The world seems to be on fire. Maybe it’s the melodramatic artist in me, but I feel that the world is ending and I can’t do anything but watch it go up in flames.
Muslim women of color can’t seem to catch a break. As a woman, I am watching women from all walks of life coming out and speaking up/speaking out against their aggressors, as I wrote about last week.
Calling myself a Muslim Feminist causes a lot of confusion and strong opinions among various groups of people. On the one hand, some Muslims claim that Islam is innately pro-women, giving women all the rights they need. Others, usually Western Feminists (also called White Feminists) argue that feminist ideals are not in line with Islamic values. I think these ideas are too simplistic and naive because they assume that definitions of what is “Islamic” and “un-Islamic” are clear and that one group’s or individual’s understanding of Islam and feminism are universal. Yet, some of the interpretations and practices of Islam are so misogynistic and un-Islamic, it is clear that there is a disconnect between what some Muslims practice and preach and what Islam actually teaches. On the other hand, many non-Muslims believe that religions, particularly Islam, are inherently anti-woman and therefore being a Muslim Feminist is an oxymoron.
Lately, all I seem to be doing is explaining myself, humanizing myself and trying hard not to apologize for my existence. So that Islamophobes don’t have any more ammunition, Muslims (men and women) demanding that Muslim women stay quiet about the abuses they endure at the hands of Muslim men. On the other hand, trying to explain to White Feminists that Muslim women don’t need their protection or saviors and that certain tropes about the Black/Brown Muslim man are problematic. In the end, trekking through this muddy terrain where we stop centering ourselves (again) and protect those who actually cause us pain, only dehumanizing ourselves further.
I find myself educating others about what it means to be a Muslim. What it means to be a woman and (even more specifically) what it means to be a Muslim woman; how the intersections make things so complicated and difficult.
There are no answers right now. We are all trying to figure out this new place in the world where aggressors, of all kinds, are being held accountable, while the survivors are attacked for speaking up. I ask allies to listen and to support them. I ask those who don’t know me to not judge me based on what they hear through the media and through the current administration, the many labels and stigmas that come with each label and the combination of these labels.
My four-year-old daughter is strong; she walks into the room demanding attention. She shares countless stories and has an opinion about everything. With her eyebrows raised, chin high, she puts her hands on her hips telling all four of us- my husband, son, and me (all older than her) what we should be doing.
I watch silently not stopping her. I revel in her natural strength and confidence.
In my daughter, I see all the things I never allowed myself to be when I was younger- relentless, assertive female with a powerful voice and attitude. There are many articles about parents living vicariously through their children and I have become that mother. Not because I have expectations but because I don’t want to be a barrier for her and her dreams- whatever they may be. I want to help pave the path and lift her up when she needs it.
My daughter’s assertiveness reminds me of a story my father used to tell me. When he was a boy in Pakistan, there was a young bride in the village who asked to see my grandfather, an elder and leader in the community. It was her wedding day and she had locked herself in her room. She stood on her bed, held a rifle and demanded to be heard.
When BabaJee got to the house, she told him that she did not want to marry the man her father had chosen for her. My grandfather told the imam who was supposed to officiate the marriage of the girl’s rejection and the imam called off the wedding, saying it was invalid.
After, there was a lot of talk in the village about this girl who brought shame upon the family but her wishes were respected and she wasn’t forced to marry the man she didn’t want.
“Baba, what happened to her?” I asked my father after he finished telling me the story.
“She never married and ran her father’s household as a son would. People learned to respect her for being strong.”
I know that she did well and I was happy she never married, meaning that she wasn’t compelled to marry another person but there was a part of me that wonders if she didn’t marry because no one wanted to marry the girl with the big mouth or the girl who caused dishonor to her family. But it didn’t matter because she had spoken up and lived a life of honor and strength- she did this by changing (at least for herself) how her life story played out. By asking for her right to reject marriage and living as her brothers had (within certain restrictions, I’m sure) she silently showed the community that a woman can be content even if she does not marry.
One thing is for sure, her story showed me that fierce women have always been around- we just don’t hear about them.
I don’t know what the future holds but I pray that the little I do helps makes things a little easier for my daughter and all women. I’m hoping for a world where people are willing to listen to those who are historically marginalized and also making space for complexities, which I think we are starting to do now.
If I am really lucky, my daughter will be not the one demanding to be heard, but the one called upon when there is a conflict in the village.
Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a writer and Muslim Feminist (she is still working on a definition of Feminist that fits her ideology) who advocates and demands equal rights and space for women in all scopes. She is a writer and editor with work published on BlogHer, Huffington Post, and other outlets. She is currently a MFA candidate for non-fiction creative writing at SFSU.