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?

5 thoughts on “Barrier Update, and men you should follow

  1. nmr

    When it comes to masjid leadership and the role of women, I feel that a Gorbachev is required. Unfortunately, we seem to be currently stuck in the Khrushchev era.

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  2. I concur with your attitude toward men voicing opinions and ideas about feminism, sexism and society. At best their remarks are derivative. Plus, my experience in radical feminist activism (in the Eighties) taught me to be highly suspicious of men who get involved in feminism: virtually all have corrupt motives that eventually reveal themselves.

    Men don’t deserve any cookies.

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  3. Ameena

    “virtually all have corrupt motives that eventually reveal themselves”

    Nahida, I’ve noticed you’re a pretty good judge of character. How do you tell the difference?

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    1. A man who is genuinely interested in eliminating sexism is uninterested in drawing positive attention to himself. He doesn’t care about being known, and he will risk his reputation for justice. Josh Shahryar urged men to refrain from distracting from the plight of black women, knowing that it was a “controversial” statement and he would be criticized in the (male) progressive circles surrounding him. Have you ever even heard of Adeel Ahmed? No. Because he doesn’t give a damn if you’ve heard of him. He confronted the men at his mosque about the unlawful segregation in the prayer area despite being ostracized and practically excommunicated for it.

      I am not handing out cookies. The purpose of this post is to turn the tables: men who claim to be in favor of gender equality and “egalitarianism” will privilege themselves as the judge of “good” women whose whose polite efforts are worthy of attention and “bad” women whose stubborn uncompromising, unapologetic efforts aren’t. Well, here are shining examples of “good” character. It is time women privileged themselves as judges “true” interest.

      When a man’s work in women’s rights is derivative (which is always) he will overtly and frequently attribute it to the female-authored originals. He will never think to describe situations in which he is depicted as the enlightening savior, never recount narratives of himself as having been saved and seen the light and an example for all, and he won’t talk about himself as knowing the “right” (calm) way to bring change while women are driven into madness from (politely) explaining over and over again.

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