Racists Targeting Refugees Pretend to Care about Assaults in Germany and Sweden

Update: Most of the attackers in Cologne were white. “On Friday, the Cologne prosecutor Ulrich Bremer in fact told me that, of the 59 suspects pinpointed so far, just four are from war-torn countries (Syria and Iraq), only 14 are in custody, and nobody has yet been charged. Nearly 600 hours of CCTV reveals very little, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the alleged attacks were planned in advance.”

I’ve got to hand it to racists, they don’t just “care” about saving Muslim women from oppressive Muslim men; they also care very much about saving white women from barbaric men of color.

sofia capel tweet
You can just FEEL how much he cares.

During a New Year’s celebration in Cologne, Germany, women reported around 22 (estimated) orchestrated assaults by men of Arab or North African appearance. The horrific incidents were, of course, at once hijacked by nationalist, right-wing racists, who were conveniently suddenly very invested in women’s rights and safety. Despite the fact that none of the actual victims nor a representative size of the women of nations who have opened borders to large numbers of refugees felt the need to politicize these attacks, knights in shining armor, who otherwise spend their time counting false rape accusations or denying the wage gap, came galloping in on their shiny white horses with their shiny white skin.

Amnesia is an incredible thing, and so is projection. The white man fears men of color because he knows what he has done. Organized rape is not unprecedented, and it’s still rape when it comes dressed in prettier terms. White men can literally travel to Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand, Kenya for the purpose of exploiting/raping women (or ‘sex tourism’) using systems in place to help them coerce women, and when white women are assaulted it’s considered ‘unprecedented.’ No, an article actually uses that word.

Organized rape has happened during every European invasion in history. It happened in the Americas–and still does–to indigenous women, it happened through the African continent–and still does–during the slave trade, it happened in every systematic genocide and it is anything but unprecedented. The only time we should fear “refugees” is when they’re white.

Propaganda by racists relying on the crimes, whether real or fictitious, of any person or people of color is nothing new either. The treatment of women in the Middle East was a popular justification for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and blasting those very women we care oh-so-much about to pieces. And sadly, that’s not even the most recent: historically, and even now, white women perceive of their attackers as dark-skinned. In her book, The Color of Crime, Katheryn Russell-Brown documented 67 racial hoax cases between 1987 and 1996, 70% of which were white-on-black. She says, because the most common type of hoax targeting black men is rape,  “it’s not surprising that so many White women have created Black male rapists as their fictional criminals.”

I am by no means suggesting that the women attacked in Cologne weren’t assaulted or didn’t see their attackers–let’s be clear that I believe every part of the story, and I’m deeply unhappy with the German authorities unsurprising response to advise the women to take careful measures. Rather, I’m pointing out that women like Bonnie Sweeten, who falsely accused two black men of kidnapping her daughter; like Amanda Knox, who falsely accused a black man of killing her roommate; like Bethany Storro, who threw acid in her own face and blamed a black woman, are able to operate on what we all know as truth: the hearts of racists are inflamed at the prospect of a man of color committing a crime against a white woman, absolutely inspired to fuel hatred against an entire people. Because they care. All of the sudden. As Laurie Penny writes:

This is not the first time a European city administration has responded to an outbreak of sexual violence by blaming the women. It is the first time in recent history that the right-wing press has not joined in the condemnation of these wanton strumpets who dare to think they might be able to have a good time without worrying what ‘invitation’ they’re sending to men. Instead, the right wing blames… liberals. Who apparently caused all this by daring to suggest that refugees should be able to come to Europe in safety.

It’d be great if we could take rape, sexual assault and structural misogyny as seriously every day as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators. The attacks in Cologne were horrific. The responses – both by officials and by the armies of Islamophobes and xenophobes who have jumped at the chance to condemn Muslim and migrant men as savages – have also been horrific. Cologne has already seen violent protests by the far-right anti-migrant organisation Pegida, a group not previously noted for its dedication to progressive feminism. Angela Merkel has responded by tightening the rules for asylum seekers, but for many commentators, it’s not enough.

It’s astounding truly, how rightwing bigots believe they can really fool women into thinking they suddenly care about women’s rights or safety. In Sweden, after gangs of masked men physically assaulted non-Swedes, Swedish women responded with the hashtag campaign #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) to protest the men, particularly after right-wingers violently attacked refugee youths claiming their motives were to “protect” Swedish women. (I don’t give white feminists cookies for their allyship, but I really want to do it just this once.)

As a friend of mine once said, men are like the Mafia–they offer you “protection” from themselves.

Jihad on Ruby Avenue

Originally a guest post on Orbala.

My favorite masjid is so severely sex-segregated that there isn’t merely a barrier for the women; there’s an entirely separate tiny afterthought of a room. But it’s my favorite because it is in the hills, where the stars are the brightest, next to sheds with horses in them (my mother once chastised me for feeding the horses before breaking my own fast during iftar time) and in the midst of wild plants, cats, rabbits, and snakes—and, according to the claims of my brothers, jinn. It is a wild, tangled, untamed place, and my heart always quakes at the glimmering city lights far away. On Ruby Avenue, my imagination is also wild, vibrant, and irrepressible. It was where I went to Quran classes as a child and studied under the imam, but because of the segregation, I rarely attend anymore, since I’m not fond of second-class citizen treatment; though aunties constantly demand to know why, the response from my mother is always that I’m busy with class and work, which they then proceed to make clear is an unacceptable excuse.

Currently, the masjid is under an expansion project. My mother relayed to me that the new building won’t have a barrier, and so I should attend. I informed her that men lie (a male leader told me once that he would take down the barrier at a different masjid and did not keep his word) and so I will not believe this until I can witness that it is true.

In the meantime, on a Friday during Ramadan on Ruby Avenue, in a prayer room separate from the women’s, one of the imams casually mentioned through the intercom that anyone from the congregation can call the azaan. I turned to my mother and announced, “I’m going to call the azaan on Sunday.”

She stared at me for a few minutes, and I added, “He said anyone!” I knew, however, as well as she did, that he’d only meant the men in the other room whose presence he could appreciate. The message was not intended for me. We do not exist. Earlier that week the imam had asked for feedback on whether maghrib should begin 10 minutes or 15 minutes after iftari.

“10 minutes,” I had voted softly in the women’s section in vain. We were in a different room, deliberately could not be heard, and would not be counted.

“10 minutes!” shouted several of the men. For some reason, they always shouted, as though the imam couldn’t hear them two feet away. At any opportunity they would then of course proceed to complain that the women were too loud.

But the imam had said anyone and should be held accountable for his words. After all, if he meant to exclude women, he ought to have said so. He should hear himself say it, hear how terrible it sounds. There is a reason none of the men have the courage to say these things out loud. They quietly go about them instead, self-liberated from the burden of forming words from their actions to give them consciousness.

“I don’t know if he meant women…” my mother responded.

“He ought to be more explicit with his sexism then.”

“I’ll ask him for you tomorrow. It would also depend on if the community allows it. It’s not just his masjid alone you know.”

I had prior arrangements to meet a friend for dinner and wasn’t able to attend the prayers at the masjid with her the day she sought an answer. After tarabee when my mother returned, I would let her rest and not disturb her. So, the soonest was Sunday morning when, stumbling downstairs half-asleep, too eager to bother waking up completely, I asked her whether I would be calling the azaan that night.

My mother is naturally soft-spoken, but this time, she made a point to lower her voice. “I asked the hafiz’s wife to ask him if you can call the azaan, and she responded that he said that since you were once a student of his, you should come to him so that he could explain to you why women can’t give the azaan, and you would understand.”

I never imagined I would, but I started to cry. I was so angry. I told her I would never go back (but for her, of course I did), that there was no reason for me to go to a place that doesn’t want me there, that I don’t want to hear his “explanations.” I’ve heard all of them before. On Fridays, my little brother uses my material for his khutbahs—because I can’t. I told her I would not speak to the imam.

“Please don’t be this way,” my mother pleaded. “Come with me. Stop crying; you are fasting and you cannot lose water.”

I could not stop. I didn’t care how much water I lost. It was an insignificant detail to what I felt and I was not thinking of it. There might have possibly been a very small part of me that genuinely believed I would call the azaan. How could a masjid situated in such a beautiful place, a place where the air shifted and somehow always felt misty, where there used to be a tire swing that would fill with water and that I’d run to as a child, be so unjust?

“How was the dinner yesterday?” my mother asked.

“It went well. I was allowed to speak during it. …It’s better than the masjid.” I began to cry again.

“You seem to be well-loved,” my mother said. “I mentioned that you were fond of a certain dish that was being served at the masjid and all of the aunties wanted to fill plates of it for me to take home to you.”

Vision still blurred with tears, I asked my friends to pray that I don’t burst into tears over a plate of samosas later that night at the masjid iftari. My mother returned to clarify that the imam’s actual words were, “Yes, she can. But… since she was once one of my students, tell her to come to me. I’ll explain to her why a woman can’t give the azaan.”

He might have been implying that it would create too much of an uproar in the community… even if it were the truth. But I didn’t care enough to find out what he’d meant.

Upon hearing all this, one of my two little brothers, three years my junior, who follows me around frequently to pester me with Islamic questions, texted me, “Am I a plagiarist?” I responded he was free to use my material as long as he acted according to the spirit of what he lectured. After all, I never protested before, even when he softened the blow of my words… which circumstance compelled of him, always.

The day before I decided to pray in the men’s section, my brother stood in the hallway outside my room with an awkward expression on his face. “They [some of the younger girls at the masjid] were telling me they weren’t allowed to pray on their periods,” he recounted to me, “and I told them, actually they could if they wanted. And they were like NO, you can’t. And I was like, but it’s not in the Qur’an; if you want to make something haraam you have to show the verse.”

My eyebrows furrowed in subtle protest of a man “educating” a woman on her menstrual cycle. At the same time it was unique that he was not disgusted with the subject. But I already knew where this was going. As admired a Quran reciter my brother was in the community, he did not have the power of age to pull this off.

He continued. “And they were like, my mom says you can’t. …And one of them went up to her mom and asked! And her mom said, no he’s wrong. And strange. Don’t talk to him. She told her not to talk to me!”

I laughed, “Well yeah, don’t bring up girls’ periods like you know better.”

“But I didn’t! They brought it up first! To me! They brought it up to me! It’s not like I was some random guy! But now I look like some random guy going up to women like, hey, did you know you could pray during your periods?”

I laughed a little harder. My brother had also been a student of the imam, and a much admired one by the community. He gave khutbahs (even if the materials were mine) and recitations. It was peculiar and hilarious to hear that he had weirded out masjid aunties.

We left earlier for the masjid than usual, almost as soon as I returned from the office. It was a Sunday, so we were expecting a crowd and few parking spaces. For iftar I had only a date. I’d gotten into the habit of eating very little for iftari. I don’t pray with the imam, because I don’t pray behind men, and certainly not behind walls, which act like the sutras that we place in front of us when we pray to prevent interruption of our prayers by those walking in front of us—therefore severing us from the imam leading on the other side, rending our prayers dismembered and incomplete. Instead, I finish the salah before the imam starts. This requires fast eating, or little to no eating. I go with the latter.

One time, I overheard a sister ask my mom, “What [prayer] is your daughter praying?” while the women were waiting for the imam to begin.

My mother had responded, “Oh no, she is praying maghrib… she…” —nervous laughter—“she just doesn’t think prayer should be hindered so she prays immediately after iftari.” This excuse was less controversial; it made me look like a quiet, pious young woman who was eager to pray immediately after iftar rather than a troublemaking feminist rebel.

There is nothing I could do to not be a spectacle. Although everyone at the masjid breaks their fast as the azaan starts, I always wait for it to finish. The first couple of times this happened, a few of the women repeated to me that it was time to break the fast. I smiled and said, “I’m listening to the azaan.” One of them gave me a strange look. “You don’t have to wait.”

“I know. I believe it’s nice.”

Since the masjid is under construction, we had iftari several feet away in a very large, spacious tent outside, so it was difficult to hear the azaan that was called from the inside. (Nevertheless, I was still not allowed to call it.) I waited, straining to hear that it had finished, consumed the date, and then quickly slipped out of the tent.

Some of the congregants who don’t fit inside spill out onto the deck, where the women pray behind the men (as opposed to an entirely separate room like the arrangement on the inside.) This is only a Sunday community iftar phenomenon, when the masjid is most packed.

As usual, I started praying maghrib long before the imam began—this time in the men’s section outside on the expansive deck, so that I would be finished before the rest of men came. The summer air was cool and lovely.

When I was almost done, with 2 rakat nafl left, a man attempted an aggressive “Excuse me!” but I started the takbeer for nafl before he could say anything else. Frustrated, he walked behind me to the sisters, who hadn’t been there when I’d begun but had gathered in a line in the back as I was finishing, and he said to them, “Excuse me, when she’s done can you make sure she moves back? We need this space.”

(There was plenty of space.)

One of sisters laughed and answered, “Uh, yeah, that’s why she’s, uh, yeah.”

I finished just as the imam started, turned to leave and saw 2 entire rows of women formed far in the back, staring wide-eyed at me across the safe gap they’d maintained, and I descended down the stairs as the rest of the men who’d been waiting for me to end the prayer ascended. In the sky, Saturn could be observed beneath the moon, and so could Venus and Jupiter. My heart leapt.

On the way home, I asked my mother in the car, “Are you mad at me?”

“No. Why would I be mad at you?”

I was straining her reputation, I knew it. Once, during maghrib, my hijab kept sliding off, because it was heavy and jeweled and the fabric shimmered, so I tossed it to the ground where it was inclined. I finished the prayer sans hijab, with my hair falling in dark curls around my neck during sejda. I did not look around to see who was gaping at me in disapproval. When I turned to bid salaam to the angels, I saw only that the women were preoccupied with themselves. MashAllah. My mother, though, had winced, as these behaviors are magnified when it is your own daughter, though she related that she understood the hijab would not stay.

But this, this was a whole new level of a transgression. It didn’t matter that I technically wasn’t in the way of the men, that I had started before the imam and finished before him so that the men only had to wait a few moments to start forming lines. (Regardless of the fact that they really didn’t have to wait, and it was their arrogance that prevented them from lining up beside me, even if on the other end of the same row, leaving a wide distance in between.) They missed no part of the prayer. What mattered was that I was a different creeping shariah—a quiet challenge, out of order, a threat. I’m too young to have the advantage of the masjid aunties, with whom no one messes, and they were not going to support me either.

The next morning, my brother reported to me, “My reputation is ruined.”

“Why?” I asked, thinking for a second it was because of me.

“I’m known as Menstrual Man.”

I laughed, “Who calls you Menstrual Man?”

“I call myself Menstrual Man. They call me Period Man.”

His renovation did have a better ring to it. He continued, meekly laughing at himself, “One of the girls showed me a hadith to prove that she was right, so I sent her some links to show that I was right too.”

I opened and closed my eyes.

“And my friend was like, dude, you went back?! And I said, yeah, I mean if they’re already going to ridicule me I might as well substantiate my perspective with some evidence. And he was like, yeah, go down a martyr.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Just tell them you got it from me and it won’t be so weird.”

“Well, you’re already a weirdo for wanting to do the azaan so I don’t know how much that would help.”

“I meant because I’m a girl, dunderhead,” I said crossly. “You have a sister, who menstruates.”

To justify women forced to the back, men cite a hadith by Abu Huraira, a renowned sexist and a liar. Imam Zarkashi in al-Ijaba writes, “They told ‘A’isha that Abu Hurayra was asserting that the Messenger of God said: ‘Three things bring bad luck: house, woman, and horse.’ ‘A’isha responded: ‘Abu Hurayra learned his lessons very badly. He came into our house when the Prophet was in the middle of a sentence. He heard only the end of it. What the Prophet said was: ‘May Allah refuse the Jews; they say three things bring bad luck: house, woman, and horse.’”

The same misogynist who was consistently refuted by an angry ‘A’isha reported that the Messenger said, “The best of the rows of men is the first and the worst is the last. And, the best of the rows of women is the last and the worst of them is the first.”

For men, attending the masjid prayers is emphasized as crucial; women are allowed the flexibility to pray at home if they wish. If the Prophet even ever said this, I believe he said it to mean that if women are in the front, it signifies that men were late to the prayer, and women were faster than them. It was meant to ensure that the men were prompt.

So if I get there first, I have a right to pray there. It does not mean that you should push me to the back to accommodate your tardiness. (Who’re you fooling? You weren’t there first.)

“Nahida,” said my mother gently after she called me to her bedroom. “I’m going to ask something of you and I hope very much that you’ll listen—”

I already knew what was happening. “No.”

“No?”

“You want me to stop praying in the men’s section.”

She was quiet, and then she said, “Please.”

“Why? Do you care about what people say?”

“It’s not that. They already think we’re a dysfunctional mess… I don’t want to fuel it.” And here she did not even know about my brother the Menstrual Man. “Please, you can still pray without the imam.”

There are several times, regarding what I wore or where I traveled, during which I disregard my mother’s insistence and live as I please, but I would always ensure it did not hurt her. This time, I succumbed to her request.

“This is against my religion,” I said.

“I know.”

“And I’m right.”

“It doesn’t seem to matter.”

Where could I pray? I wracked my brain for possibilities. Not inside the women’s room, behind a wall. Not on the deck, behind men. Not in the tent, where I would need to wait for everyone to leave after iftari first and thus delay the prayer. Not in the wilderness I love, though it is ideally situated behind the masjid, in the direction all the men face so that I would be in front of them, where the qibla was closest, because at the thought of snakes after sunset, my mother would surely prevent me.

I didn’t mind the idea of a couple of snakebites, which frankly sound far more appealing than this. I didn’t mind the wild plants we as children had referred to as spiders’ eggs because they erupted what looked like tiny dead spider children either. But that was it. Those were all my options and I’d run out. There was no where for me to pray.

In my ideal masjid, families pray together. It seems anti-Islamic to tear them apart. These are parts of Islam that are integral to my being. I can not freely practice them. I thought of Ibrahim’s sacrifice, his defiance of his fathers who worshipped idols, of tradition, of patriarchy. I thought of his sacrifice of his son, whom he made sure consented. There are many more sacrifices, by women in the Quran, countless sacrifices, time and time again, that are not considered sacrifice—but just things to expect of women.

This would be one of them.

Removed from Societal Context: Verse 33:53, the Veil, and the role of Umar

Umar, the only corrupted caliph of the first four, publicized stoning as a punishment for adultery, a penal ordinance that does not appear in the Qur’an and was delivered by the Prophet in cases when the adulterer was non-Muslim, such as the case of a Jewish woman in Medina whose people had agreed to an Islamic government only if it were separated from Jewish law. The Prophet, in order to keep peace and maintain religious freedom by recognizing non-Muslim laws among the residents he governed, allowed Jewish citizens to maintain their own sub-courts. However, association of stoning with Islamic law was promulgated by Umar after the Prophet’s death.

Unsurprisingly, Umar was known to be cruel to his wives and to physically assault them. Attempting to confine women to their homes, Umar also sought to deter women from attending prayers at the mosques, and, though he failed to accomplish this, managed temporarily to assign not only separate groups but separate imams for men and women. Although the men were led by an imam of their own sex, the women, of course, were led not by a female imam but a male one. They were also prevented from being imams themselves, though while the Prophet was alive, a woman—Umm Waraqa—was appointed to lead both men and women in prayer. This separation arrangement was revoked by the succeeding caliph, Uthman.

Part of Umar’s agenda to confine women to separate quarters manifested in his prohibition for Muhammad’s wives to go on pilgrimage, from which they had not been forbidden while the Prophet was alive. He lifted the restriction the year before he died, but the (historically influential) damage of this and other laws was done. It was not the first time that Umar sought to regulate the behaviors of women by restricting their ability to travel or interact with the opposite sex; while Muhammad was alive, Umar insisted that the Prophet separate his wives from himself, as was the practice of wealthy leaders. Umar was initially unsuccessful with this, as Muhammad did not have his own separate room but shared different rooms with his wives on different nights. While it is true that Muhammad’s wives were harassed by hypocrites who would attempt to assault them, Umar’s proposed solution (that the wives make themselves unrecognizable as the Prophet’s wives by separating themselves from the Prophet) was different from God’s—which was the veil.

But unlike what is commonly understood as the function of the veil, the purpose of the hijab is to separate the intimacy between a wedded couple from the patriarchal intrusions of the outside world. When the Prophet married Zeynab bint Jahsh, a woman renowned for her incredible beauty, he was quietly frustrated by indiscreet male guests who overstayed their welcome, and—as the verse curiously notes that none of the Prophet’s wives are permissible to other men—may have been meddling for indecent reasons. The verse reads,

O you who have believed!
do not enter
the houses of the Prophet
except when you are permitted for a meal,
without awaiting its readiness.
But when you are invited,
then enter;
and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking
to remain for conversation.
Indeed, that [behavior] was troubling the Prophet,
and he is shy of [dismissing] you.
But God is not shy of
the truth.
And when you ask [his wives] for something,
ask them from behind a partition.
That is purer for your hearts and their hearts.
And it is not conceivable or lawful for you
to harm the Messenger of God
or to marry his wives after him
, ever.
Indeed, that would be in the sight of God an enormity.
(33:53)

It is clear from context then that the notion of whether the men were inappropriately interested in the new bride is not one that is out of question. This opens the verse to the possibility of an abstract interpretation: a veil over the heart, to ensure its purity.

Fawzia Afzal-Khan writes in “A Feminist Reclamation of Islam?” the following:

“The verse on the hijab descended at precisely the moment when the Prophet’s desire to consummate his marriage to the beautiful Zeynab was frustrated by the boorish behavior of his male guests who kept sitting in his living room long after the wedding banquet was over, and who the overly polite (“bordering on timid” as Mernissi describes him)—prophet of Islam, simply could not muster up enough courage to ask to leave. Finally, when they did depart, one male companion still hovered around, by the name of Anas Ibn Malik, and it is he who reported the event of the revelation of the verse about hijab as a witness.

Thus, according to Mernissi, the circumstances of this revelation point to an understanding of the notion of hijab as a tool to protect the intimacy of the wedded pair—their privacy—and to do so by excluding a third person, the man named Anas. He becomes a symbol, then, of a male dominant community that had become too invasive in the life and personal affairs of the prophet.”

This means that the hijab, in the most traditional sense, is meant to serve as a sanctuary against patriarchy; and not in the wear-this-and-you-will-be-protected-from-the-male-gaze kind of way accorded by mainstream, contemporary interpretations of Islam. Rather, it is meant to preserve the private expression and pursuit of Divine Love within a marriage from the overbearing reach of patriarchal exhibitionism.

Originally intended to keep out overbearing men, like Umar who attempt to tell other men how to behave toward their wives and seek to seclude them, from the privacy of quiet, marital understanding, the veil, over the centuries, has been misconstrued as a symbol of the exclusive rights of a husband to the beauty of his wife. In reality, the husband is included behind the veil, encompassed in a shield of love, and protected from the bellicose forces of masculine performance and societal expectations. Umar, patriarchy embodied, had attempted numerous times to impose the patriarchal practices of pre-Islamic societies and of the surrounding cultures onto Muhammad—an infamous preoccupation of the patriarchal male.

The hijab-literally ‘curtain’—‘descended,’ not to put a barrier between A man and a woman, but between two men.

(Mernissi 85)

A woman’s beauty, of course, belongs to no one, and can be policed by no one. Umar had tried—for the rest of time Umars will continue, in vain, to try.

Prophet Maryam and Her Successor, the Prophet Muhammad

Although I’ve already written about Maryam as our Prophetess, I’d like to expand on her significance by comparing the cosmological role of our Prophet Muhammad to that of our Prophetess Maryam. There are several interesting parallels between Maryam and Muhammad; the first and most obvious is not only that both recieved word from the Archangel Jibril (Gabriel) of their Prophethoods, but that the reactions of these two Prophets to that word are strikingly similiar. When Muhammad is greeted by the Angel, he is terrified until he comes to recognize the entity; the Prophet had, at first, run frantically down the moutain. Likewise, when the Angel approaches Maryam, she cries,

“Indeed, I seek refuge
in the Most Merciful
from you, so leave me
if you fear God!”

until her visitor responds,

“I am only a messenger
of God to bring you news
of a child.” (19:18)

But what is more intriguing is the dialogue that takes place. Maryam proceeds to ask,

“How can I birth a child
when I am a virgin?” (19:20)

while Muhammad, when commanded to “Read!” at the revelation of Surah Iqra, responds, bewildered, “But I cannot read.”

The Prophet was indeed illiterate, and in this exchange his illiteracy plays the same role as Maryam’s virginity. This response, “I cannot read,” is paralleled with Maryam’s, “How can I birth a child when no mortal has touched me?”

Since Islam does not elevate the Maryam’s virginity to the extent that it is certainly elevated in other faiths accepting her as a religious figure, the Islamic approach to Maryam’s virginity is the same as its approach to Muhammad’s illiteracy. In other words, these two states are considered neither particularly virtuous nor are they frowned upon. They are merely the conditions in which these historical figures existed before greeted by the Divine. I am not entirely comfortable in drawing the theory that Muhammad’s illiteracy and Maryam’s virginity are symbolic of spiritual receptiveness to the Word of God, that the absence (of literacy and sexual experience) of each of these “worldy pretenses” made each Prophet the most receptive vessel, unobstructed by human finitude, for the Word of God to be Delivered–for Maryam, God’s Word in childbirth, and through Muhammad, God’s Word in the Qur’an–but it is nonetheless one to be considered.

A second parallel is the cleansing of both Prophets before the creation of the universe and all that exists. A hadith reads, “There is none born among the offspring of humankind that Satan does not touch; a child, therefore, cries loudly at the time of birth because of the touch of Satan, except Maryam and her child.” (Sahih Bukhari) This is an indication that both Maryam and her son are free of sin, like Muhammad who is distinguished by his isma, protection from moral depravity: “Did We not expand your bosom?” (Qur’an 94:1) so that the Messenger of the Qur’an could convey the message without error. Our Prophet’s heart is cleansed during his ascendance through the Heavens, and several hadiths, in which this described concept has been meditated upon by mystics, read that the Prophet existed before the very creation of the first human being, and several hadiths read that “the first thing God created [when Adam was still between water and clay] was my [the Prophet’s] Light.” As the Prophet is distinguished as exceptional compared to all humankind, so is the declaration made for Maryam at her birth,

“When she [the mother of Maryam] had delivered,
she said: “O my Lord! Behold! I am delivered
of a female child!”—and God knew best
what she delivered—
And no wise is the male
like the female.

I have named her Maryam (Mary), and I commend her
and her offspring to
Thy protection from the Evil One, the Rejected.” (3:36)

Just as the Qur’an is protected from defect through the protection of the purity of Muhammad from moral depravity, so is Prophet Isa’s protection from Satan invoked in the same protection of his mother.

What are then, the cosmological and mystical implications of both these figures? It is no accident that the Prophetess and the Prophet have inspired the same passionate praise and meditative repose among those who follow them and submit to God. One of the most fundamental attributes of the Prophet is his Light, believed to be a direct reflection of the Light of God, the noor of Muhammad is so close to God that Muhammad is Loved if God is Loved. Likewise Maryam, who occupies the realm of the Womb, is tied closely, almost inextricably, to the realm of the Divine, as made clear in 4:1. Prophet Isa, son of Maryam, is secondary to his mother, as the Qur’an reads he declares,

“I am a servant of God;
God has given me a Book and made me
a Prophet,
and blessed me and enjoined upon me
prayer and charity
and made me dutiful
to my mother
who bore me
.” (19:30-32)

There are two things to take away from this: (1) Prophet Isa was made dutiful to his mother, which has interestingly never been interpreted as a Divine Ordination of matriarchy (though Isma’il’s dutifulness to God has been conveniently misread as dutifulness to Ibrahim as a patriarch), and (2) although it is true the conception was Immaculate, it is emphasized over and over in the Qur’an that Isa is the son of Maryam: she, alone, birthed him, harnessing the Divine powers manifested in the realm of the womb and acting singularly (without a man) to perform a miracle, a sign of the Prophets.

And Maryam is most certainly a Prophet. Whether she can be called a Messenger, having carried and delivered the Word of God in the form of a human being, just as Muhammad delivered the word of God as the Qur’an, is a decision I personally haven’t made and will leave up to you, dear readers. One thing is certain: Maryam, and Asiya, and Eve, and the numerous women who inarguably qualify as Prophets demonstrate with their capacities that the distinction between a Prophet and a Messenger is hazy and not so distinct, and more uncertain than widely defined.

I propose that there is an entire league of female Prophets who transcend patriarchal categorizations of Divine Interaction.

Men Need to Learn to Read Nonverbal Cues

This post is actually a primer to another post I’ll get around to writing sometime, in which I make the argument that that there are racial and sexual implications in men (physically or otherwise) attacking women’s hair. In this particular post there are two themes: the importance of reading nonverbal cues (which is incidental) and the adamant denial by men that their less overtly sexual actions are tempered by any kind of sexual desire or rage. The reason I point this out is because I know there is going to be some jackass out there who accuses me of thinking so highly of myself that I would assume a man physically attacking my hair is sexualizing me without my consent. But that is exactly what he is doing, under the guise of non-sexualized violence.

You see, when it comes to anything related to male desire trumping your personhood, men do this thing, where they think they’re really subtle. A strange man will walk up to a woman, start a seemingly innocuous conversation, and even though the woman knows what he wants, she has to tolerate this until he has revealed his intentions. She can’t ask him to leave her alone immediately, because then he can dismissively assert that she is presumptuous of his actions and thinks too highly of herself. If she rejects his advances too quickly, before they are obvious, he will pretend he never made them and insist that she’s so stuck up that she’s delusional. So she has to put up with this entire mind-numbingly inane conversation, until he finally asks for her number or whether she’d go out with him, and that’s when she’s “allowed” to turn him down. She may not be straight with him and turn him down before, or else she’s conceited (because he was never going to ask, supposedly.) Even though she’s right. Every time.

Every woman reading this knows what I’m talking about. Every single one.

I didn’t know how to describe this before, but I know I’ve read scattered stories in different contexts on the web before I categorized these incidents as belonging to the same phenomenon–one woman recounts the time that a man asked her to dance, and, upon her turning down the offer, he proceeded to claim that she misheard him and he was really telling her she looked fat. In addition to these sorts of examples of men denying they’ve made an advance I can, unfortunately, provide an example myself. When I was around 15, I was friends with someone whom I’d like to believe was generally a good person. He had a bit of an impish, mischievous quality to him, however, which would have been fine if he’d had the sense to know when it was fine.

This friend of mine was between girlfriends. He’d had a number of failed relationships, and although I never told him–he never asked and I do not assert my opinions about why people fail at relationships when those opinions have not been invited–I’d detected it was because he had a fear of losing his independence. Subsequently, I knew the kind of woman with whom he was compatible; she would have to have enough to do in her own life to not care if he didn’t call for weeks.

Although we were friends, I was rather detached with him. I didn’t do this on purpose. When I actually interact with someone, I can be very intense–but I can also disappear for months. The disappearing act isn’t malicious, and it isn’t something I do to be enticing (and certainly wasn’t to entice him); I’m just that kind of person. You know the type. The introvert who needs her time in solitude. I am explaining that I didn’t do this to attract him because, although the complete disregard for my lack of consent to what he tried to do next renders whether I wanted to appear attractive to him or not irrelevant, the fact that I wasn’t trying to attract him speaks volumes about how he either (1) was so self-absorbed he thought otherwise or–even worse–(2) that he didn’t care. That in that moment, his desires trumped mine.

Let’s talk for a minute about that first theory. I happened to be someone who didn’t “threaten” his independence, so he wrongly believed that, because I was the Right Kind of Girl for him (according to his own assessment–I would have disagreed), I must have existed for him. He never considered that the reason I didn’t impose as an obstacle to his independence was because I had more important things to do, and that that meant I had my own life, and, you know, preferences. No, when a man notices you have certain qualities, he thinks you have them for him.

So there we were, one perfectly normal day, when he tells me to come closer. Being 15 (he was 16), I was familiar enough with childhood uses of this line to expect some kind of practical joke. To make things more suspicious, it was an odd request considering we were talking–which meant I was standing rather close to him already. But, to give him the benefit of the doubt (that maybe he was about to tell me a secret) I inched a centimeter closer. He asked me three more times for me to come closer still, and I laughed and refused. (“No, what is it?”)

And then he tried to kiss me.

I knew seconds before he dove from the look in his eyes that it was going to happen. I turned my head. His lips landed on my cheek instead. At this, he looked surprised, and he tilted his head back and laughed awkwardly, and then walked off to class.

I stared after him, fuming and confused.

When he approached me the next day, I addressed the issue directly. “Did you try to kiss me?” I demanded. My tone might have not been the friendliest.

“It wasn’t a kiss,” he grinned. “I was going for a head bump.”

I shook my head slightly, without breaking the deadliest lock in eye contact I’d ever delivered. “And now you’re insulting my intelligence,” I concluded coolly. “You’d best be careful.”

“Come on, Nahida. Trust me, if I tried to kiss you, I would not have missed.”

You tried to kiss me. And you missed.

Years later, at the age of 18, I agreed to meet him at a cafe. As we walked down the street after coffee, he glanced at me and said, “Can I confess something to you?”

Since I’d already forgiven him for the incident the moment after it happened (not for the denial of it) I calmly walked on alongside him.

“Remember that time you thought I tried to kiss you and I said it was a head bump?” He paused. “I… tried to kiss you.”

I didn’t say anything.

“Nahida?” he asked.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were so pretty,” he answered nonsensically, “and mysterious. I was really attracted to you. I still am.”

That explained nothing. I looked away from him. “I wouldn’t have been mad.” It was true. I was horrified that he tried to kiss me, but I was more angry that he tried to deny it.

The denial was an explicit demonstration that he cared more about keeping his ego pieced together than coming to terms with the fact that he’d done something wrong and apologizing.

The attempted kiss itself wasn’t the worst thing a man had ever done. If he’d ever discussed anything of the sort with me, he would have known that unless I explicitly expressed interest in someone it was NOT okay to try and kiss me. But he was 16. And he did not persist when I made an obvious indication that it was undesired. Let me make it clear these are not excuses; pointing this out is only an exercise of human sympathy, which even a ball-busting feminist like yours truly is capable of feeling. It was understandable, but it still a Whole System of Wrong.

I shouldn’t have had to say ‘no’ by dodging him;–I should have had the opportunity to say ‘no’ preemptive to the attempt. And I did. The reluctance to come closer, the eyes looking past him, the clenched mouth–they were all signals.

Of course, he couldn’t read them. Didn’t want to.

But I had been willing to forgive all of that. Because he was 16. Because he did not persist after I made it obvious. Because he’d been conditioned to ignore body language unless it was obvious. But what I couldn’t settle easy was the fact that he denied making the unwanted advance. He had not only saved his ego–he had done so by essentially calling a potential victim of assault a liar.

And that, I knew, was deadly. It was the deadliest. It was worse than the attempted kiss.

Men need to learn nonverbal cues; they also need to learn to own up to their mistakes. The fact that he denied making an advance, just as it does in the woman who must patiently tolerate an entire conversation when she knows already where it is headed, grated on my nerves more than the fact that a friend of mine tried to kiss me. Had he read the nonverbal cues, or cared about them, the mistake wouldn’t have been made, and had men not such enormous egos that they believed a woman’s rejection is the worst thing that can happen to them, plenty of women wouldn’t have to recover from not only the discomfort of a dodged assault but from essentially being invalidated of the truth of that experience.

Being able to read nonverbal cues is an indication of high intelligence, but because it is a rather feminine indication of high intelligence, it is misconstrued as exactly the opposite: the woman who preemptively rejects a man’s advances is made out to be so conceited she’s in fact stupid–because of course he wasn’t hitting on you, you airhead.

When, actually, she’s much, much smarter than you—not only in predicting that you’re about to make an advance, but calling out your bullshit when you deny it.

Coming into play with this is also the cultural expectation that women are supposed to be oblivious to a man’s advances. We are conditioned to believe that this “innocence” (and, in most cases, feigned unintelligence) is an attractive quality, and a woman who lets on that she’s smart enough to know what a man is thinking is unacceptably boorish. And has figured out the patriarchy. Which makes her of course, extremely dangerous.

“When are you getting married?” or, Why We Need Married Heroines

While I was East Coasting it recently, the 10-year-old daughter of one of my friends dashed through the door of my hotel room and flipped herself onto the bed. “Where have you BEEN?”

Everywhere. The answer was everywhere. But seeing as I don’t live anywhere near her, it was a peculiar question. I ran my fingers through the hair she’d spilt over the comforter. “In space, darling,” I nearly sang.

“No really!” she insisted, pushing against me to sit up. “You never visit.”

“I’m visiting now.”

“No, only because you have work to do, so you’re not really visiting,” she added, “and you never pick up the phone—”

At this I blushed a little. Guilty as charged.

“I wish I could travel places. I wish I could visit my friends everywhere. And wear perfume. And lipstick. And bring presents,”—she hugged the gift I’d given her—“and have roses in my room and a beautiful calm voice and fly away and make everyone miss me.”

Struck with a combination of shock and protest, I suddenly realized how she saw me. I watched her, remembering what it was like to be 10—frustrated, imprisoned, full of desires I could not name.

“I miss you,” I said gently.

“I’m not really anyone to you, though, am I?”

Ow, kid. 

“Is something wrong, love?”

“I can’t explain it.” She asked suddenly, “When are you getting married?”

“Why would I get married? You’re the love of my life,” I cooed.

“What if you get married and you disappear?”

“I wouldn’t I’d still come—”

“No, I mean what if you get married and you stop wearing dresses like that,” she patted my thigh, just above where the form-fitting black dress ended, “and wearing perfume and playing music?”

“Why would I stop doing any of those things?” I asked.

“Because married women are boring.”

She didn’t know it, but she’d touched on a concern of mine. Not that I would ever become boring (unless I’m boring now, because I am certain I will be exactly the same) but that somehow my life would be less significant, of less importance, or potential impact and promise, that I would mean less, cease to be the heroine of any novel. After all, what novel doesn’t dispose of its heroine after her marriage?

“What if my husband is kidnapped?” I asked.

“Well, that would be highly extraordinary,” she remarked doubtfully.

“What if I think he’s dead because I saw him fall into a river, but really he was pushed, and the river is an entrance to another dimension opened by people like him, who can manipulate space, and have locked him there in order to merge together all existing universes and cause chaos for humankind?”

I was roughly reciting off a manuscript written by one of my classmates, the only writer I know to make a married woman in her early 20s the main character of her novel. Until I’d read the manuscript I hadn’t realized I needed it. It wasn’t just that it was a young married woman—it was that it was a novel written for young adults. It was a young married woman whose biggest issue wasn’t her baking contest or her husband’s infidelity or the mysterious murder of her neighbors like some cheap soap opera. It was a woman who travelled dimensions to rescue her husband and thought everything was ridiculous.

“Married women aren’t like that,” she said, though sounding uncertain of herself. “But… you… can be like that. I see it.” She reached out and moved a dangly earring I was wearing, as though to inspect it for otherworld-suitability.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about,” I said in a soothing tone. “Would you like some tea?”

“Yes! Mom never lets me drink tea!”

“Is that so? Maybe I shouldn’t…”

“No! Please!

“Okay.”

As I ripped open tea bags, she jumped off the bed. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“I will never have a boyfriend. I don’t use that word.”

“Then what word do you use? How should I ask?”

“Ask me if I’m in love.”

“Are you in love?”

“I’m in love with everything,” I announced.

She sighed, evidently unsatisfied. “No, I mean really. You never answer my questions.”

“I answer your questions all the time! Just yesterday you called and asked what’s on the other side of space and I spent half an hour answering your question. I love your questions.”

“You don’t answer them when they’re about you.” She moved to a chair and dangled her legs. “We had sex ed in class today.”

“Oh? I forgot you skipped a grade.” I poured hot water.

“Can I ask you a really really personal question? Like really personal.”

“You’ve been off to a good start, haven’t you?” I teased.

She swallowed a mouthful of air. “Have you lost your virginity?”

“No. And I don’t use that word either.”

“What do you say then?”

“Sexual debut?” and when she giggled I turned to her with a look. “Really?” Although, I wasn’t sure about the term myself.

“I’m trying not to giggle,” she said, attempting to straighten her face.

“No, that’s okay,” I flipped a section of hair over my shoulder decidedly. “Do what you want.”

“I guess we’re not supposed to until we’re married right?”

“Be careful, it’s hot.”

Right?” she pressed.

“Certainly, if that’s what you believe.”

“I don’t know what I believe. Just what people say I believe.”

“Well I’m glad you can recognize that. One day you’ll decide if you believe it.”

“Do you believe it?”

“Whether or not that’s an accurate interpretation of Islam doesn’t make much of a difference to me in terms of how I live.”

“You always do whatever you want.” Her voice sounded distant. “I hope I don’t disappear after I’m married.”

“Now listen to me.” I was done. “This is important. Your value is not dependent on whether you are still available to other men. Do you understand? You don’t just disappear because you’ve got a ring on your finger.” I was suddenly fuming, remembering a particularly horrendous episode of How I Met Your Mother. And Scrubs. And every comedy ever that tried pulling the same running gag in which a woman literally vanishes off screen as she slips on her ring. “Your availability is not something you contribute to society. It is not something that makes you important, or valuable, or a person—it’s not something anyone should even think to care about. You are not a commodity to lose all value when you’re ‘off the market.’ Whether you are available to men is absolutely and despicably meaningless. Only the worst of people think otherwise. Do you understand?”

Well, do you?