Guest Post: Ending Systemic Discrimination Starts with Individual Acts

Sarah Elizabeth Pahman, a masters level social worker licensed & certified in advanced practice social work, is experienced in trauma counseling and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, and interpersonal violence. She is interested in trauma-informed care and has passions in empowerment & social justice within our communities. Based in Chicago, Sarah loves writing, working out, and Pablo Neruda.

Please welcome our first guest writer, Sarah Elizabeth, who is exhilaratingly discerning, fiercely loyal, and rooted in being.

The first time I noticed my privilege as a white person was in high school. I was in the 10th grade and I was quite the unmanageable, unruly child due to a myriad of circumstances in my home and in my environment. I had little guidance as a teenager and was very much on my own from about the age of 15 on. I found comfort and acceptance in the communities of color that made up the tapestry of my friendships and the people who I genuinely loved. I started recognizing I was different from my friends on several occasions, but the ones that stick out for me are the ones where I was a witness to the racism my friends experienced.

I remember walking through a grocery store parking lot when I was 16 and an old white man yelling “you should have never been born!” out of his car window at myself and my motley crew of friends with a similar life to mine: those of us on our own. Was the old man yelling this to us because everyone else in the group was black and Mexican, or was he yelling at me – the white girl in a crowd of young men of color? Back then we laughed, threw up our middle finger at the guy and joked about it for the rest of the evening. It is only as an adult I recognize the poignancy. And yet, throughout my high school experience I knew white people saw me differently as a white person who hung out with people of color.

There was the time a white male teacher approached me in the hallway and with venom dripping from his lips stated “your parents must be so ashamed of you” in reference to the fact that my boyfriend was black and my best friend was Mexican and my loyalty lived in the brown skinned shades of friendships I held tightly to me as I survived my life through the love I held for the same people this teacher so abusively proclaimed as shameful.


Riding on the bus next to my black girlfriend and watching as the two white girls standing in front of her grabbed their purses and zipped them up while staring at the only black woman on the bus and talking about being scared on campus because people “who didn’t belong there” were protesting in the streets.

I remember driving in a predominately black neighborhood in my city to visit friends and being pulled over by police and asked “do your parents know where you are?” I remember being pulled over as the only white person in a car full of black people and asked if my car could be searched. I remember being called a wigger. A white n*****. I remember being told I was “going through a phase” and would “eventually grow out of it” because of who I surrounded myself with. Because I did not uphold the value of sticking to my own race, and I did not sit at the white table, or the black table, in the racially segregated high school cafeteria… I rotated my days and because of this I was an outcast.


And I internalized the shame and blame and venom that poisoned my young soul into believing I was different and I was unacceptable because white people are not supposed to have THAT MANY friends of color, else we get called wannabes, wiggers, betrayals to our race and squanderers of our inherited privilege.

I knew I had privilege as a white person because whenever my black friends needed to do something important, like go to the bank, or court – they would step back and let me do the speaking. Mind you, we were kids, 17, 18 years old – and I could see the effects racism and classism had on my black friends because at those tender ages they already clearly understood white people talk differently to each other than they do to people of color. I clearly understood as well, it became a game for me – I would show off how “white” and “proper” I could be in order to get the answers and privileges we were seeking.

And so what I could so easily call a game, turn on and off at my discretion, and not have to think about when alone in public with only my white skin as my first impression on people – what I could so easily choose to partake in or decide to shun based solely on my decision of what race I would hang out with – was my inherited privileges as a white person. And so the games of a 17 year old become the lessons of adulthood, the lessons of recognition that my friends of color had barriers to overcome simply walking into a store, the bank, the courthouse, the classroom, or cafeteria, the boardroom or the office or the interview or or or – where white middle and upper middle class values and norms and worldviews and cultural standards predominate and outcast those who don’t play by these rigidly defined rules, who don’t look and act a certain way – who dissent and reject imperialism as it stands before us.

Embracing each other is a revolutionary act. Embracing each other is an act of dissent.

Recognizing on an intellectual level exactly what white privilege was did not happen until I entered college. It was when I read “white privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh and found myself nodding my head over and over again that I began to recognize the experiences I had as a youth was a systemic experience for people of color and not something unique. My “acting white and proper” as a youth was my own developmental understanding of what white privilege meant, albeit ignorant – I felt it. When I presented to other whites as a stereotypical white, middle class female in the way I talked, dressed, and behaved I was rewarded for it. When I surrounded myself with people of color white people were sure to make sure I understood I was a betrayal. I also think class status has a profound effect on how we view each other, and think we must keep intersectionality in mind when discussing privilege.

As an adult I am first and foremost thankful I was able to attend college because this was where my mind was opened to the systemic issues of race and class discrimination and white privilege. This is not a subject taught or talked about in the basic educational system that most people go through. Having the childhood experiences I had was what helped me connect the dots, and not view what was being discussed as a theory, which I fear many white youth consider diversity classes to be due to their own limited exposure to these issues. If one grows up in a small town surrounded only by other white people and only receives exposure to these issues through college diversity classes (which is always the class most complained about), it can be perceived as an attack on whites, it can cause white guilt, and extreme defensiveness.

What this country needs is to address white privilege and white guilt and defensiveness constructively through compassionate and assertive advocacy within not only diversity trainings, but also within the everyday dynamics of the classroom, work culture and broader everyday environment. Making race and class and gender issues a part of the discussions and meetings and using ourselves as the catalyst for change by addressing these topics openly is how we uphold the ethics and values that we as a nation claim to hold dear. In agencies and corporations dominated heavily by whites, making sure the issues of privilege, guilt, race and class are not ignored is the task at hand, approaching ourselves with the assumption we are racist, at the very least. Recognizing that racism and structural discrimination against people of color can only change when whites acknowledge their own isms within, and address it on a daily basis – is the only way systems built on whiteness and maintained by white denial can ever crumble. Recognizing that affirmative action has not done nearly enough, that white people still have predominantly white friends, that we segregate ourselves both personally and professionally, that we still can’t talk to each other across racial/class/religious/gender differences because the group in power still hasn’t learned how to in a productive manner….

Because The Group In Power Still Hasn’t Learned How To In A Productive Manner.

And this benefits the group in power over and over again because silence is akin to shame, and shame creates dysfunction across entire generations, it keeps the isms within us swept under the rug and hidden away, conveniently denied. The modern isms that permeate liberal circles, white activists, and male feminists.

Our activism, our feminism, our liberal values and proclamations, our friends and loved ones of color…. None of these things shield us from participating in the very things we claim to be fighting against.

Women in the Media: the “Stay Away from Your Friends” Trope

There’s a “category” of women on television and in the movies, typically contrasted with another “category” of (the good kind) of woman, whose sole depiction of being “wrong” for the male lead involves her behavior toward his male friends: she’s cold, distant, isn’t enthusiastic about his spending time with them, in general appears to disapprove of them, and may even obstruct him from being with them. Inevitably, another female character (the good version) will be introduced, and she will be depicted as “right” for him–because she not only tolerates his friends, but shouts at the tv during football games, doesn’t ask them to move their feet off her coffee table, and laughs at all their sexist jokes. Oh, and she’s somehow still a classy lady.

When I was in middle school, one of the boys attending decided he was interested in me. (He’d only ever seen me and had never spoken to me in his life.) Rather than, you know, act normal, he evidently decided it was a good idea to send each one of his friends, all eleven of them, over to me to “convince” me to go out with him. I had no interest in going out with anyone, and after the first episode of this preposterous plan, certainly not with him. All of these friends were women, but in the coming years, I’d experience the aggravation of similar strategies from groups of male friends. It always went like this: a man decides he’s romantically interested in me. He makes his feelings clear to me. When I don’t return them, his friends continue to badger me about it. “Are you going to said event with him?” “You should go with him!” “Did you talk to him last night? You should call him!” “You would be so great together!”

Men are scary enough alone–they’re something else in packs. We are meant, as television sitcoms and movies are written, to sympathize with the poor guy whose girlfriend doesn’t get along with his friends, supposedly because she’s a judgmental jerk who thinks they’re all losers. Of course, on screen we can see how disproportionately socially inept these friends are: we see them come over to an otherwise quiet house, pile into the living room, make a mess with popcorn on the couch (who do you think actually cleans that up after that scene plays out in real life?), yell obscenities at the television, make fun of each other for living with their mothers or not “getting laid” or not having a job, yet when the soon-to-be-replaced-with-a-male-approved-version of the female lead is hostile toward them, we’re supposed to think it’s because she just doesn’t “get” it and doesn’t “deserve” the male lead.

There’s an old joke (that I hate) that goes something like this: the difference between men and women (enlighten me) is that when a man, suspecting infidelity, calls each of his woman’s friends to ask if she was over at any of their homes last night, they all tell the truth and say they hadn’t seen her. When a woman calls each of her man’s friends to ask the same question, not only do each one of them claim that he was there, but two of them insist that he still is. This joke is supposed to exemplify male “loyalty” as the very truest kind.

Of course, what the joke doesn’t tell you is that the women are telling the truth because, when my friend’s significant other calls asking if I’d seen her, my immediate thought is not that she’s cheating–it’s that she might be missing. She might have been kidnapped. She might have been drugged, raped, murdered–why would I lie about having been with her last night when it only delays the rescue? The law needs to know immediately. In a world where our fears aren’t the same, actions can’t be judged according to the same criteria.

But instead, this joke is supposed to illustrate an (imaginary) manifestation of how women have a reputation of being disloyal and “catty” with each other. And how we always hate our lovers’ friends.

You know that other old trope that is associated with this one–when there’s a group of “typically douchey” college-level male friends, and one of them, one of them is “different.” He falls in love with some girl who says something like, “Remember there was that one time, your friend was really douchey,” when they first meet, and he responds in a dreamy tone of voice, “I’m not really like them,” and we’re supposed to think oh my God, what a special little diamond in the rough you are? I roll my eyes every time I see a scene like this. And it’s pathetic how many.

I don’t ever claim to preemptively “know” anyone’s friends, but when a man’s friends create an environment where I feel unsafe–where it’s clear they’re being sexist, racist, inconsiderate of my space, or attempting to pressure me to go out with him, it’s a red flag that I’m not going to ignore. You don’t get to be different. If your friends make a bad impression on me before we’ve even spoken, you can rest assured that you don’t have a chance.

I’m perfectly capable with warming up to someone’s friends–if they aren’t oppressive, if they aren’t wholly inconsiderate, if they’re not under the impression that they can tell me how to behave around our mutual friend who’s interested in me; this amicable consideration, warmth, this knowing when to stop, are characteristics of my friends, who are actually–you know, good friends–and just because these new people you’re introducing are your friends doesn’t mean they don’t have earn the trust of the woman you’re dating simply because they’ve earned yours.

And it’s not that men (who write sitcoms) don’t know this. When the inversion is the plot of the show, when a woman’s friends are hostile toward the new man she’s dating, he’s never the one depicted as needing to adapt to their standards. Instead, it’s the female friends who are shown as catty, judgmental, and unwilling to accept someone new into their circle. The male lead is either depicted as trying (and failing) to “satisfy” this “horrible” group of women or backstabbing them and it’s supposed to be funny to the audience. (Imagine that reversed?)

While I understand realistically that friends are formed over several years, that they grow differently, that a bond cannot be broken as easily as an oppressive comment (believe me, I know), this double standard in attitude toward women who are critical of their lovers’ friends and men who are outright oppressive toward their lovers’ friends is only a delineation of a dangerous facet of patriarchy. In the culture of patriarchy and its media depiction, a woman’s reasons for not getting along with a man, whether that man is the friend of her lover or the lover of her friend, is always illegitimized. It’s always because she’s judgmental, catty, and over-critical, and never because she’s feeling unsafe, pressured, disconcerted, or protective.

discussion of language with amina wadud

By popular demand, I’m writing a post about tea with amina wadud, who prefers (as I confirmed while I spun around in her bedroom) that her name be spelled with lowercase letters, like bell hooks. My auntie amina is currently visiting Indonesia and Malaysia, but before she left she gave me a copy of Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition, and, like the badass she is, showed me the three books she was reading at once. One of them included Feminist Edges of the Qur’an. I brought her a hard copy. She has lived in several countries, likes flowers, drinks tea without sugar, and is probably more qualified a religious leader than any sheikh you’ve ever met. (I’m sure she wouldn’t sit well with that last part, but I will maintain it.)

I’m not going to talk too much about the visit here–but I will share parts of our discussion that are pertinent to Islamic feminism and subjects that have been touched on in this space, because she very much ought to be credited for the insights about to be imparted.

One of the …concerns (?) I inquired her about, that have been introduced in the comments of this website, pertains to the preservation of the Qur’an. I believe that the Qur’an has been preserved in its original form, and so the question has never been a source of distress for me. However, in the comments of a post that engages with an Altmuslimah article regarding grammatical nuances, there was a lengthy discussion of the nature of this preservation. The verse featured in the article is 33:33; it is the verse in which we are commanded to “behave with dignity” in our homes. (Male) scholars have read this verse as commanding us “stay” in our homes. They create this reading on the grounds of an assumed vowel, an assumption that is incorrect; they read waqarna as waqirna, the first meaning “settle the ego” or “behave with dignity” and the latter meaning “settle (physically)” in your home.

As amina wadud explains (better than I could back then) this discrepancy isn’t the result of a failure to preserve the Qur’an. As the Qur’an is written originally (in the Qureyshi dialect) the waves, curves, and knots of the letters were noted and remain as they always have. The script is vowelless. The vowels are hypothesized, rather intuitively, based on context. The natural thing for me to go on and say now is that “the early Muslims would have known, etc. etc.” in order to ensure you that objectivity is still secured, but I’m not interested in saying that sort of thing anymore. Quite frankly, I am done grasping at the criteria of the self-appointed male ulema for confirmation of my religion. I am done giving the excuses you’ve all heard from male scholars about why they know it and you don’t. So here is what you should take away from this: Objectivity is not Divine. There is “objective” truth, and that objective truth is a thing so imbued with beauty that the mere shards of it we observe in the Qur’an are only baffling to us because we cannot see the full picture. What you’ve learned as “objective”–you’ve learned from the West. True objectivity must encompass flexibility to be functional. True objectivity introduces the liberation of adaptability. It knows itself to be unobtainable. It is universal not because it is you–it is universal because it is every form of you.

My own brother asked me this morning why the Qur’an isn’t clear. I think many Muslims operate on the assumption that reading the Qur’an is only an act of worship and a guide to how one lives, and therefore should harbor a straight-forward quality concerned with only that purpose. They don’t incorporate the more intimate function: to also reflect the state of one’s soul. I’m sure many of you have had the thought, “I wish I could see my list of sins compared to my list of virtues so I know where I am.” The Qur’an is a direct answer to your wistfulness. If you read it and it induces pain for (O)thers, if you read it and you have decided its command to women is “stay in your homes” rather than “behave with dignity in your homes” that is the Qur’an warning you that you are headed down the wrong path. I don’t mean just that it is an outward compass, or that its powers are limited to the superficiality of a mirror. I mean this is the Qur’an screaming at you to evaluate the state of your soul. It is the Qur’an saying, “Look at this. Look at what you’ve just read in me. Please–I am trying to show you that you are going in the wrong direction.” It is the Qur’an appealing to the qur’an in yourself.

When a man reads wqrn as waqirna instead of waqarna, he is seeing his destiny (in the hereafter) before him. He is seeing that he, like the tribes that threatened to kill the Prophet and oppress him and his family, is an oppressor, and will be made to answer for that transgression of his soul. Of course, he will not listen to the cries of the Qur’an, he will not heed its warnings, regardless of how overt his oppression reflecting back at him is on the page. The ambiguity of the Qur’an is the clarity of the human soul. You are a book as well. The qur’an that is you has a moral conscience. You were written by God. This is intertexuality of the spirit, between yourself and what you are holding.

So here are the words of caution you’ve always heard from me: men have monopolized interpretation, in all of its levels in more ways that you’re aware. Reading wqrn as waqirna instead of waqarna is a clear indication that what has been paraded as “objective” and “scholarly” is nothing short of a patriarchal bias applied to matters that do not concern them. The Qur’an commands us to take its best meaning. When women have decided, perhaps in another kind of universe, in the changes of circumstance that are inevitable and expected in the cultural currents of the world, that “staying home” is a better meaning than “behaving with dignity,” that possibility is there for our use, to enrich us, as a device of worshiping God. The flexibility and ambiguity of the Qur’an is an act of Love. It is to say I understand your situation, Love.

Before we parted, auntie amina and I also discussed the use of the feminine pronoun to refer to God. English, auntie amina pointed out, compels us to making a gender distinction when describing or referring to people. In languages in which this does not exist–including my mother’s–speakers are more inclined to understand instantly when God is referred to with She in English. But the insertion of gender creates a false unOrdinated religiosity; my mother, when speaking English, will sometimes mix up he and she because there is only one word for both those pronouns in her first language; if I were to deliberately refer to God with feminine pronouns, however, she is less likely to be receptive. In other words, she’d adopted enough of the (wrong) mentality to become uncomfortable. This is a result of the adoption of not only English as the one true American language (TM), but of Arabic as the one true form (TM) of “permissible” for Islamic jurisprudence. Language controls the way we think; the availability of two gender pronouns in the languages that are viewed as “superior” by our national and religious communities allow the speaker–and the Muslim community–to associate maleness with God (shirk); it is crucial that we evaluate our levels of discomfort with referring to God with She as compared to he and discern.

It wasn't consistently seriously like it sounds.

It wasn’t consistently serious like it sounds.

One of the (many) reasons amina wadud is a crucial leader and scholar is that her academic contributions to Islamic scholarship is manifested in the application of these interpretations. Islam makes no distinction between the sphere of belief and the sphere of practice. When an imam tells you that men and women are “spiritually equal” (a term that is now meaningless) but he is opposed to following a woman who is leading prayer, he is telling you he doesn’t practice his beliefs and is inconsistent and untrustworthy. He is telling you that God may believe men and women are “spiritually equal,” but he sure doesn’t.

Eid (al Adha) Mubarak

There is a saying–in Farsi, I think–that one tells their dearest friends. It means, “May I be sacrificed for you.” I think it is why, when his father asked him if he would die, Isma’il said yes. To God, he said. May I be sacrificed for you.

This, like any act of love, was misconstrued.

He knew his mother, Eve, after all, had lain awake with Adam’s hand at her waist, beneath a new-formed evening alit with stars. Adam must have been asleep, you see, or he would have never allowed it. (Ibrahim, tearful, accepts his son’s response. His sobs are unrecorded. Isma’il, grasping the blade, trembles at the chin.) When God said gently before the sleeping Adam and the waking Eve that surely their children would find one of them to blame until the end of time, the Prophetess replied at once, “Me. Let it be me.” And there, before Adam, she crumbled to dust. May I be sacrificed for you. Love, may I be sacrificed for you.

Adam woke and found slander on the mouths of his children.

This, like any act of love, was misconstrued.

Do you speak the language of Love? Is there only one? (There is Only. Love.) Remember that for this day, Ibrahim sacrificed his patriarchal power over his son by asking Isma’il’s consent. Remember that for this day, Ibrahim sacrificed his patriarchal power over the love of his son. Over the Love of his son.

Only Love. In Love there is no Other.

Quranic Verses and Misconceptions: The Limiting of 24:33

If you’ve been reading this website for a while, even if you’re not Muslim, chances are you’ve caught the drift from a couple of posts that the Qur’an is absolutely gorgeous. Since I spend a lot of time here discussing the more seemingly formidable verses (see the entire “Misconceptions” tab) I haven’t quite explicitly demonstrated exactly how gorgeous, and since each verse of the Qur’an has at least seven different meanings, it’s likely I never fully will. For a moment, I want to shift our attention from the verses that are more commonly misconceived (by both Muslims and non-Muslims) to the ones that whose misconceptions have more subtle (but equally sinister) effects, and point out that these misconceptions–and their effects–contribute to the undercurrents of sexism in the Muslim community and in the malestream exegesis of the Qur’an and Islamic texts.

Before we take a look at 24:33, I want to refer briefly to 24:31. It’s a verse that deals with hijab, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Verse 24:31 packed with interesting little admissions hinting toward the demographic of which societal–and domestic–life was composed:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gazes and guard themselves, and not display their adornment except what is obvious (apparent, necessary) save to their husbands, or fathers, or father-in-laws, or sons, or brothers, or nephews, or children, or their women, or what their right hands possess, or those who have no desire of women. (Qur’an, 24:31) [emphasis mine, clearly]

Now, I know that must sound restrictive, reading this entire list of exceptions (husbands, sons, brothers, etc.) to the “public,” but let’s pretend for a while that we live in a world where there hasn’t been a patriarchal bias established as precedent, and people are rational and logical in their interpretations and patriarchy isn’t championed as neutrality. And then let’s take a look at the verse before this one,

Tell the believing men to lower their gazes and guard themselves. That is purer for them. (Qur’an, 24:30)

That’s it. No exceptions. Like, literally, no exceptions. Men are commanded to lower their gazes. From everyone. Now, with consideration of the context in terms of cultural setting (609-632 CE, Arabia), one can argue that the verse is referring specifically to women (as the audience from whom a man should lower his gaze) but that is presumptuous considering (1) it’s a broad generalization that overlooks the vast diversity in cultural makeup in this area during that period and (2) it isn’t present from the context in terms of the Qur’an itself. In fact, the verse preceding this one speaks of entering someone’s home politely–the very home, mind you, that is described in the verse addressing women that follows.

It is reasonable, then, to come to the understanding that the parties included in the verse addressing women are present when a man, in context, entering someone else’s home, is commanded to “lower the gaze.” When the act of modesty is meant to convey humility of character (in belief) then what is being regulated here is the arrogance of men. It is commentary on the entire culture of masculinity. Men are commanded to lower their gazes–or reduce their arrogance–not only in the presence of a woman, but in respect to her entire household.

Imagine an ulema in which the majority of exegetes are women. Imagine the interpretation of these verses under that ulema. Does that ulema arriving at this interpretation sound like they must be performing logical acrobatics in their arguments? Well, not considering the inconsistencies present in the interpretations of an ulema composed entirely of men. For example, the next verse reads,

And those of you who are solitary, marry the single among you and the righteous among your male and female slaves. If they are poor, God will enrich them. (Qur’an, 24:32)

I’m not kidding. That command is given to both men and women. It says male and female slaves. And the men as well as the women are single prior to the marriage i.e. there’s no way to read men marrying multiple women into this verse. But for some reason the male ulema has managed to “burden” only men with the task of marrying slaves and bringing them prosperity. Go look it up if you don’t believe me. Go on. And in case you still don’t believe this verse addresses women as well, “the single” is masculine–which again, means no polygamy if the men are single before this. When the Qur’an addresses men in referring to a group of women who are eligible for marriage (such as the “women your right hand possesses”) the feminine plural is used. This is not a group of women–it is either a group composed entirely of men, or a mixed group.

In fact, let’s talk about pronouns and the inconsistencies that the male ulema conveniently administers in interpreting them. Most of the religious activities that the malestream ulema has designed solely for men (such as Eid and jummah prayers, or marrying [multiple] slaves) are argued this way because of the employment of the masculine plural for “believers,” regardless of the explicit inclusion of women as in the verse regarding marriage above. (In other words, don’t let men tell you you’re not obligated to attend these prayers–you absolutely must. It is addressed to all believers.) And yet the beginning of verse 24:33 uses the masculine plural when it commands,

And let be chaste those who do not find means for marriage, until God enriches them. (Qur’an 24:33)

The male ulema suddenly decides that in this employment of the masculine plural, the chastity before marriage refers not only to men and women, but especially to women. Had we remained consistent with their logic when it comes to attending jummah prayers, according to this verse only men are required to remain chaste before marriage.

In light of these drastic interpretational inconsistencies resulting from patriarchal bias masquerading as neutrality, it’s especially profoundly logical that verses 2:30-2:31 regarding the lowering of the gaze, in which women are given exceptions and men strictly are not, can be concluded as a device for the regulation of masculine arrogance in the face of entering the feminine sphere (of domesticity or of expertise), and would have been reasonably seen as such had even half the ulema been composed of women.

Finally, the end of 24:33 reads,

And do not compel the woman to prostitution who desires chastity. (Qur’an, 24:33)

This verse is, unfortunately, starkly relevant today. Perhaps, sometime in the future, if we imagine wistfully for a moment, its secondary or tertiary meanings will have room to be applied–

that one mustn’t compel the woman to need who wishes to be independent.

Barrier Update, and men you should follow

O you who believe, when told “Space yourselves” in assemblies, then make space; God will make space for you. (58:11)

In August of 2012, I wrote a post announcing that a local masjid in my area was undergoing a construction project. The blueprint revealed that not only would women be relegated to a different area in the new masjid, but that the designated area would be much smaller. I asked you to write letters urging the committee to reconsider this. Many of you did, and I love you. I love you. Because no one else does this. No one.

The letters were not addressed by the reconstruction committee or any board member of the mosque. It is easy, I believe, to ignore the polite requests of the oppressed class–especially when there isn’t (as is expected when the oppressed class is women) a more aggressive group against which to compare them. When an “angry,” aggressive group of protesters exists, who demand justice and nothing short of it, whose calls for revolution are the sound of unapologetic battle cries, and who refuse to ensure the comfort of their oppressors through the language of appeasement, those very oppressors–in order to prove they are not bigots–scramble to address the needs of women who are “polite” and proceed to hold these women as shining examples of how change “should” be brought to a society. It happens with race, sex, (dis)ability. This is the “good feminist” vs “bad feminist” dichotomy created by white hetero-patriarchy; the truth, of course, is that the “good feminist” could not exist without the “bad” one. Without an angry seething woman to fear, patriarchs can ignore the gentle requests of the weeping one. When there is no one making “outrageous” unapologetic accusations against men, like you have deliberately monopolized Quranic exegesis and embedded patriarchal biases into widely accepted interpretations, men–freed of the burden of disproving perceptions of their bigotry–can impose enough pressure on the “good” feminist to ensure the unjust status quo is maintained. There is no looming threat to make them say, “Okay, okay, I’ll give HER what she wants because she was POLITE about it. You see? I’m not a bigot. I just value POLITENESS.”

As though the “packaging” of justice is theirs to choose! The existence of the decision to appear to listen to non-threatening women rather than abrasive ones is in itself demonstrative of unjust power stolen from women by men, but of course men are too dense to see this. It is as God says of the unbelievers, their hearts are barricaded!

To speak of barriers, the construction project is not yet complete, and the letters were not addressed. It is especially easy to ignore polite requests when they are not embodied in people who are demanding a response with their presence, and must instead write letters. However, because of a couple of women who walked out of the prayer area due to how degrading the separation of this space is–the mosque board announced that the new building will not have a barrier.

I don’t believe them.

Other than the fact that the word of a Muslim man is just about as reliable as Pluto’s planetary status, men–and all Other oppressors (ha, see what I did there? no? k whatever) will, being the sparkling politicians they are, say whatever sounds like great PR at the moment. No victory cries until the project is complete.

A lot of you know that I never value the opinions of male allies on feminist issues while there are feminist writers from whom male allies acquire their ideas to credit. (Revel in this post, because you will never see it again.) I also don’t give cookies. I will never give cookies. But as much as it is true that the support of allies should be unnecessary, that the interpretations of women should carry enough weight to stand on their own in this horrendously patriarchal world with its malestream media, without needing to be rewritten under male names to garner the attention of other men, that men should shut up about women’s issues because a woman speaking about them should be enough–as much as that should be true, it isn’t the dynamics of patriarchal reality. And the stark reality is that some men (of color), eager to not only call out their own oppression but to encourage women to stand with them in doing so, welcome sexism with a stony silence.

The reactions of Muslim men to the kidnapping of schoolgirls by the malesupremacist terrorist group Boko Haram were downright despicable. Not only do men ignore the issue of sexism, they use the platform created by women drawing attention to these horrific crimes to amplify their voices on issues they actually care about. I watched this happen, thread after thread, post after post, tweet after tweet, from otherwise “respectable” men who were quick to destroy legitimate points about how the US should stay the hell out of Nigeria by subtly explaining away Boko Haram’s actions with the failure of the Nigerian government and neglecting to notice that somehow, magically, only supremacy of a certain sex is fostered by the government negligence that victimizes both. (I don’t see a female equivalent to Boko Haram that kidnaps schoolboys and kills hundreds of people, do you? Are men the only victims of government negligence and colonialism?) There is a larger problem, and its name is patriarchy. And out of the hundreds of men who spoke on the issue, it was rare that any of them decried the others.

I do NOT like these images on drones that are distracting from #BringBackOurGirls. I’m not saying imperialism and colonialism aren’t wrong. I’m not saying drone attacks aren’t wrong. But [...] If the brightest idea you have for activism is piggy-backing on other activists’ work to highlight drones, you need to rethink ideas. I’m especially appalled cuz #BringBackOurGirls deals with an eternally marginalized and ignored group – black women. You have no right. To knowingly push drones at the expense of #BringBackOurGirls, which requires all our efforts, isn’t just wrong, it’s shameless.

Let’s not turn #BringBackOurGirls into a discussion about “imperialism” and “colonialism” and especially “drones”. Most of our society – nay our world – is virulently patriarchal. AND virulently misogynistic. #BringBackOurGirls is change in making! #BringBackOurGirls is forcing ppl to THINK about patriarchy. To think about racism. To think about how they’re BOTH hurting black women. To turn #BringBackOurGirls into a debate about drones is like saying, “The discussion it’s already generating is NOT important enough.” PLZ let #BringBackOurGirls dominate. I beg of you. It’s not just about the girls in Nigeria. It’s about all black women. Let em speak! Josh Shahryar

Josh Shahryar is a man, and the only one I’d come across criticizing other men for distracting from the hard work of black women on this issue. Of course, it should be enough when I scream about it. It should definitely be enough when black women scream about it. You shouldn’t even NEED me. You have them. They are enough.

But this is a sick world, and they aren’t. And it isn’t. It isn’t enough. And I will never forgive men for being cowards.

The criminal negligence of men when it comes to sexism is evident in every women’s rights issue. When I asked for letters to the masjid asking the committee to revisit its sexist plans for the new layout, an overwhelming number of respondents were women. In the comments, only one (conceivably) was a man.

Are we really taught that Hazrat Khadijah was an independent tradeswoman and yet women are not allowed to lead prayers? Are we really taught that “paradise is at the feet of your mother” and yet we can not listen to a Muslim woman deliver a khutbah? Are we really taught that Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Prophet, will be the first person to enter the afterlife, and yet the voices of Muslim women are completely shut out at mosques? How can we truly follow the Qur’an, which teaches that men and women are equal spiritual beings, when our community treats women as inferior to men in our places of worship? Jehanzeb Dar

“That’s not fair, Nahida,” you chirp. “Mostly women read your blog. Because you’re, like, kind of scary.”

Yes, yes I am. And you need me, “good feminist.” Remember that.

I’ve written before about how Muslim men, after pushing women behind curtains, behind barriers, behind deafening silences, suddenly shove us to the front lines when it comes to battling the Islamophobia that affects them, when it comes to battling oppression that they can understand. Instead of answering for these discrepancies, they tokenize examples of women in Islamic history, of women who are, in their own right, historical heroines. The religious communities of men that recognize and praise them, however, are hostile to their modern incarnations. They cite spiritual equality while refusing its physical manifestation in the social and legal spheres. (i.e. God sees us as equal, but I don’t.)

Self-declared male “allies” will champion the principles of equality for Western audiences, publishing redemptive visions of Islam on news sites targeting non-Muslim readers whilst keeping their heads bowed before the sexist male-dominated ulema and their outrageous “laws.” Few have the character to confront sexism where it is most impactful.

I began sending emails to the men in the shura. First about how the mosque’s structure was flawed by separating men and women. During the Prophet Muhammad’s time men and women actually prayed in the same space. The prophet Muhammad didn’t put women behind partitions. I further explained that during the most sacred event a Muslim can partake in, Hajj, or pilgrimage, men and women stand side by side and pray together. If you believe separation is absolutely necessary, I explained to the men in the shura, there’s no need for walls and sheets as barriers. Barriers are just sexist man-made rules. [...] As a consequence of these emails, I was slowly separated from the shura. No more emails about weekly meetings, I was taken off the WhatsApp group. No more text messages about upcoming agendas. –Adeel Ahmed

Most, anxious with the looming threat of realizing their own hypocrisy, will be quick to justify the disconnect between “spiritual equality” and the fact that Islam does not distinguish between belief and practice (in other words, you cannot claim to believe in “spiritual equality” if you fail to practice it legally and socially) by attempting to mansplain that women are “not required to pray at the mosque” (wrong, most notably in regards to jummah) or that “fewer women arrive to pray at the mosque” and therefore there should be a smaller area designated to them. Can you imagine something like that for race? “Fewer Saudis come to this particular masjid, so we should deliver the khutbas in Urdu.” That is how the barrier functions. It actually cuts off the prayer. It’s a literal barrier.

What’s astounding about the former, that women “are not required to pray at the mosque” is that even women will employ this poor excuse for justification. If you’re a woman who believes women “are not required to pray at the mosque” is an adequate reason to not accommodate us with equal effort to worship God, you should not be speaking, because you have made it clear it is against your ideology. Stay home and pray. What’s it to you what the masjid looks like if you’re not interested in going? If you really don’t care because you’re not “required to attend” then what the hell are you even doing in this conversation?


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