Friday, April 22, 2011

A Shift in Dialogue: On the Muslimah

 Upon founding the Voice of the Ummah, it was my intention to highlight the neglected or otherwise, underprivileged theories and events that compose Muslim politics. Our people-and let it be said ‘our people’ for we are all Muslims and it is our collective belief in the sublime testification of faith that unites us-our people suffer from a collective disease that lies in the Ummah’s heart. The Ummah gives primacy to tribe, culture, convention, and language allowing it to separate us as Saudis, as Algerians, as Indians, and Bangladeshis, et cetera. Our politics is separated by the boundaries our predecessors created, allowing themselves to be exploited, manipulated, and then colonized by outsiders. There can be no doubt that division is the prime source of our collective illness, leaving only a real, legal, institutional uniting framework as its remedy. Politics permeates all aspects of human interaction, yet paradoxically I submit that men and women do not survive by politics alone. The time has come for a shift in dialogue, a new topic of conversation. For the last few weeks I have sent a growing number of sisters this uniform message, which reads:

I am making a painstaking effort to recruit Muslim women to write about being Muslim women, in cultural societies that too often, are dominated by un-Islamic, patriarchal notions. This is not an attack on Islam, but a rightful jihad on the oppression of Muslimahs by Muslim men, cloaked in a pseudo-Islamic context.

Few have responded. Of those who have, they cite their lack of interest, lack of time or capacity, or most dishearteningly with the phrase this has not happened to me. As patriarchy is defined as the social organization marked by the supremacy, or disproportionate control, of men thereby making women and children legally, culturally, traditionally dependent and subordinate; I thought it unwise and counterintuitive for a man to examine this issue. Wallahi Al Theem, I have always believe that I can support and propagate the words of Muslimah feminists, but as a Muslim man, I cannot fight this battle for my sisters and my three daughters. Muslimahs must fight for their Rights, Endowed to them by The Creator of All. I can state without equivocation that patriarchy is antithetical to The Comprehensive Teachings of Islam. Furthermore, although patriarchy is haram, it has not stopped Muslim men from engaging in its practice. It is important to point out that patriarchy has nothing to do with a Muslimah’s choice to wear the hijab, for this is a Command of her Lord (SWT) and a practice by which she completes her faith. Patriarchy has nothing to do with polygamy or the unequal inheritance Laws outlined in The Holy Qur’an. Patriarchy, amongst the Muslims, lies in the control of women’s bodies-the compulsion to wear hijab, girls lack of access to education at the highest levels, employment discrimination, the restriction of movement, the inability to choose her own husband, the threat of domestic violence, marital rape, the relegation to the private sphere coupled with the inability to engage in discourse with men: these are the most striking examples by which Muslimahs are oppressed by un-Islamic patriarchal notions.

As a man, I promise you that I love women. Indeed in my younger years this love has gotten me into a bit of trouble, and one can infer what they will about the previous statement. Becoming a father and my recommitment to the Deen has tempered the actions, but the love is still there. The mind still dreams of sitting at a table, upon which there is delicious food, dressed in my finest suit sitting across a beautiful woman dressed in a saree: these things are Natural for a man. The frequency by which men seek to determine the shape and sizes of a woman’s details speaks to The Command by Allah and His messenger (SAAW) that we should make all attempts at segregating ourselves, guarding against being in private outside the bounds of marriage. Wallahi, Allah Truly Knows Best. There can be no doubt about that. However, for a man to be in a highly visible, public arena with a woman to discuss the day’s events, to seek advice, to engage in political discourse, is halal. Perhaps it is almost silly to state the obvious, but women are people whose voices need to be heard if we are to lift our people out of the Dark Ages of Muslim history in which we are currently mired. To the sisters who have broken my heart with the response: this has not happened to me, in relation to the oppression of the Muslim man’s patriarchy, I can only retort, ‘It has never happened to me either, but I cannot live in peace while it is happening to one of my sisters’.

Consider this: 

A Pakistani woman who became the focus of international outcry when she was gang-raped at the orders of a village council yesterday said she feared for her safety after the country's highest court acquitted 14 men accused of attacking her. Mukhtar Mai was an illiterate young woman when she was raped in 2002 on the orders of a village council who deemed it a suitable punishment after her younger brother, aged just 12, was alleged to have insulted the honour of a rival tribe by having an affair with one of its female members. Rather than quietly accepting the punishment as tradition demanded, Ms Mai spoke out against the attack on her and her case triggered widespread outrage. She insisted on pursuing the case through the courts, where it emerged her brother had been molested by three tribesmen and that the allegation against him had been part of an attempted cover-up. A court subsequently convicted six of a total of 14 men she had accused and sentenced them to death. The others were acquitted. Amid the unprecedented publicity her case received, Ms Mai became a totem of the women's rights movement, both in Pakistan and beyond. She was able to set up several schools close to her native village, Meerwala, in Punjab province, to help educate young women. Those men found guilty of attacking her appealed to the Lahore High Court which later overturned five of the six convictions and commuted the death sentence of the one man whose conviction it upheld, Abdul Khaliq. Ms Mai announced in 2005 she would take her case to the Supreme Court and seek to have all 14 men convicted. But yesterday, six years later, Ms Mai learned that a three-member bench of the court had rejected her appeal. Reacting on Twitter soon after the judgment, she wrote: "Supreme court's verdict proves that police dictate justice system in Pakistan... No court can weaken my resolve to stand against injustice."

What will happen to this sister when those men return to the village? With the rising number of acid attacks women with which women have been victim, can you imagine a horrible fate for Mukhtar Mai, and Allah Knows Best? 

What kind of justice system, supposedly one based in Islam, would allow this to go unpunished? Our people are not precluded from the use of rape kits, in order to determine the validity of a sister’s claim of this most gruesome violation? We can use ijtihad in this case, but the Muslim Literalist read that without four male witnesses, or eight female, there is no rape. Subhnallah, this is simply wrong. This entire part of our very recent history only further supports my claim that we, as a people, are living in the Dark Ages of Muslim history. Moreover, that patriarchy dominates the minds of Muslim men who control the police, the court, the economy, and the household of our society, our Ummah. It is utterly shocking to me that, I as a Muslim man, need to speak up because my sisters refuse! 

So I ask simply: where are the mujahidiyah? Where are the Muslimahs willing to do battle against oppression, which our Lord (SWT) has Forbidden for Himself!?! Why do I need to speak in your stead? Who will defend you, if you sisters who love Allah, His messenger (SAAW), and the Deen of Islam do not defend yourselves?

Isma'il ibn Bilal

To be continued...but I hope not by me, Inshallah


  1. Asalaamu alaykum, I read the above with mixed emotions. Anger, horror, sadness and more. Non muslims view us as uncivilized and see Islam as an Oppressive religion.They fail to understand that this has to do with culture and not Islam. Muslim women have to educate themselves about thir rights in Islam and make a stand. I blame this on our uneducated Muslim brothers. How can I help?

  2. Salaam alaikum wa rahmatallah, Hafsa. You can write an essay, emailing it to me, and I will post it to the blog, Inshallah