophets. If I left Islam where would I go and who would I be? Despite the negative experiences I have had and continue to have, the Quran has offered me guidance and peace during these tumultuous times. After all, when I am focused, when I remind myself of my purpose, when I lay that rug out and face the kiblah, I remember that there is nothing and no one else in the world except me and Allah.

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What if you don’t want kids or have serious doubts about it?

This is a rhetorical question but also a thought I’ve been having.

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Lately, I find myself in conversations with people (both Muslim and non-Muslim) about the pros and cons of having kids. I’ve spoken to people who have kids and are bidding their time until those kids are “out of the house” and I’ve spoken to people who have smaller kids who love them to death and couldn’t imagine life without them. I used to want to have a baby very badly. The feeling would come in waves. Sometimes it would manifest itself as severe desire and border on obsession. Eventually I would have a lull. At times I could think of nothing else.

Fast forward to 2009…

I don’t know exactly when or how it happened but my feelings have changed. I’m having serious doubts about having kids and more often than not, I feel like I don’t want them at all. The weird part about is that I like kids. I’m pretty fond of them. I have no problem with other people having kids or being around their kids (unless they’re bad ūüôā ). But when it comes to me…well, I feel like I should sit this one out. (If Allah allows it to remain that way, of course).

Now, if I say this around Muslims…oh just wait for the backlash! They start talking about increasing the ummah, femininity, womanhood in Islam, etc. Some have even suggested that my feelings are from shaitan. (Really?) What I want to know is why my personal decision affects other people so much. Last time I checked this body was mine. Furthermore, I don’t think everyone is cut out to have children. (Look around you, I’m sure you can spot plenty of who shouldn’t have had kids). And I wonder if I’m one of those people.

Some people say that I’m being selfish. They say I don’t want to make the necessary sacrifices that go along with having kids. The irony is every reason I can think of to have kids involves selfishness on my part; the desire to further my legacy, because I feel like I want one, because I want someone to be there for me in my old age etc. But it also has to do with other people’s reasons; societal/Muslim community pressures, being told that I’m incomplete without children, being told that I am abnormal because I don’t want what every woman is told she should want etc. If Allah willed, and I chose to have a child, shouldn’t I be doing it for reasons other than the aforementioned ones?

I’m not trying to start any mass movements here. I think deciding to have children or not is a personal choice. I just want people to take their hands and ideas off my ovaries…

Shariah in Family Law?

 

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I was doing some thinking after reading this article. I was wondering if I’d utilize a family court system based on Shariah laws if the opportunity¬†became available to me. After thinking about it for a while I came to a conclusion.¬†This may not be the most politically correct thing to say as a Muslim but I’d have to say no. Why? Because I have concerns about whose version of Shariah¬†I’d be adhering to.¬†Would it be some old, out of touch “uncle” trying to force me to stay in a marriage even if I was unhappy? Would there be gender, racial, and economic biases in the ruling? Would the judge be able to relate to me, a¬†Black woman, a convert, a college-educated working woman?¬†Would they understand the challenges that I face? Would they think we’re are all Muslim therefore we interpret, view and comprehend things in the same manner?¬† More importantly, how would I feel if I did not want to be in a¬†marriage any longer and a judge ruled that I did not have grounds for a divorce?

It’s not that I believe Shariah law is inherently unfair. My concern is more about interpretation. In order for me to feel comfortable I think a judge in Shariah law would need to have a serious commitment to justice accompanied by mercy and compassion. He’d need to¬†evaluate his own cultural, personal, gender, socio-economic and other biases.¬†I’m also¬†be concerned about ijtihad. Would a judge believe that ijtihad is necessary (critical!) in the American context? Some of us have unique situations that do not fall into neat,¬†definable categories. Some of¬†us have¬†situations that definitely¬†fall into a grey area . Would this judge understand that? Would he evaluate conflicts on a¬†case by case basis?¬†

These are some of my thoughts/questions/reservations…

“I’m never getting married again”

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I was thinking about Charles’ recent post¬†about our deaf, dumb and blind and reading the comments. I realize¬†I am seeing¬†an increase in¬†BAM women who are ¬†taking a break from Islam, the masjid¬†or the Muslim community.¬†I am also meeting more and more BAM women who say “I’m never getting married again.”¬†The thing that really got my attention is that¬†not all of them are saying it because they’re momentairly¬†scorned or hurt. I think some of them really mean it.They’re tired of the “halal players”,¬† tired of brothers using Quran and Hadith to run game,¬†simply tired of bearing the brunt of sexism, male chauvinism and sick of¬†being mistreated by brothers.

Personally, I don’t think they should give up. As one of my close friends is fond of saying, “One monkey don’t stop no show!”¬†While I understand where some sisters are coming from, I am not going to let one person or even a couple of people deprive me of my right to love again. If you truly believe in Allah and believe¬†that Allah¬†can do anything¬†then I don’t see why some sisters can’t believe that Allah will provide. No matter how dismal it looks. I think we have to stop expecting brothers to be like Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) when we are not like Aisha (r.a.) So no one misunderstands me allow me a moment to clarify my thoughts:

Do I think sisters should lower their standards? NO.

Do I think sisters should accept abuse (emotional, physical, verbal or mental)? HELL NO!

Do I think sisters¬†should put up with brothers’ disrepsect¬†under the guise of being patient, supportive and pious? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

But I do think we need to be realistic and I do think a woman needs to think about¬†what¬†she can deal with and what she cannot- your basic¬†tolerance level. What are you willing to accept and what aren’t you? And I think it’s going to be different for everyone.¬†Some of the things that are deal breakers for me may not be deal breakers for the next person. (One sister told me she waited 10 YEARS for her husband to get back on his deen and stop drinking and womanizing. I personally¬†don’t have that kind of patience).

Subhanallah, this marriage thing is tough. Believe me, I KNOW. But you know what? I’m not giving up on it and I hope my sisters don’t either. As¬†Mary J. sang:

¬†“It aint all roses/flowers and posin’/said it aint all candy/this love stuff is demanding/sometimes I need a hug…”¬†

*Nodding head vigorously* 

You better take care of your man or else…(rant)

After speaking with a few friends I realized there’s this idea floating around that if a wife does not bend over backwards to please her¬†husband¬†then it is understandable in some way¬†if he strays. In the Muslim context, it can be a justification for a brother taking a second wife or even for a brother cheating on his wife. I’m saying to myself, now¬†let me get this straight, I¬†have¬†to¬†cook, clean, provide endless (and mind-blowing) sex to my¬†husband, maintain the children, and at the same time somehow manage to be pious, obedient and sexy? Talk about superwoman….And if I don’t¬†then I have failed in my duty as a wife? Wow!¬†And exactly what does he have to do for me?¬†Should he step up his game in any way? Is he required to do more than go to work, come home and veg out on the sofa?¬†My word…¬†

It is clear who this idea stands to benefit. What I don’t get is why so many women readily accept it. I mean, it has double-standard written¬†all over it! As Muslims, it is not our example anyway. The Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., was courteous and helpful to his wives. (And he did not pick up wife after wife out of his own selfishness or nafs). Yeah, I know few brothers can measure up to the Prophetic ideal but at the same time they can use his life as a blueprint for their own. Isn’t¬†that what we’re striving for anyway?¬†Furthermore, adultery (or zina) is considered despicable in Islam. I don’t think I need to share the various Quranic ayahs or Ahadith to¬†substantiate my point.

Something is terribly wrong in the world today. Sometimes I want to live way out in no man’s land and feast on wild berries and an occasional pheasant. Not be bothered with the corruption of the world. Subhanallah.¬†I say all of¬†this¬†after¬†listening to¬†one disappointing story after another from sisters about the fitnah that¬†has become¬†their marriage.¬†My soul is¬†deeply¬†troubled…

Me and The Mosque

In case some of you have never seen it, filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz, creator of the Canadian sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie”, did a documentary on Muslim women and the mosque. Enjoy!

Muslim Male Privilege Checklist

In the spirit of B. Deutsch’s The Male Privilege Checklist and Peggy McIntosh’s White: Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, I decided to create a Muslim Male Privilege Checklist. I realize these kinds of lists usually come from benefactor of privilege and not those who are disadvantaged by it. But I had to do it. Insha’allah I will keep adding to the list as I think about things.

Keep in mind I have written it from a perspective of a Muslim man…

As a Muslim man:

1. I can set foot in any masjid I like. No one will stop me at the door and tell me that I am not allowed in the masjid.

2. When I attend Jumah prayer I know that I will have full access to the main prayer hall. I can enter through the front door and I am not required to sit behind a partition, one-way mirror or placed in a separate room. Also, I can see and hear the Imam when he is giving the kutbah (sermon). I do not have to worry about a speaker or closed-circuit system malfunctioning thereby preventing me from hearing the kutbah or seeing the Imam.

3. My voice is not interpreted as being a part of my awrah (parts of the body that are not meant to be exposed in public.) I can stand up and speak freely in an Islamic gathering. I can ask questions or challenge statements made by the imam or visiting speaker without worrying that my actions will be viewed as inappropriate. I am not told that I must write any questions I have onto a piece of paper.

4. I can use my position as a sheikh, scholar or imam to perpetuate my own sexist, misogynistic beliefs as long as I incorporate those beliefs into my interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah. When others challenge me about my beliefs I can use my Islamic education, command of the Arabic language and position in the community to effectively silence them. If the dissenters are women, I can always make them seem crazy, emotional or neurotic. I can also accuse them of being influenced by the West, Western secularism, Feminism or ‚Äúthe Kufaar.‚ÄĚ

5. If I do not dress in accordance with Islamic guidelines, for the most part, I am left alone by Muslims of both genders. Few people will approach me and inquire about the way in which I am dressed. I will not be written off as a ‚Äúbad Muslim‚ÄĚ nor will my dress code be used as an excuse to prevent me from attending the masjid or other Islamic functions.

6. Interpretations of Quran and Ahadith, fatwas, kutbahs, and Islamic books are often biased in favor of my gender. The body of scholarship produced by members of my gender is available and accessible to all. Their texts, legal opinions and names have not been ignored or virtually erased from Islamic history.

7. When I read a book about marriage, my rights and responsibilities or gender dynamics in Islam, the author is almost always the same gender as me. It is the same when I wish to contact a scholar in regards to any questions I might have.

8. If I have problems in my marriage I can go to an Imam for counseling services and I don‚Äôt have to be concerned about sexism or his ‚Äútraditional‚ÄĚ views of women.

9. If I become visibly upset during a marriage counseling session, I am not told that I am too emotional and therefore incapable of thinking logically or making major decisions about my marriage. On the contrary, any decisions I make are presumed to be well thought-out.

10. If I wish to end my marriage, my decision is not scrutinized by an imam or other members of the Muslim community. It is respected as the final one. I am not denied a divorce or told to make tremendous personal sacrifices in order to remain in the marriage.

11. When I convert to Islam, if I have the means (or the financial support of others), I can travel aboard to predominately Muslim countries in order to seek Islamic knowledge. I can be sure that my gender will not be a hindrance any way. At the same time, no one will ever tell me that I must wait until I am married in order to begin my travels.

12. I can stand up for the rights Allah has given me or challenge interpretations of those rights without people associating me with secularist Muslim movements.

13. If I cannot have children or suffer from a condition that interferes with my ability to have sexual intercourse I do not have to worry about my wife taking a second husband. Even if/when she decides to divorce me I can be sure that an imam or other community members will ask her to reconsider her decision.

14. If I am struggling with the temptation to fornicate, I know that I can discuss my predicament with an Imam or other Muslim men without fear that they will think I’m lewd or promiscuous.

15. I am not a visible representative of Islam. When I interact with non-Muslim colleagues, co-workers and members of the general public they may not necessarily know that I am a Muslim. Unless I make my religion/ethnicity known, I am not subjected to a barrage of questions about Islam, Muslims and my gender’s status in the religion. (The exception here would be Muslim men who don a thobe, turban, and wear a lengthy beard. Also, brothers who clearly appear to be Indian/Pakistani or Arab in the eyes of the public).

16. When a visiting scholar/imam comes to the masjid, by virtue of the seating arrangements (men in the front, no partition between the speaker and the men), I am able to speak with him face-to-face. I do not have to worry about crossing into “the women’s space” in order to ask a question or to make a comment.