In studying Islam and researching religious tradition, I naturally encounter sectorial differences in the perception of religious figures and in the practice of religious rituals; —while I’ve described my renouncing approach to Islamic sects, in dismissing sectarianism and contemplating its contraints from the position of a religious woman, without disclosing with which sectorial teachings I had been raised, I neglected to check my own privilege from the position of a feminist. I was raised Sunni—Hanafi—the dominant sect; considered Muslim upon this description by the vast majority of Muslims, I am never forced to defend my right to practice my religion as I interpret it should be practiced or my validity as a Muslim (until, you know, they realize I’m a woman and a feminist) and should I find myself in a mosque that is unfamiliar to me, I can safely infer that the prayers will be performed in accordance with my knowledge and convention.
Just as it is perfectly acceptable for me to declare that I don’t identify with a race because I am not white, it is likewise inappropriate for me to entirely dismiss sectarianism because I was raised Sunni. I cannot thoughtlessly toss away the responsibility, as someone in a position of remarkable advantage, to check my biases and the extent of my appropriation. I am not Sunni, and while the assumptions of others that by default I must be are potentially erasing and highly frustrating, they still afford me a great amount of privilege within the Muslim community.
Exploring the depth of the Qur’an and interpreting the nature of existence and laws of morality with the intent of pure truth is convenient without the consequences of societal power dynamics. Shi’a Muslims are killed for their beliefs and stripped of their rights. As a little girl I was raised to die before denying my faith—but that is so easy for a Sunni mother to tell her daughter, who will probably never face so real a threat on basis of her sect. Shi’a Muslims, who are actually brutally killed in alarming multitudes, have most understandably developed other interpretations that grudgingly permit them to deny their faith to save their lives.
So while, as a religious woman, I may expand to encompass identifiably Shi’a beliefs into my own individual religious beliefs, while I may never privately see Islam as Sunni or Shi’a but instead maintain a much more fluid perception of the possibility of Islamic truth, as a feminist I must carefully examine any subconscious prejudices against the widely disparaged spiritual qualities composing Shi’a Islam that would compel me to dismiss certain concepts as ridiculous, and acknowledge the ramifications on a structural level. For example, I believe that Ali was the rightful caliph after the death of the Prophet (concluded from the events that followed the Prophet’s death, not from the fact that Ali was a blood relative—I believe that is irrelevant) and that Abu Hurairah is an untrustworthy source who has misled centuries of Muslims, both of which are more or less Shi’a assessments, but I also have a strong impulse to snidely dismiss other Shi’a concepts (like “temporary marriage”) and in the complexity of interaction and the reality of persecution I have a duty to recognize what I may not understand. This means, basically, that because it is an undervalued and misconstrued position, I am obligated to check everything even more meticulously to watch for my own misconceptions since those misconceptions are reinforced by a majority influence.
Hence this introductory article; it is with this cautiousness (hopefully) that I will be analyzing the Shi’a view of Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter, in the next post. (Or possibly the one after that, depending on how I feel.) As tempting as it is to claim that these beliefs are mine, and that they don’t “belong” to the Shi’a sect or to anyone, that they are free to be everyone’s—as I do with identifiably Sunni beliefs—it would be highly destructive not to recognize that Shi’a Muslims are constantly denied the integrity of credibility, of rights to their religion.