Hiatus.

Thanks to a major life decision I’ve just made, TFF is going to be on hiatus for 3 months. When I return I’ll be a brand new lady. But you won’t care. Unless I bring you presents maybe? I promise I’ll bring presents. I’ll play the piano for you. I’ll read you a poem in Arabic, the language of poems. I’ll tell you a story about dust and the sea. I’ll leave the wind on your answering machine. I’ll write you love letters in the form of blog posts.

Expect my return in late August. Ramadan Kareem in advance, and in advance Eid Mubarak. Email correspondences will not be delayed any more than they are usually delayed, so please feel free to contact me. Those who have tried already are aware that unless you are detailing an alarming, distressing circumstance or otherwise emailing me to tell me you are suicidal (in which case I will respond immediately) responses will be delayed for weeks and sometimes months. I apologize for this in advance, and assure you it’s because I am an introverted and reserved person, and not because I have better things to do than speak to you, because you are the best of all things.

Known friends, however, can expect prompt replies. I might possibly be deactivating my Facebook (unsure), so use my email/phone number/the billion other ways to contact someone if that happens. Of course.

I’ll still be around this general area, so I will see reader comments. And I assure you, TFF will comparatively improve when I return. Because of the brand new lady thing and all.

Until then I will miss you and I mean it. I love hearing from you… even when I don’t respond the next day. Or the next month. I’m with you in spirit.

Always,
Nahida

Posted in site maintenance | 7 Comments

Put the toilet seat down

It’s sunnah.

Posted in uncategorized | Leave a comment

Misogyny in the Muslim Community as Islamophobia

The fabulous Orbala presented yesterday at a conference in UC Berkeley on the question of whether misogyny in the Muslim community towards Muslim women is a form of Islamophobia. Before she’d posed the question on Facebook to explore this construction, Orbala and I had a discussion about its implications. She asked, “How [meaning how is it possible] can [it be argued] that Muslim misogynists are Islamophobic?” to which I’d responded that misogynists “perpetuate Islamophobia by engaging the same prejudices towards Muslim women as Islamophobes and allowing [these prejudices] to masquerade as ‘real Islam’.”

We continued,

Orbala: You see, so much of misogyny in Muslim societies is a product of western colonialism, a response to coloninalists’ attempt tp “liberate” women.

TFF: Yes.

Orbala: But by definition, Islamophobia is a dislike of Islam and Muslims…

TFF: And Muslim women aren’t Muslim? And our interpretations aren’t Islam? It’s initially hard to see [misogyny as Islamophobic] because we think of men, and not women, as representative of the religion. But you need to change the way we think.

And because Orbala is so fabulous, you see, she is doing exactly that. We thought we’d bring the discussion to you and investigate the larger ramifications of construing misogyny as Islamophobia–because I, personally, am not interested in pointless discussions that serve only to reframe the dynamics of a religious or cultural hegemony as an end: this new construction of misogyny as Islamophobic needs to be a vehicle for something larger. So, I’m going to note here what, under the thread Orbala posted, I’ve relayed on Facebook:

TFF: [Islamophobes, by mere definition] despise Muslims. And Muslim men who despise Muslim women *and deny them the right to practice their religion as desired* are Islamophobes.

These men despise women because the women are an intolerable kind (specifically if we’re talking about Muslim feminists–they wish we wouldn’t exist) of Muslim; if we say that the structure of religious institutions are man-made [culturally] then it’s possible to shift the “making” power to women and still call it (as Muslim feminists would) “Islam” as practiced by these women, and the women themselves become the object of hatred because of this interpretation of Islam.

Muslim men who are sexist against Muslim women are not typical in their sexism–this is why I am making this argument. They don’t hate non-Muslim women who challenge their privilege; in fact, in classrooms, in the workplace, in public spaces, etc. I’ve seen Muslim men go out of their way to acknowledge the equality of these women. The hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men is a different, unique type. It’s is both misogynist and Islamophobic, it’s the hatred of women who practice a “wrong” kind of Islam and rob Muslim men of their “sacred” communal mancaves where they can behave however they like while presenting a facade of egalitarianism to the outside world.

I think to recognize hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men as Islamophobia has practical benefits. Islamophobia and racism are the only kinds of oppression that Muslim men (cis, hetero, abled) can understand. They can’t wrap their heads around sexism. I wonder if “progressive” Muslim men have ever been confronted by other men for their willingness to pray behind a female imam. It must have happened somewhere, but I can’t speak to that experience. I’m only familiar with being confronted myself for my religious practices. But I would venture to say it must happen very rarely in comparison. And I think that is because a Muslim man, at least around here, would at once recognize that confronting another man, denying him his agency, essentially dehumanizing him and his right to pray as he sees fit, is an almost unthinkable infringement. It’s laughable to lecture to an equal.

When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.

And just like that, the same men who routinely rebuke racists who claim that Islamophobia isn’t racism–and is instead just a critique of Islam as a religion–are forced to confront their own argument when they attempt to defensively adopt that of their opponents. Muslim men are bound to claim that they can’t be Islamophobic toward these women because they’re merely critiquing the women’s practice of Islam–and that’s when their own previous arguments are reintroduced to them: it *is* Islamophobia, it is systematic religious oppression, you are deliberately excluding these women as citizens of your mosque and your society.

And it isn’t just useful for the purpose of practical application–like Islamophobia toward Muslim men is enveloped in racism, so is Islamophobia toward Muslim women enveloped in (racism and) sexism. It is impossible to say that a Muslim man oppressing a Muslim woman is “merely” being sexist–because she’s not only a woman, she’s a *Muslim* woman, and Islamophobia can both be internalized (which is what Orbala is saying) or–and this is what *I* think it is–Islamophobia can conveniently be converted to take on the guise of a “critique.” And that is a powerful tool for misogynists and racists alike, the former being Muslim men.

Orbala: There’s something really important to this discussion. Nahida discussed it above:
See, I believe that our hesitation or discomfort in seeing misogyny as Islamophobia speaks to our refusal to see *women* (Muslim women)* as full humans. Somehow our misogyny is not islamophobia because its not like Muslim men hate “Muslims”; they merely hate Muslim women. Yet, everyone agrees that Islamophobia is by definition the hatred and fear of “Muslims” – but it’s interesting that “Muslims” here doesn’t really seem to include Muslim women. The definitions I’m offering require that the hatred of *Muslim women* be declared Islamophobia – fear of Muslims in a way that includes women, too.

It’s, as Nahida put it: “When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.”

[end of comments] There were other pertinent commenters in the thread whom I want to acknowledge, but I won’t post them here because it is a private thread and I wish to respect the privacy of other members of the conversation. I’d be interested in hearing any contributions to this, here on a more public forum, and I’m certain Orbala would find comments helpful. Please click the link to her post, where she has outlined definitions and explored the concept, before engaging.

Posted in feminism, Islamophobia, Muslims | 4 Comments

On Married White Women

I don’t care to say much about this, so it will be a short post.

In the past, I’ve been disturbed by the rush to accuse women, who are white, who are married to a person of color, of cultural appropriation when these women adopt the traditional clothing or visit the countries of their husbands’ ethnicities accompanied by their families-in-law. It disturbs me because I have yet to see a white man married to a person of color who is accused of this when engaging in her traditions.

And that tells me something. It tells me that you are leveling your criticisms at her because she is the easier, more receptive sex to criticize. The white man is a figure of authority who belongs and takes command of whatever culture he appropriates; the woman, however, when attempting to connect to her husband, is disingenuous in her attempts, pathetically needy, desperate for societal approval.

And it disturbs me because when a woman makes an effort to blend into her husband’s culture, her husband’s religion, her husband’s family, and is abruptly rejected by an endless bombardment of violent disapproval, that is the culture of systematic misogyny. I see both men and women of color engaging in what can only be described as the flat-out harassment of women married to people of color–and the criticism from women of color isn’t surprising, since it is more likely that a woman consciously expends time understanding and fighting racism than either a man or a woman doing the same for sexism. For a woman of color, acknowledging racism has benefits within a patriarchal community of color. As soon as she stands up for her sex however–expect to hear crickets from the very men who once fought beside her. You, women of color, can laugh at white women along with men of color (go ahead, in fact, I insist!) but don’t be mistaken. They are not your allies. They have chosen a female target for good reason.

Obviously, this is not to say that women married to people of color cannot appropriate–they most certainly can. While clothing, bangles, or henna are worn often at the request of the groom’s own family, I would have a far more different opinion of a married white woman deciding one day to wear dreads. Those are not grown out of your body. And besides, a white woman in a sari still has the privileges of a white woman, and the additional “perk” of being in “exotic garb” where she will only look worldly and cultured rather than being harassed in the streets and told to go back to her own country. Don’t forget it. That’s appropriation. It’s also appropriation when she keeps saying Namaste.

But when a white woman posts photographs of her wedding, with her husband of color, and she happens to be wearing what he would have preferred her to wear, and the post has somehow gone viral with a long list of people already criticizing her to pieces and her apologizing over and over again and explaining that her in-laws preferred this, kindly think about whether you’re being a misogynist asshole ready to tear apart a woman who is engaging in the tradition of appealing to her husband that patriarchy expects of her, before you’re ready to shoot her down from the keyboard.

Now, I’m going to go cleanse myself from this anomaly of a post by enjoying the Carefree White Girl meme. Incidentally, I will not be accepting any comments from white women married to men of color recounting their fragile feelings about how mean everyone was about the whole thing. Not interested. This post is all you’re getting. Don’t ask me if that particular thing you’re doing is appropriation either because I swear I will flag you as spam for all of time.

Don’t passive-aggressively link this post with a high and mighty sense of accomplishment to people of color who are criticizing you for appropriation. I will look for you, I will find you. And I will yell at you.

Posted in sex | Tagged | 24 Comments

On the obstruction of the lineage of female scholarship as a tool of disempowerment

A few years after the Prophet’s death, a daring woman was forbidden from ever marrying any free man. The order came from Caliph Umar. After the woman had disclosed to him that she had taken one of her young male slaves to bed with her (outside of a marriage), the Caliph, incredulous, sought to punish her. When he had demanded to know her rationalization, she’d responded, “I believe that ownership by the right hand made lawful to me what it makes lawful to men.”

Milk al-yamin, or “property of the right hand” appears in multiple Qur’anic verses that describe enslaved lawful sexual partners alongside spouses. It is typically interpreted by both classical and contemporary scholars (or the few contemporary scholars willing to discuss its existence) as pertaining only to male slave-owners in conduct toward their female slaves. The Qur’an, however, makes no assignment of gender. Umar was stunned and distressed by the woman’s actions and her assertion to have God’s authorization for it. When Umar brought the incident to the Companions, they responded that “She [the woman] has applied to the Qur’an an interpretation that is not its interpretation.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with apologists—a term I mistrust, though I will use it here—who argue that misogynistic interpretations of Quranic verses do not originate with the most classical scholars, that these interpretations are deviations from their original analyses, but I accept this conclusion on vastly different grounds. Apologists who claim that misogynistic interpretations have no foundation in Islam, even though these interpretations might have a precedent, simultaneously accept and discard potential female scholarship: the “adulterous” woman who bedded her male slave, who was of the Prophet’s time (practicing Islam only a few years after his death), spoke classical Arabic, understood the culture in which she lived and in which the Prophet had lived, arrived at an egalitarian interpretation of the Quranic euphemism that was understood by male Companions to apply only to themselves as men. The woman herself and her interpretation was denied validation by the male authority of the Companions. She cannot, to this day, be considered a scholar, but only her conclusion, viewed as incorrect, deprives her of the title. Her methodology, comprising the linguistic and cultural insight of the people who lived during the Prophet’s time, can not be brought into question by most contemporary Islamic scholars, who often claim that the Quran should be read according to its time as justification for misogynist readings, since this woman was a woman of her time.

If we want to claim that misogynist readings do not originate from classical scholarship, we should be forced to expand the scope of that scholarship. Because, in order to substantiate this claim, our understanding of “original scholarship” must include women whose agencies and authorities were and are not recognized. In order to claim misogynist readings do not originate from classical scholarship, we must admit that non-misogynist classical scholarship involves the understanding of women who were misogynistic-ly denied validation by existing classical scholars. We are forced to recognize this if we want to make this claim of origins, because male classical scholarship was in fact demonstrably misogynistic, as in this case. This, of course, involves structural rearranging, and raises a number of questions.

What it means for contemporary women is this: there is no scholarly lineage, because it has been deliberately obstructed by classical male scholarship. And lineage matters on a structural level: when potential male scholars are born into a legacy that their forefathers have established for them, their scholarly ventures are anchored by this legacy and their interactions with it. Any potential female scholarship, denied the stability of an acknowledged legacy, is either lagan or a spectacle—a lone ranger, detached.

The manifestation of this arises in nearly every conversation pertaining to any kind of feminist interpretation of the Qur’an. When describing to a man the problems in the interpretations of 5:38, which most scholars identify as permitting the removal of the hands of thieves, I was confronted by the man’s adamant refusal to accept my methodology, which consisted of peeling away at the layers of the word itself and in its grammatical context. He insisted that because I lacked (male-approved) credentials—my “credentials” came into question often during this conversation—I must have had no right to speak on the matter, although he believed it was appropriate to interrogate me regardless. But what was most astounding about this conversation is that another male contributor to the discussion linked to an article by Hadia Mubarak, in which Mubarak destabilizes and ultimately discredits misogynist interpretations of 4:34, the verse believed to permit domestic violence against women—an article which I’d already read long ago. Hadia Mubarak uses the same methodology I’d applied, but because her credentials were approved by the male audience and her scholarship was not perceived as independently noteworthy, our methodologies could not be linked.

Men are asked to defer to scholars when their methodologies differ from those scholars; I have yet to have ever asked a man for his credentials when he arrives at a different conclusion using the same methodology (though maybe I should start.) I won’t claim that Hadia Mubarak is a feminist—a violent interpretation of 4:34 is so backwards that one needn’t even be a feminist to disagree with it—but she is a woman, and this incident of asking women to be like established scholars on the assumption that these female scholars would disapprove of these women and not of the men citing them this way is comparable to several others that involve feminist scholars. In a discussion where a friend of mine voiced her distress about the number of women the Prophet married, she was told by a man to be more like Kecia Ali in the disposition of her argument, although I doubt Kecia Ali would have found any issue with her expression of dissatisfaction. When commenters rushed to defend the now-infamous short shorts article, amina wadud was cited by misogynistic men as a woman whose scholarship was valid because “even she” dressed “properly” (and not in short skirts.) I can assure anyone that amina wadud would have found this laughable.

But feminist critics (who are not scholars) are separated from feminist scholarship because female scholarship in itself has been denied lineage. Because the recognition of female authority by Muslim men in the community is too frequently based not on the insightful, groundbreaking, hard work of these scholars or what they are actually saying but on how they are presenting it (Kecia Ali) or on how they dress (amina wadud), their arguments and scholarly voices are fallaciously pivoted on whether they visually or sensorally appeal to a male audience, regardless of the atrocity the scholars themselves would find in this. That atrocity—and the vocalization of it—is silenced by the assumption that it does not exist and by male insistence on refocusing the conversation on what amina wadud is wearing instead of what she is saying or how scholarly and detached Kecia Ali sounds instead of the actual implications of her provocative questions. When the arguments themselves are denied validity, male members of the community become incapable of identifying in female inquirers congruity with these scholars except on superficial terms, and they are able to fashion feminist scholarship to suit their patriarchal viewpoints instead of conceding to the scholarly argument-based lineage from which male scholarship benefits.

Having bedded her male slave, the woman who interpreted Quranic verses referring to “property of the right hand” as applicable to herself (which at least once in the Qur’an it explicitly is) as it is to any free man, was prevented from marrying, but the grounds on which her interpretation was deemed “incorrect” without justification—her femaleness—is evidence of a thread of bias in classical scholarship. The impact of this bias, and the patriarchal order that was established from it, serves as a perpetual blockade to female scholarship by rendering the quality of femaleness as unlawfully exceptional to Quranic commands and authorizations and of female behavior as regulated by male expectations.

I don’t expect classical female scholarship to be retroactively declared (though I would support that it should be) but artificially separating feminist scholars from unrecognized predecessors and potential successors is problematic to intellectual honesty, because it privileges a male lineage of scholarship. And a male lineage [of scholarship] is the definition of patriarchy—and that is an ideological bias.

Posted in feminism, herstory, Islam | 8 Comments

Nahida is 24.

Tomorrow is International [Working] Women’s Day, and, less importantly, my 24th birthday. I think the last time I wrote a birthday post is when I turned 21.

The amount of time it takes Nahida to respond to your messages.

The amount of time it takes Nahida to respond to your messages.

In any case, I’m quite relieved with 24. It feels different, kind of fuller. I don’t think I’ve ever felt “different” about a birthday before. (Of course, that may be because it hasn’t passed yet and tomorrow at 10:10PM I’ll find I feel exactly the same after all.) One of my friends has suggested that since it’s been some time since I wrote a post listing things about me, I should do it here. So I will. Here are three things.

1. My favorite words (in this order) are jaan, habibi, and harlot. You’ve got to love the word harlot. Because it’s funny and ridiculous, and it sounds like a vegetable.

2. Speaking of words, I was once “advised” to italicize all foreign words in my writing, because it’s “proper format.” The next day, I turned in an essay with all the English words italicized. I was never asked again.

3. Sometimes I blame myself for things I shouldn’t because, if an unfortunate turn of events can be my fault, it must mean I have control over the outcome.

For those who remember my last birthday post three years ago, thanks for reading for all these years. As my friend Orbala says, I laaaaa you!

P.S. The best birthday gift to me would be if someone swiftly kicked Abu Eesa in the crotch. Khoda hafiz.

Posted in uncategorized | 8 Comments

In (Feminist) Retrospect: A Prom Story

friendship corsages

When I was in high school, I had (and still have) a friend who is very dear to me. We’ll call her T, the first initial of my affectionate nickname for her. T and I attended the same middle school, where we excelled in physics as an undefeated dynamic duo. In high school we grew closer among other friends, but for now they are not the focus of the story. Because T was perceived as rather cynical and short-tempered, she was often the subject of baffled speculation, and her weight was the object of a few jokes. These characteristics only drew me closer to her side. T, who struggled to live under the shadow of her successful older sister, had diagnosed herself with depression, and to this day I believe she might have come very close. To balance T’s unrelenting pessimism, I exaggerated my inclination to outward idealism to the brink of fatigue. T found this greatly amusing, and she referred to us as quite a foil. I was rather unsettled with the popular misconception of my insufferable demonstration of happiness–I felt obligated to be this way so that, since I was frequently accompanied by her, T’s storm clouds didn’t drown the room, but while my emotional range was clipped in public, I knew our peers didn’t know T either.

They didn’t see the softer side of her, the lovely woman who was more than the cynic, who cared for the birds caught in her chimney and fought for all things that live, who tried to cheer me up when she caught glimpses of private moments of my distress. (Incidentally, while the widely held belief was that T was cynical and depressed, no one saw that I, a ray of unstoppable sunshine, was the one slowly sinking into indifference.) Neither T nor I were much for school spirit, and we never cared for parties or events unless they fit the agenda of our academic ambitions.

And then we were seniors, and there was prom. Anxious to see T enjoying herself outside of her quiet books and video games, I encouraged her to attend. And to emphasize that we would be unstoppable partners in crime, I made a proposition: that we would attend the senior prom together, and we would both attend in tuxedos. Even as I tailored the idea to our revolutionary sprits, I believed T would resist, but to my surprise, she agreed at once, with the same quiet happiness that lit her when she looked at birds or lent me books on Buddhism. She was rather fond of the idea, in her light sort of way, and for the first time I witnessed her looking forward to a social event. And, well, you can probably guess what happened next.

I was asked to the prom.

Admittedly, I should have seen this coming, but somehow then, I hadn’t. To this day I cringe at the decision I made. I told T that I’d been asked, mistakenly believing (again!) that she wouldn’t care and might have even been relieved. T didn’t say anything to me except that she understood, but I recall being shocked at the slight shadow of disappointment in her expression. Without me, T airily resigned to not attending the prom. I wore a burgundy dress. T said nothing else of the matter in the coming weeks, possibly out of a consideration for me that I evidently hadn’t had for her, until two days after the event, when she responded rather bitterly to what was, frankly, my abandonment of her. (It was in this moment that I realized how much this had really meant to her.) Still, it was the kindness in her character to bring it up only once, and for the past–how long ago was high school? five years?–she’s never mentioned it again, and our friendship resumed as usual.

I’m certain that she’d forgiven me, and quickly–but to this day when I remember this incident, it eats my heart alive.

When, five years later, I recounted this story to my coworker, she said, compassionately, “Well, no one can really blame you. I mean if you’d done it now it would be different. But you were young then. You were 18 and you’d just been asked out by a guy you had feelings for–,”

“Oh no,” I corrected her, “I didn’t have romantic feelings for him then. In fact, I’d made it clear to him we were going as friends.”

My coworker furrowed her eyebrows. “Wait, your date was just a friend?”

“Yes.”

“So… if he was just a friend, why didn’t the three of you just go together?”

When she said this, it was as though something had collapsed in me and released an infinite (and obvious) flood of wisdom. Of course. Of course! Why hadn’t the three of us just gone together? I had, even at the age of 18, been a self-declared feminist–but I had been so instilled with the heterosexist archetype of two people of the opposite sex attending the prom together as the ideal vision that I’d crumbled at its calling. At the opportunity to present the archetype, I’d neglected about every other possibility, especially the one signifying a meaningful friendship. I’d been stripped of my identity and forgotten who I was. And because everyone referred to the man who’d asked me as my date even though it was widely known we were just friends, when they wouldn’t have referred to T as my date, my frame of reference was further dictated by the language to which I responded: I didn’t make the connection that this man wasn’t my “date” in a definitive sense of the word any more than T had been. With that schema, it hadn’t occurred to me that the three of us could have gone together.

If I could do this over, though, we wouldn’t have attended together. I would have turned down the “date.” There would be plenty of time for that. Instead I would have just gone with T, one of my best friends. Because I’d told her so. And that was the most important thing.

Be good to your friends, and keep them close. Because sometimes, it is more feminist than we even realize.

Posted in feminism | 4 Comments