Misogyny in the Muslim Community as Islamophobia

The fabulous Orbala presented yesterday at a conference in UC Berkeley on the question of whether misogyny in the Muslim community towards Muslim women is a form of Islamophobia. Before she’d posed the question on Facebook to explore this construction, Orbala and I had a discussion about its implications. She asked, “How [meaning how is it possible] can [it be argued] that Muslim misogynists are Islamophobic?” to which I’d responded that misogynists “perpetuate Islamophobia by engaging the same prejudices towards Muslim women as Islamophobes and allowing [these prejudices] to masquerade as ‘real Islam’.”

We continued,

Orbala: You see, so much of misogyny in Muslim societies is a product of western colonialism, a response to coloninalists’ attempt tp “liberate” women.

TFF: Yes.

Orbala: But by definition, Islamophobia is a dislike of Islam and Muslims…

TFF: And Muslim women aren’t Muslim? And our interpretations aren’t Islam? It’s initially hard to see [misogyny as Islamophobic] because we think of men, and not women, as representative of the religion. But you need to change the way we think.

And because Orbala is so fabulous, you see, she is doing exactly that. We thought we’d bring the discussion to you and investigate the larger ramifications of construing misogyny as Islamophobia–because I, personally, am not interested in pointless discussions that serve only to reframe the dynamics of a religious or cultural hegemony as an end: this new construction of misogyny as Islamophobic needs to be a vehicle for something larger. So, I’m going to note here what, under the thread Orbala posted, I’ve relayed on Facebook:

TFF: [Islamophobes, by mere definition] despise Muslims. And Muslim men who despise Muslim women *and deny them the right to practice their religion as desired* are Islamophobes.

These men despise women because the women are an intolerable kind (specifically if we’re talking about Muslim feminists–they wish we wouldn’t exist) of Muslim; if we say that the structure of religious institutions are man-made [culturally] then it’s possible to shift the “making” power to women and still call it (as Muslim feminists would) “Islam” as practiced by these women, and the women themselves become the object of hatred because of this interpretation of Islam.

Muslim men who are sexist against Muslim women are not typical in their sexism–this is why I am making this argument. They don’t hate non-Muslim women who challenge their privilege; in fact, in classrooms, in the workplace, in public spaces, etc. I’ve seen Muslim men go out of their way to acknowledge the equality of these women. The hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men is a different, unique type. It’s is both misogynist and Islamophobic, it’s the hatred of women who practice a “wrong” kind of Islam and rob Muslim men of their “sacred” communal mancaves where they can behave however they like while presenting a facade of egalitarianism to the outside world.

I think to recognize hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men as Islamophobia has practical benefits. Islamophobia and racism are the only kinds of oppression that Muslim men (cis, hetero, abled) can understand. They can’t wrap their heads around sexism. I wonder if “progressive” Muslim men have ever been confronted by other men for their willingness to pray behind a female imam. It must have happened somewhere, but I can’t speak to that experience. I’m only familiar with being confronted myself for my religious practices. But I would venture to say it must happen very rarely in comparison. And I think that is because a Muslim man, at least around here, would at once recognize that confronting another man, denying him his agency, essentially dehumanizing him and his right to pray as he sees fit, is an almost unthinkable infringement. It’s laughable to lecture to an equal.

When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.

And just like that, the same men who routinely rebuke racists who claim that Islamophobia isn’t racism–and is instead just a critique of Islam as a religion–are forced to confront their own argument when they attempt to defensively adopt that of their opponents. Muslim men are bound to claim that they can’t be Islamophobic toward these women because they’re merely critiquing the women’s practice of Islam–and that’s when their own previous arguments are reintroduced to them: it *is* Islamophobia, it is systematic religious oppression, you are deliberately excluding these women as citizens of your mosque and your society.

And it isn’t just useful for the purpose of practical application–like Islamophobia toward Muslim men is enveloped in racism, so is Islamophobia toward Muslim women enveloped in (racism and) sexism. It is impossible to say that a Muslim man oppressing a Muslim woman is “merely” being sexist–because she’s not only a woman, she’s a *Muslim* woman, and Islamophobia can both be internalized (which is what Orbala is saying) or–and this is what *I* think it is–Islamophobia can conveniently be converted to take on the guise of a “critique.” And that is a powerful tool for misogynists and racists alike, the former being Muslim men.

Orbala: There’s something really important to this discussion. Nahida discussed it above:
See, I believe that our hesitation or discomfort in seeing misogyny as Islamophobia speaks to our refusal to see *women* (Muslim women)* as full humans. Somehow our misogyny is not islamophobia because its not like Muslim men hate “Muslims”; they merely hate Muslim women. Yet, everyone agrees that Islamophobia is by definition the hatred and fear of “Muslims” – but it’s interesting that “Muslims” here doesn’t really seem to include Muslim women. The definitions I’m offering require that the hatred of *Muslim women* be declared Islamophobia – fear of Muslims in a way that includes women, too.

It’s, as Nahida put it: “When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.”

[end of comments] There were other pertinent commenters in the thread whom I want to acknowledge, but I won’t post them here because it is a private thread and I wish to respect the privacy of other members of the conversation. I’d be interested in hearing any contributions to this, here on a more public forum, and I’m certain Orbala would find comments helpful. Please click the link to her post, where she has outlined definitions and explored the concept, before engaging.

4 thoughts on “Misogyny in the Muslim Community as Islamophobia

  1. I love your ability to think outside the box, it shows a creativity and an awareness that is at the essence of spiritual awakening and growth.
    I can’t talk right now but I needed to point out that it makes a lot of sense. I remember when Mona Eltahawy suggested that Arab Muslim culture “hates” women, and I thought that’s crazy, while also being aware deep down of an inherent truth in it. Something was true about that statement, and I realized later that my refusal to support it was based not on the facts of Islamic Arabic sexism, but on the framing of the issue through filtering it through the quranic ideal that would not support such sexism.
    Reading the post however, and accepting the premise as a reaction to a force of dehumanization (which is what colonialism and occupation is), as I saw first hand in its racial parallel, the legacy of slavery and colonization that makes Black people hate themselves, it does make a lot of sense.
    We would never think of Black people’s demeaning treatment of those with darker skin as racism, but what else should it be called?
    However, I am leaning towards the idea that what we are discussing is less the disease and more the symptom. If we put it all back into context, the context of men and women and how men treat women worldwide, we realize that it is not specifically about religion or ethnic gender. Rather, it is about gender tout court. Sexism and misogyny is the state of being until it isn’t. Which means that unless enlightened and pacified through common sense, socialization or religion, the common man is a sexist and misogynistic animal because that is the most natural way he knows to exert control over that which he desires most/refuses to lose most.
    Worst yet, the more disturbed and lacking in control he is, the more he expresses it through his mistreatment of women, not unlike the bully whose bullying finds roots into his having been bullied.
    Additionally, the Muslim man, the Arab man suffers from PTSD, and one of the legacies of PTSD is that the inner angst is turned back toward the self, but before that, towards the outer appendages of the self, for a woman, her children, for a man, his wife and children.


  2. I came upon this article by Juan Cole that seems to support your argument and at the same time undermine mine…

    First and foremost, until society recognises that women are structurally oppressed rather than conceding gender based violence with violence in general, women will continue to be subjected to violence. It is not enough to passively condemn apparent acts of violence towards women but let the less obvious and perceptible forms of patriarchy go unnoticed. Until the latter is addressed and rectified women will continue to be violated and killed with legal impunity. Most Islamic movements in the Middle East, for example, vocally condemn violence towards women yet at the same time segregate women in public arenas and reject mixed-gender participation in political protest or political sphere in general. They actively encourage the passivity of women in fighting for their own political freedom by denouncing such behaviour as un-Islamic and unbefitting of the Muslim woman despite many of the first Muslim women in early Islamic society being vocal participants in that society. More disturbingly they rationalise and thus justify sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence by objectifying women and putting the onus of preventing such behaviour on them rather than the perpetrator, most often on her clothing or hijab.

    Liked by 1 person


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