Particular invisible systems of unpaid labor enable the appropriation of philosophies. I’m not referring to domestic labor or emotional labor (not quite) though these are also issues. I’m referring explicitly to the activity in which a person engages in order to research, piece together, and present an argument for their humanity, for which the payment is only basic humanization if that, despite the fact that this activity is highly profitable to not only the male academy but the philosophical legacy of colonialist oppressors.
Recently, a friend of mine expressed her frustration that a notably sexist academic program was espousing amina wadud’s translation of verse 4:34, without citing amina wadud. This was obvious because no male translators, particularly those whose translations are popularly reproduced, printed this interpretation. It was recognizably wadud’s work. The institution withheld credit from an Islamic feminist in order to uphold its reputation through the prestige of the interpretation, while benefiting from her exegesis, the same way men reproduce Islamic feminist arguments to defend verses they find uncomfortable while denying they need feminism because they have Islam. My friend related this phenomenon to a professor, and, when he prompted for an example, reminded him that Islamic feminist Riffat Hassan was the first to observe that Hawwa is not charged in the Qur’an for transgression on the forbidden tree, and the dual form is held responsible. He could thank Islamic feminists for the fact that this is now considered common sense, but for centuries male scholars had relied on the Biblical interpretation of this story to fill in the “gaps” they supposedly believe the Qur’an doesn’t have. As my friend stated, “It’s common sense to you because we had to do all of the hard work for it.”
Colonizers will often claim that their nations are the most philosophically advanced—they’ll cite the laws they’ve supposedly conceived purporting equality among sexes, among races, not cognizant of the fact that the very people they’ve oppressed are responsible for creating these understandings of humanity, equality, and justice. These abstractions are rooted in their practical applications—not the other way around. When faced with the inhumanity of systematic rape, of genocide, of slavery, naturally a group of victims develop deeply thorough, sound arguments for their humanity, which the institutions that oppress them then adopt as their own in theoretical forms. These arguments are showcased to the world—often to the countries from which the oppressed originate—as evidence of the superiority of white men. We forget that laws are more than impartial declarations of justice. They are the result of a tumultuous history. The recognition of a human right is the result of unappreciated labor.
Reconsidering what types of labor I am willing to perform has been a liberating activity. A man emailed me a while ago politely expressing disagreement with one of my posts here and asking whether we might discuss our differences in interpretation. Let me be clear of two things. First, I do prefer the extension of an invitation to the barrage of uninvited tired points men liberally impose with the expectation that I would have both the time and interest to comb through them. Second, with that said, it is highly unlikely that I will ever accept such an invitation: I am not benefiting from such a discussion. At all. Let’s face it—when his position is a traditional one, I’ve heard the talking points before. Why are men under the impression that if we disagree with a very popular interpretation, we must not be familiar with arguments in its favor? It is presumptuous for a man to believe I haven’t read the same scholars he has read. I wouldn’t benefit from a discussion like this—what’s going to happen, what’s always happened—is that the other party walks away with more to think about. And they’re thrilled about the intellectual exercise, which has never been an intellectual exercise for me but a battle for my rights. I never respond to men who email me, and that’s especially true now. I’m not performing that labor. It’s an unworthy endeavor, and if you’re looking for it, you’d best have blown my mind in the first sentence with your interpretative creativity.
I’m thinking about returning next month for a number of reasons. I won’t bore you with any of them. The posts will be infrequent. Some things… have come up. One of my friends pointed out to me that I’m the type of person to vanish, and not the type to say goodbye. It’s occurred to me how painfully true this is. When I’m done with an activity, an interest, a person, I simply vanish. I stop meeting them, stop calling, stop texting, stop emailing. I disappear. If I care enough to say goodbye, it means I’m not actually finished. But when I’m done… I’m gone. It’s radio silence.
So, I don’t want it to be this way (I promise!), but when I am done with the fatal feminist, you might not know until the months have passed. You knew I was coming back, because I said goodbye.
In the meantime I’m making changes to some old entries so they reflect up-to-date exegeses. I apologize to anyone with an RSS reader. You may want to unsubscribe temporarily. ;)
The past 5 years have been lively and wonderful, but I am nothing if not a woman of transformations. So with transformation ready at heart, I announce that I will no longer update the fatal feminist for the foreseeable future… or at all. It remains uncertain whether it’s closed permanently, but it is closed indefinitely. I may not return for several years, or I may not return.
Fragments of myself have gone unexplored for the past few years. I have, for example, a considerable interest in sci fi and fantasy that I’ve somewhat, though not entirely, neglected. There’s a fascination with music and parallel universes and foreign policy that I’ve grown dissatisfied for placing on hold. I’ve been focused on my religiosity and am ready to address my spirituality again. I’ve reached a point where I feel cleansed, as though I’ve just ventured through a tumultuous novel.
Over the 5 years that I’ve written here I’ve made and met lifelong friends, who live oceans away, whom I would have never known if it weren’t for writing at the fatal feminist, a possibility that grieves me. I would like to thank them now for emailing me and subsequently informing me that we would be great friends. Zeina and Khadeeja, specifically, you’re both glorious.
It’s not that I won’t write elsewhere. If I happen to produce a longer, detailed article, which, I occasionally will, I’ll find a website to post it. I’m not opposed to this, or to guest posts.
I’m going to write regularly on a different blog. This new one will be deeply personal and not political (except, of course, where those areas overlap). Those who know me understand I’m a very private person. I’m reluctant to share the location of what’s basically a journal, but if you email me personally, I might disclose the URL. We would have already had to have spoken several times for me to be comfortable with this. The new blog is closed to comments, because I won’t facilitate public discussions of the personal sphere, but as always, if you want to discuss an entry, you can email me privately. And again, I may return after many years—this website and I have unfinished business. =)
In lieu of my departure, I’ve checked all the links on the sidebar of this website, discarding those that are defunct. The links will keep you company in my maybe-permanent-certainly-indefinite absence. They are excellent resources for the mind, and therefore often also for the heart, because that’s how it works. (Subvert the dichotomy.) If you click a link and it leads you to a private website or one that isn’t there, it’s because I’m very good friends with the author, and have kept her work with nostalgia in the vain hopes that she’ll return.
Ramadan Kareem in advance, and in advance Eid Mubarak. That sounds more familiar than it should, doesn’t it? It’s the last time, inshaAllah. I wish you all the best. Please take care.
The most physiologically violent act inflicted by white supremacist patriarchy, like all oppressive systems, is curbing the ability to love freely. The woman of color’s identity is inseparable from her skin, and so her worldview is shaped by it; so that she is aware, grimly, that the shadowy invitation of likeness in her lover is not the inviting indication of a soulmate’s semblance, but the trauma of violence and the flight of resistance that has come to forge both the lover and beloved.
For some time now, I’ve noticed an interesting, and not in the least bit surprising, inclination among male critics of Islamic feminist thought, to appeal to more prominent figures of authority on Islamic feminism, such as Kecia Ali or Amina Wadud, and allege that these prominent scholars would “disapprove” of the views espoused by those of us who read their ideas, remark on them, question them, expand upon them, and incorporate them into our practice. Never mind that we might have personal or professional relationships with these scholars, that they might be our friends or advisers, random male critics know the scholar–and of what she might approve or disapprove–better than those of us who contribute to her efforts.
It’s telling and amusing to see this happening with women who are alive. I’m accustomed, for example, to men alleging that Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet, would disapprove of me. But for men to insist I adopt a more dignified tone in the name of Kecia Ali, when I can turn around and ask her to find otherwise, is laughable. Amina Wadud, whom male critics have noted dresses traditionally, has never once conveyed to me that she disapproves of my tulip skirts. I can assure anyone she has more important things to think about. According to a few men who’ve contested the merits of Islamic feminism, however, Amina Wadud spends her days absolutely horrified at what Islamic feminists are wearing.
Dear readers, realize this means that there’s a strong possibility that Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet, would not disapprove of you either. These fallacious appeals to respectable authority figures can only survive in religious discourse built on certain incorrect premises: that we care, first of all, and that these opinions and imaginary disapproval are relevant somehow to the purity of our practice.
Apparently, male scholars “disagree” with each other, but female scholars “disapprove” of each other. Male critics can also “disagree” with other men, but must always “disapprove” of women. This is their way of not engaging honestly or intelligently with the substance of your arguments.
On April 23rd, 2012, Mona Eltahawy wrote an article titled, “Why Do They Hate Us?” to protest the treatment of women in the Middle East. The article, featured in Foreign Policy magazine, prompted a variety of responses, ranging from admiration for the author’s courage to criticism for her portrayal of Egyptian men. In online Islamic feminist circles, the most frequent and perceptive criticism was that Eltahawy had written the article in English, even though she is a native Arabic-speaker capable of effectively conveying her message in the language of the demographic she critiques. Eltahawy’s decision to protest in English served to partially remove the language barrier between Egyptian feminists and a potentially harmful English-speaking audience. This is significant because it suggests that the language barrier serves a protective purpose in protest. The language barrier does more than specify an audience: it precludes one.
Typically, the language barrier is a source of frustration when there is a desire for interaction across linguistic boundaries, which social media facilitates. However, the choice of language can be utilized advantageously in protest: it is a way to criticize misogyny in the Muslim community and circumvent inciting Islamophobia. When Muslim women critique Muslim men in English, some assume the women’s passions for equality are influenced by colonialism, and proceed to appropriate these critiques to embolden xenophobia. However, when Muslim women write in, for example, Arabic, Pashto, Bangla, Mandarin, Punjabi, and Farsi, not only are their critiques rendered inaccessible to an unintended audience, but that audience is barred from assuming ownership of those critiques. The language barrier deters the piracy of the marginalized voice.
There are ways in which, rather than stifling the effect of protest, the language barrier subtly enhances it by limiting agency to those whose struggles are central to its objective, and by enforcing these limits on social media platforms. In fact, language as a metaphorical shield even predates social media: during the British conquest of India, revolutionary writers, such as Kazi Nazrul Islam, whose rebellion against British colonialism won him the title of “Rebel Poet,” advocated gender equality and protested the bigotry of invaders by calling for independence in Bangla, an indigenous language; subsequently, the colonists were hindered from the immediate identification of a threat because they could not access or read his writing. Eventually, Kazi Nazrul Islam was jailed as the language barrier between Indians and the British began to erode. It was Nazrul Islam’s title as “Rebel Poet” that aroused British suspicions. It is no well-kept secret, furthermore, that when colonists arrived on Turtle Island, they not only sought to eliminate Native cultures but the children’s use of indigenous languages in schools. In the United States there are often workplace policies against the use of non-English languages among employees: in 2010, sixty-nine Filipina immigrants filed a lawsuit against the Delano Regional Medical Center in California for harassment and discrimination due to the hospital’s English-only policy. This is a strong indication that the language barrier has a potential to uproot establishments of power by leaving them out—a potential that those in power recognize.
However, in these examples, the potential object of the speakers’ criticism is the system of power itself, and not the religious interpretations or cultures of those who speak the Othered language. There are several prominent Islamic feminists, such as Asra Nomani, as well as prominent Muslim male writers, such as Haroon Moghul, who’ve used their social media platforms to critique the Muslim communities’ application and practice of Islamic beliefs—in English. A subject of criticism among Islamic feminists is Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa’s article in TheWashington Post titled, “As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity”; the article does not—as the title suggests—discourage against cultural appropriation. Instead, it advises non-Muslim women “not [to] wear a headscarf in ‘solidarity’ with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with ‘honor.’ Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we cover our hair.” Although Nomani and Arafa discuss the re-interpretation of “hijab” to mean “headscarf” and argue that this is not the original command of the Qur’an, detailing their struggles against Muslims who’ve harassed women to wear the headscarf—and although these are all points made and supported by other Muslim feminists—the targeted audience of the article, (white) non-Muslim women, questionably repositions non-Muslim feminists into the role of the imposing white savior, from which so many Islamic feminists have fought to remove them.
In the case of Nomani and Arafa, the target audience is made clear even from as early as the title of the article, which blatantly addresses a non-Muslim audience. In most cases, however, it is only implied, and can be deciphered from where the publication appears and its main audience.
Subsequently, the question then arises of where Muslims who speak only English are situated in protesting the inequalities in Muslim communities. Muslims critiquing oppressive power structures in either English or non-English languages is protest, and effective. Muslims critiquing each other in their own languages is protest, and effective. Muslims critiquing each other in English, such as the scholar and Islamic feminist Amina Wadud, for Muslim audiences is protest, and effective. Amina Wadud still operates within a form of the language barrier; since she writes for a Muslim audience, she does not define words that recur in Islamic discourse. Culture is tied very much to language, and the language barrier encompasses a cultural one. However, articles in journals such as The Washington Post and The Guardian don’t cater to a Muslim readership or bare the burden of social responsibility, and become sensationalist. Mona Eltahawy, whose activism has been valuable, fell short with her Foreign Policy article.
Articles written in English are still effective if published on a platform whose audience is aware of not only the injustices which the author protests, but of the injustices affecting the Muslim author herself. An author who critiques gender inequality in the Muslim community is just as subject to Islamophobia from her audience as she is to misogyny from her community. Since language hierarchies exist in most Muslim communities in the United States, with a preference for Arabic above all Others, it is important to find a place for diasphoric Muslims who speak languages other than English or Arabic. This may, after all, facilitate the development of a different facet of feminism, one that is freer from both a white savior complex and Arab exclusivity.
When, in Los Angeles in February of 2015, an all-women’s mosque opened as an alternative space to the oppressive, segregated mosques in the remainder of the country, it was identified at once by male scholars as problematic in prohibiting the attendance of men, even though mosques with barriers—literal barriers—bar (and discourage) female attendance. While disparaging women, scholars like Yasir Qadhi, struck by an opportunistic enlightenment, encouraged their audiences on Facebook to address the “root” of the problem: the unwelcome atmosphere in mainstream mosques. Women who attend the mosque, Qadhi argued, should be treated with a special respect for choosing to attend instead of shopping. He stated that it was natural that women would “counter-react” to feeling unwelcome and that some of those counter-reactions would be “illegitimate.” The implication that an all-women’s mosque was illegitimate would have come as a surprise to Muslims who primarily speak neither English nor Arabic, such as, for example Muslim women in China.
In “Debates over Islamic Feminism and Empowerment in Contemporary China,” Masumi Matsumoto describes all-female madrasas and mosques in China:
“Nüxue, or female madrasas, have been mushrooming in China’s Muslim communities since the beginning of the 1990s. Arabic and Islam are taught there. The government permits them tacitly. Such schools have given Muslim women unexpected gender roles and have supported the growth of China’s Islamic feminism. The female madrasa offers alternative values which Party-controlled public schools cannot provide. Based on the tradition of female mosques and female ahong, nüxue is the result of intense negotiations between Muslims and non-Muslim Chinese society, between Muslim women and men, and between Muslims of different social classes. Islamic feminism in China is aimed at eliminating gender discrimination and traditional patriarchy. However, their notion of gender equality with Islamic characteristics contradicts with the more “masculine” gender equality supported by Western feminists and the CCP, which tend to emphasize materialism, nationalism, and militarism.”
In China, the concept of female imams and religious leaders is not a foreign one. Islamophobia is as rampant in China as it is in the United States, but Chinese Muslim feminists have developed an Islamic feminism that is able to dodge accusations from critics of Western influence—they face, I am sure, different accusations, but this raises an incredible point: if (Western) Muslim feminists are too influenced by Western feminism to attain legitimacy in their own communities, how have Chinese Muslim feminists arrived at the same interpretations for centuries? Muslim men who are concerned about neocolonialism and Islamophobia may have an appropriate fear, though manifested in inappropriate measures, of Westernization (colonialism), but their arguments against Islamic feminism perpetuating neocolonialism are insufficient when Chinese Islamic feminists, who don’t communicate their interpretations primarily in English or any Western language, engage in the same practices, assign the same leadership roles to women, as the “Westernized” Islamic feminist.
From the language barrier erect between Muslim American feminists and Muslim Chinese feminists, we are able to discard the notion that equality is inherently and exclusively a colonialist value—it is, in fact, inherently not. There is a feminism that survives in non-English speaking communities that is worth preserving, because it serves the very people it is meant to serve rather than imposing domineering, incompatible concepts, by precluding colonialist audiences and allowing feminism to develop organically in the community.
This preclusion of colonialist audiences through language is already a subject of amusement on social media. In the beginning of 2016, an image was viral on major social media platforms—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.—which read In Bengali we don’t say ‘I love you.’ We say ‘Tui manush na goru,’ which means ‘My heart loses purpose without you,’ and I think that’s beautiful. Of course, tui manush na goru means Are you human or cow? The joke takes a stab at cultural appropriators, who employ languages foreign to them to maneuver through cultural experiences from which they are barred(i.e. the popular question “How do you say ‘I love you’ in your language?”). It is a subtle, and humorous, form of protest—which makes it powerful. Despite popular notions that Muslim cultures require colonialist influences to create a more just and equal society, Nazira Zeineddine, a pioneer of 20th century feminism, addressed a prominent contemporary scholar she criticized for using an interpretation of Islam to perpetuate misogyny, saying,
“You mentioned, my dear Sheikh, that the health and the morality of the Bedouin and the villagers earned them the right to be unveiled. It was a corrupt morality of city dwellers that blighted them with the veil. Excuse me, sir, I’m a village woman living in the city and I have observed both villagers and city dwellers. I have not seen your city sisters and brothers to be inherently less moral than my sisters and brothers from the villages […] Woe to us if we do not join with our men in breaking our chains to seize our freedoms that are gifts from God Almighty. They provide for the welfare, advancement, and happiness of all.” (Unveiling and Veiling, 290)
Zeineddine manages to make a compelling feminist argument within the parameters of Islamic philosophies. When referencing European authors or appealing to concepts popularly attributed to Western thought, Zeineddine strips herself of pretention by communicating her argument in Arabic. She discusses, specifically, the settings in her own country—the village, the city—to formulate her argument against male figures of authority. Because she communicates her point in Arabic, she speaks to the people whom she criticizes, rather than speaking behind them, the conversation is a more honest one.
Ghalayini, Zeineddine’s most frequent subject of critique, published a refutation entitled Views on the Book “Attributed to Miss Nazira Zeineddine” in which he alleged that Unveiling and Veiling had been written not by a woman named Nazira Zeineddine but by a group of men, while simultaneously accusing Zeineddine of treason by connecting her to the French and foreign enemies of Islam who seek to embarrass the religion—subsequently admitting, of course, that his own interpretations were embarrassing to the religion.
When such critiques are written in Arabic or indigenous languages, it provides a larger space for examination and reexamination. It provides a larger space to examine and reexamine freely, but removing external pressures—which is the reason I suspect that al-Ghalayini and men like him reach desperately for the confines of those pressures even when criticism is communicated in their own languages.
There was a time when I used to read the Qur’an daily for about 30 minutes. When I did this, I noticed myself changing and was forced to reduce the reading to twice a week. When I read “too often,” I became calmer, more at peace, and I cared very little about troublesome events or material loss. It was as though I were turning to water. Unfortunately, this all also meant that I was too tranquil when any kind of injustice befell me. I can not afford to be so forgiving. I need to be a fighter.
I was thinking recently, with all of the Islamophobia I’ve seen, with Muslim women harassed, with men showing up at masjids with guns, that the “violent” verses of the Qur’an that used to bother me–don’t anymore. I’ve written an entire series about verses taken out of context, about how they are actually defensive, but even when I knew that, they’d still bothered me a little, because who really wants to see any unashamed advocation of violence anywhere, even if it is in self-defense, especially in their religious texts of Love? And now they don’t. I have always been unapologetic, but I have never been as unapologetic as now. The non-Muslims who present these verses out of context to prove how violent I am have literally driven me to not caring, to thinking “Good. I hope you learn not to oppress those who are coming to worship.” It made me realize that what I thought was a virtue of my character, the sense that these verses were too harsh, was an unkindness to those whose situations I could not understand. What seems like God’s vengeance towards one group of people is in truth God’s mercy toward another.
I’m actually not an incredible fan of anime, in that I’ve never really immersed myself in it, other than–of course–the obligatory elementary school obsession with Sailor Moon. But I’ve had friends who very much were, from elementary into high school. I went to a predominantly Asian and Latinx (thank God) high school rather than a predominantly White one. In fact, my high school was 5% White. Demographically speaking, it was the best. High school speaking, it was the worst, as is expected of any high school experience. Ever.
I’d never seen anime characters as White, and it wasn’t until I happened to walk past a woman I overheard complaining, “Why don’t they”—referring to the Japanese—”draw themselves the way they really look?” For some reason, she sounded annoyed, like she didn’t think a people ought to see themselves with wide eyes or multicolored hair when that’s clearly not how they look to her White gaze. I walked away thinking it was truly bizarre. To me, Japanese characters have looked nothing but Japanese.
The answer to this has everything to do with our default perceptions. After all, on American television, we have a variety of cartoon characters with humanly impossible features, but unless they have specific “markers” defining them as Other, we read them as White. Look at Charlie Brown, for instance. He’s got beady eyes and thin lips. What makes us think he’s whi—actually, never mind, bad example.
It works the same way with sex and gender. If I draw a bunny, it wouldn’t read to a large American audience as a girl unless I made it pink, or added a ribbon. (This is getting incredibly boring, and I’m glad more “modern” cartoons are evolving past it.) Even stick figures are read as male unless they have triangular dresses. The woman asserting the Japanese should draw themselves “how they really look” believes the characters should have (racist) racial markers that read “Asian.” Anime was not, however, made for her. The characters don’t need to be “read” by her, or drawn in a way she would understand. I’m guessing Japanese people in Japan don’t see their anime characters as White. They don’t need racial markers to tell them the characters they draw are Japanese.
After all, why do we have any reason to believe American cartoons are white? Why do we read characters on The Simpsons as white when their skin is yellow and when Marge has a blue afro? If anything, shouldn’t this read as Black hair? But she isn’t Black to the American audience, who learns quickly (as they have known all their lives) that “Others” are defined on the The Simpsons with brown skin, not yellow. Since White is default, there must be an additional marker that acts as an indicator. And unfortunately, the afro has been appropriated and won’t cut it for an American audience. Marge’s hair might not even register as an afro.
It was clear (from this and a few other sentiments) that the woman believed the Japanese had an inflated self-image, to have the audacity to imagine themselves with blue hair and wide eyes. That’s only for Americans like Marge Simpson! It’s shocking, no doubt, to come to the realization that non-white cultures don’t see themselves the same way white supremacists see them. It’s shocking to discover that the white supremacist lens is unnatural, imposing, and entitled.
It’s a great exercise, I think, to realize that non-white characters with traits we perceive to be white, don’t, in fact, look white, and those traits are not white. They do not belong to white people or white culture.
I’ve been flattered by those of you who’ve contacted me to insist that I return to writing as frequently as I used to–unfortunately, I can’t promise that, but I have decided to post at least once a week. I wish I could tell you which day, but that would too closely resemble a schedule, and I am notoriously terrible with schedules.