You’re wrong: The Interpreting Islam Edition

(Fractions of this post were written in the comments section of Feministe, of AlmostClever, and probably other places.)

This has been brewing for a while, but today I read a discussion that pushed it over the top. AlmostClever is so lovely and patient, and a much better person than I am for putting up with such bullshit.

The bullshit has to do with other Muslims, but I will get to that in a second. On a similar note–

One of the very understandable and sound criticisms of nonreligious feminists has been that if the interpretation of religious texts is subjective, and that if everyone is equally correct in interpretation, then everyone is cherry-picking and violence in the name of said religion is as equally justifiable as the good in the name of said religion, and there is nothing to say that terrorists or fundamentalists or sexists are wrong.

A few days ago I said the following:

Because let’s face it: despite literature’s reputation of being all warm and fuzzy and deep and “there are no wrong answers ’cause everyone’s right all the time and rainbows and kittens and cookies!”–you can be wrong. You can be so, so wrong. Not only in interpreting literature[…]

And that applies to religious texts. Not everyone is equally correct.

Those who act violently in the name of Islam blatantly ignore peaceful verses in the Qur’an and cherry-pick so that they can confirm their own beliefs and actions. I, on the other hand, am not cherry-picking. I’m not picking and choosing from only peaceful Quranic verses. I still accept the verses that refer to violence, but in order to fully accept them–and in order to fully accept every verse–they have to placed in their proper contexts, and when you do this you can clearly see that practically every verse that fundamentalists use to back up their violence allow for such behavior only in self-defense.

I suppose it then becomes a question of whether or not they believe they are defending themselves, but to me that is a question that is outside the text. My point is that a fundamentalist can say, “This is what it says!” and I can argue that they are interpreting it incorrectly, and be right. When interpreting any kind of literature, you can’t just pull things out of your ass because “everyone is right and interpretation is subjective!” There are right and wrong interpretations. You have to be able to argue yours. You can’t claim that Moby Dick was a mermaid, or that East of Eden was a war book, or that the main character of The Great Gatsby wasn’t a total asshole. Okay, maybe that last one’s up for debate. You can’t claim that The Great Gatsby was materialism-enthusiastic. Better?

But being a woman, it doesn’t matter how well you can argue your interpretation. It matters that you’re a woman.

So what we end up with is not just nonreligious feminists telling us we don’t know our own beliefs by claiming that they aren’t compatible with feminism because men are the ones who ultimately decide what religion is (according to their implication), but fundamental Muslims telling us we don’t know our own beliefs because they are objectively asshats.

To be absolutely clear, I don’t find criticizing a religion disrespectful, and I don’t find criticizing an individual’s beliefs disrespectful; what I’ve found disrespectful is the assertion from some feminists that because I would suggest that my beliefs are compatible with and supportive of feminism must mean that I don’t know my own beliefs (and yes this has actually happened to the point of armchair psychology), regardless of how much time I spent with study and analysis, because if I did I would agree with privileged sexist men, and instead I think they’re all gits with no reading comprehension.

I find it so frustrating when non-Muslim Western feminists tell me about feminism and What Is Feminist and What Is Not Feminist because they think my religion makes me incapable of understanding and fighting or something. Excuse me, but while Islamic feminism may not have been called Islamic feminism, feminism in Islam is much older–and took off much quicker with much more fiery passion (before patriarchy shat all over it)–than feminism in the West. As a matter of fact, it is built in to the religion.

But white women own everything, so they define feminism. And men define religion, because THAT IS SO FEMINIST.

And I don’t see how anyone can’t identify the contradiction–I supposedly don’t know about my own religion because I don’t find it intrinsically violent, but those douchebags with male privilege who have stolen the rights and power derived from the religion itself from me for centuries to twist it into corrupt political weapons are not only right* to say IS intrinsically violent but also to ACT upon the violence they interpret because they’ve got their religion down? My interpretation is incorrect, and What The Religion Really Is is violent because men have made it violent, but What The Religion Isn’t is my non-violent interpretation of it, because that interpretation is wrong–it must be wrong because it doesn’t have the necessary privileges to back it up in masses and allow it to explode into validity. In other words, privileged asshats FTW!

*right as in without it being supposedly a case of “cognitive dissonance”

Claiming that my interpretation must be incorrect because men are the ones who define religion is anti-feminist. And if you believe otherwise, you are wrong.

Now that I’ve dissed certain other feminists, back to certain other Muslims!

You don’t have to identify as a feminist to be Muslim, but Islam is INTRINSICALLY a feminist religion. Islam has ALWAYS BEEN an INTRINSICALLY feminist religion. There is proof after proof after proof. And if you believe otherwise, you are wrong. You are wrong about either feminism, or about your interpretation of Islam.

If you are Muslim and:

your interpretation of Islam inspires violence, you are wrong.

your interpretation of Islam is anti-democracy, you are wrong.

your interpretation of Islam is anti-woman, you are wrong.

your interpretation of Islam forces gender roles, you are wrong. See above.

your interpretation of Islam encourages body policing, you are wrong. See above.

your interpretation of Islam encourages the murder of adulterers and apostates, you are wrong.

your interpretation of Islam encourages the murder of LGBTQ people, you are wrong.

Because you are actively contradicting the peacefulness of the message. Amongst other things, including very very CLEAR verses. Want to argue about it? Great! But I’m warning you: you’re wrong.

Because all interpretations are not equally correct.

Muslim men who attempt to define feminism for me, men who tell me what I can or can’t wear, men who tell me that I should or shouldn’t work, men who tell me what my rights are and are not according to the false version of Islam they preach need to be slapped back into place. I plan to have children. How will I raise daughters in this world? Women are abused and raped and murdered and brainwashed. There is no time to be polite. Any man speaking on the matters of women needs to STFU unless they receive a personal invitation from yours truly, or from a woman who is also arguably correct in her interpretation. Also this person is awesome.

Islam will be reclaimed.

24 thoughts on “You’re wrong: The Interpreting Islam Edition

  1. almostclever

    I think I'm "context" fatigued… No one seems to get that fine point of religion being compassionate and trying to better the world. Instead it seems to break people into tribes and is used as a powerplay by manipulative men. I do wonder why so many fail to see the peace, and focus solely on the threatening side of God. I guess it speaks volumes of the sickness the people… I read Eckhart Tolle and he calls it "the collective pain body" and I like that… It sounds about right. It basically breaks down to historical oppression becoming a part of our dna, changing our family systems and thought patterns.. For example, with the Holocaust and what happened not so long ago, is it any wonder that now those same survivors are committing the same atrocities against Palestinians… I don't think it is a far stretch to say entire societies of people are traumatized, and as a result of surviving trauma, they create trauma… I know this is a little off topic but it runs through my mind when reading about all of this interpretation of religion to uphold violence and oppression. I mean, if we really look at it, this isn't even about religion – it's about maintaining power. Religion is just the tool.

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  2. "So what we end up with is not just nonreligious feminists telling us we don't know our own beliefs by claiming that they aren't compatible with feminism because men are the ones who ultimately decide what religion is (according to their implication), but fundamental Muslims telling us we don't know our own beliefs because they are objectively asshats."HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

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  3. Hi Nahida. I followed you over from Feministe, hoping to ask you something, and how convenient to find this thread. Background: I'm an ex-Christian atheist, pro-feminist man.I saw this:"I don’t find criticizing a religion disrespectful, and I don’t find criticizing an individual’s beliefs disrespectful, what I’ve found disrespectful here is the assertion that because I would suggest that my beliefs are compatible with and supportive of feminism must mean that I don’t know my own beliefs–and to confirm this the question of why don’t you just leave your religion has been brought up in this thread"I agree that it's inaccurate to suggest that you can't really be engaging with Islam if you're asserting a Muslim feminism. It was pretty annoying to see those suggestions. I'd like to ask you what you think about these comments earlier in the thread:"I understand that there are people who have very serious grievances dealing with religion, Christianity in particular. But please remember that not everybody’s experiences are the same. You don’t have the respect the religion (any religion), but can we please respect the people who choose to worship by not dismissing their beliefs as “fairy tales”? … To me, my Christianity is part of my personhood. I am a person who is a Christian and I am a Christian person. My Christian beliefs go to the very heart of who and what I am, so calling them fairy tales and, therefore, imaginary is (to me, anyway) very disrespectful. Knowing this, I asked to be respected as a person in the hopes that there would be some sort of understanding as to how deeply that cut me."Those comments disturbed me, because I find the mockery of faith to be necessary for personal liberation. Since your arguments in that thread were being conflated with others' arguments that you didn't explicitly endorse, I'm interested in hearing what exactly you think of this. Does calling someone's religious beliefs "fairy tales" equate to disrespect of the person? And if so, is it the sort of disrespect which should be discouraged by progressives?

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    1. fewerthanone,
      “I find the mockery of faith to be necessary for personal liberation.” You said this and it rang with me. I’m still struggling to piece it together. I agree with you. However, I also know that mockery of faith (insert ‘identity’ into ‘faith’) calls for, as Nahida says, an “understanding as to how deeply that cut me.”
      For now I will continue to live this contradiction of values.

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  4. Excellent, applause worthy post!(I came here from woodturtle).I hate it when people use religion as an excuse to carry out their own nefarious power play.Mezbahttp://readwithmeaning.wordpress.com

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  5. @fewerthanone I personally don't see how you would have to put down others' beliefs for your own personal liberation, however I understand that this may be because my experiences with religion have not been as explicitly painful. For me it would really depend on the context: on the Internet, I don't see it disrespectful. This is coming from strangers, with whom I neither owe nor am owed any friendship; on the contrary, these are strangers who have been deeply hurt, and I should be the one listening.In real life, when your friends equate something you deeply believe in your heart with "fairy tales"–then that is painful. It's not disrespectful because it's invalidating (I don't need validation) rather it's disrespectful because it's overlooking your feelings. But again, the context is important. It depends on who is speaking, and whether they are just as–or more–hurt.

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  6. It's frustrating when certain non-Muslims, especially feminists, act as if they know our religion better than us. It implies that we're not intelligent enough to understand Islam on our own. It's so condescending and problematic. It is also an Orientalist practice – speaking *for* the Oriental, defining the Oriental, controlling the Oriental, etc. I've lost count of how many non-Muslims who told me, "Well, you don't believe in the violent verses in the Qur'an, you're a moderate Muslim."No. I believe in all of the verses in the Qur'an. As you put it, they must be understood in their context, and I would add that the Qur'an needs to be read and understood in its entirety.I fully agree with your point about Islam being a feminist religion. Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) efforts to abolish female infanticide, sexual violence, sexism, racism, classism, oppressive hierarchies, among other things, are certainly evident of that.

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  7. Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) efforts to abolish female infanticide, sexual violence, sexism, racism, classism, oppressive hierarchies, among other things, are certainly evident of that.Exactly. And a part of me always protests when certain Muslims are called moderates and others are called fundamentalists (I cringed even while using that in the post) because in addition to promoting sectarianism (which I am against) I feel that the definitions are reversed. If anything it is so-called fundamentalists who ignore peaceful verses and contexts.

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  8. Yeah, I really don't like the "moderate Muslim" label either. As a friend once put it, it's an attempt to neatly divide Muslims into polarizing categories. If you don't fit the definition of "moderate Muslim" (friendly to US policies and imperialist projects) then you're a "radical/extremist/fundamentalist Muslim."

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  9. Hi Nahida,I just discovered your blog through Feministe, and I was really interested to discover that your views about Islam are very similar to my views in regard o Judaism (I am an Orthdox Jewish feminist).I have a question for you, and I really hope that it does not come across in a way that is offensive, because the last thing I want is for this to offend you, when I really want to understand something. I recently read a book called Infidel, by Aayan Hirsi Ali, and in it she states that it says flat out in the Koran that it is proper to beat wives to make them obey. Is this true, and if it is, what is your interpretation/understanding of it?

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  10. Wow–thank you for this. I myself ID as agnostic, and I come across many a-/non-theist people who are incredibly relgiously illiterate. I'll be sending them a link to this when needed. It drives me crazy just how incurious some of the neo-atheist movement can be about the very things they profess to critique (yet they would say the same thing about many fundamentalists' relationship to science). And not to speak of the neo-atheists' own priviledge in defining others' religions for them… You put into words a lot of what I've been feeling but haven't been able to get rational enough about to think through! Much gratitude.Yes! I like Jehanzeb's point, too.

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  11. I thought about it and I'm going to be picky about whom I send a link to this page, and copy/paste when needed (if that's okay). I don't want to make more moderation work than needed, cos I like the safe space feeling this site has. :)(Apologies for the double post.)

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