Collecting Myself

One of my jobs is court reporting. It’s just something I do on the side, to afford—as Misha describes—“Spending too much money irresponsibly on questionable mermaid purchases, like literally I feel like you have entire closets of full of random heels and mermaid dresses and random shiny mirrors and galaxy jewelry and crescent moon regalia. And you are always wondering wtfluff happened to your mermaid card balance.” This is not my fault. How else would I stun her?

Red lipstick costs $$$, so your girl really hustles.

The task is essentially to document sometimes heartwrecking accounts. So there I sit besides the judge, typing away while dripping in water that no one can see, blinking it casually from my eyelashes as claimants struggling to obtain disability recount their suicidal thoughts in excruciating detail. We are supposed to guard our facial expressions of course.

I am very absorbent with people’s emotions. When I’m fully immersed/invested in something, I tend to run my hand through my hair and flip the dark length of it to the side. This is not a typical universal warning sign, but my large watery eyes are, and I could have sworn when I first started training that the judge was a filter away from turning around and asking in a very stern tone, “Ms. Nisa, are you alright?” in a remember-yourself-at-once sort of way.

“I am,” I would have responded in a translucent tone.

It is undeniable from this position—I mean, even physically, from this position, where I am literally sitting beside the judge in a courtroom—how much our society has failed so many people. There is a poignant sense of dysfunction in expecting people who have worked harder their entire lives than we have and suffered so much physical pain and emotional turmoil, to recount their experiences and justify that they are deserving to those who cannot begin to understand. The judges at least seem compassionate.

And it reminds me that you just can’t argue empathy at people. They feel it or they don’t. If you have to explain your humanity to a person, they will not understand it. I am so grateful for whom I’ve become, for recognizing when arguing empathy to a person is not a productive use of my time and is not reconciled with the deep love I have for myself. MashaAllah.

I wouldn’t care if my soulmate didn’t want me.

There is no doubt in my mind that the outraged attitudes of men toward rejection are sourced to entitlement, not pain, and certainly not love. However, in the likely event that anyone would plead otherwise, I am going to state outright that I would not care if my soulmate didn’t want me.

“You’ve never had that experience!” someone shouts accusingly from the back. To which I would respond, how dare you insult the capacity of my imagination, imaginary person—I imagined you, so what kind of self-drag is this. And also, that if I haven’t, then for all I know, he doesn’t.

The fact of the matter is that, in order to dismiss it, anyone could think up a million scenarios more preposterous than my statement that I wouldn’t care if my soulmate didn’t want me, such as if your soulmate doesn’t want you, then he wouldn’t be your soulmate (dehumanizing and easy) and you’re just saying that because you haven’t met him (presumptuous and besides the point). Perhaps out of all of these, the only reasonable allegation is that “wouldn’t care” is too dismissive for accuracy, but the sentiment remains. My simple truth is that I believe a man can be my soulmate and not want me, that I would want him to have the choice to not want me, and that what I would proceed to do is continue to wonder whether or not I am in fact four-dimensional.

Dear reader, I remembered earlier this week a game we used to play in grade school that involved cutting a square smaller than a quarter into a sheet of paper, then attempting to pass the quarter through the tiny square. It is impossible, until the page is folded, upon which the square begins to gape and the coin passes through easily. Of course, this works because a piece of paper is a two-dimensional object that exists in our three-dimensional world, allowing it to disappear into the third dimension when folded, and thereby permitting the coin to pass.

I want to disappear into every dimension there is. Realistically I am absolutely impenetrable. But if I could—fold dimensions deep inside of me that I did not know I ever had—all of shears of Light could pass through me until I—until I were nothing and every moving planetary body at once.

Free will is such a glorious thing, and the only home in which love can reside, and considering how important it is in the Qur’an I should think my preposterous little statement were not… so preposterous, is it?

An agent declined my manuscript recently, saying my language was too flowery for her taste. I was so flattered. Maybe that is strange too, to be flattered. But the …“floweriness” of the language was not a quality I would change, at least for this particular book (and needless to say, she had herself specified that this was a matter of preference). And so I had sighed ecstatically and exploded into stars.

This was a very serious post initially, but now I’m in such a mood. I will revisit the subject when I am not so dreamy.

The Meaning of Love

I’m so unimpressed with people who appropriate claiming they “love the culture”—do you think I’m not in love with dreamcatchers and afros? I manage to control myself, because there is this thing, that comes with love, called respect. And it involves appreciating that attributes and artifacts you “love” have a history, a deep meaningfulness for the people they represent, a fragility acquired through centuries of oppression.

Wallahi. It is sacred (haraam) for you.

4:25 [muḥ’ṣanāti]: Consent is Integral to the Qur’an

When I was writing my exegesis, “Polygamy is haraam.” I remembered a conversation I had with Orbala ages ago in which I had demanded to know why the supposed permissibility of polygyny did not conventionally extend to polyandry. She responded that polyandry, the marriage of one woman to multiple men, was explicitly forbidden in the Qur’an (a view she has now revised). This was attributed to Qur’anic verse 4:24, which reads across translations as, “haraam to you are women [who are married],” which is one of way saying a woman cannot marry more than one man.

This is a… questionable translation. I’d always wondered why the term “muḥ’ṣanāt,” translated in 4:24 as “women who are married,” was also used in reference to enslaved women in the verse that follows, especially since several translations of 4:24 add “except those your right hands possess,” creating a dynamic that (1) contradicted itself and (2) incidentally made polyandry permissible by the same logic because the verse would then permit an enslaved woman to marry multiple men.

Take a look down this center column to observe the selectivity in translating “muḥ’ṣanāt”:

“Muḥ’ṣanāti” clearly cannot mean married women and simultaneously mean chaste women. It cannot mean free women and simultaneously mean enslaved women. Regard part of 4:25, for an illustrative demonstration of why this doesn’t work:

So marry them [enslaved women]
With the permission of their families
And give them their bridal due
In a fair manner,
They should be muḥ’ṣanāti and not committing secret

Then when they [enslaved women] are married,
if they commit adultery,
then for them is half of the punishment
that is on the [free, unmarried] muḥ’ṣanāti women.

Notice the placement of the word and its functions. Common translations render muḥ’ṣanāti as meaning free women even though in the very same verse muḥ’ṣanāti is referring to enslaved women. The translation of this word consistently chances, sometimes even contradictorily, in order to fit what best suits the whims of male translators, because they don’t understand what it means.

Male scholars don’t know what muḥ’ṣanāt means. They don’t understand. This conclusion is the optimistic one. Realistically, they do know what it means, because they translate the word and its variations differently when the pronoun is a masculine one, in which case it miraculously alludes to a noble “refrain.”

Muḥ’ṣanāt are women who restrain or do not consent, and specifically women who have the power to restrain and deny or provide consent. This is what it means in every instance. In every. Single. Instance. It is the only uniform meaning. It is what it means throughout all of these aimed translations: “chaste” “refrained” “guarded” etc.

Consider 5:5, which permits marriage to Christians and Jews [muḥ’ṣanātu].

And [lawful in marriage are] […]
muḥ’ṣanātu from among those
who were given the Scripture
before you.

As is obvious, muḥ’ṣanāt does not reference sexual restraint specifically, which is why it is so dynamic in its usage throughout the Qur’an. It can refer to religious restraint. In this context (5:5), muḥ’ṣanāt means women who refrain from or do not consent to converting to Islam, rather than women who are “chaste” as male translators so love to convey this word. But whether or not the context is sexual or perceived it be, muḥ’ṣanāt always signifies the power to withhold consent.

In fact, verse 4:25 itself tells us how to define muḥ’ṣanāti. Notice in the excerpt of 4:25 that men must ask permission (“with the permission of their families”) because “you are believers of one another”—which male scholarship often assumes must indicate that free women are the subject here and there has been a transition mid-verse (because why should they ask permission regarding enslaved women). Make no mistake the subject is still enslaved women; they are referred to as believers earlier in the same verse (fatayātikumu l-mu’mināti). The Qur’an challenges the perception of social hierarchy and dismisses it as being a petty invention of the earthly realm, upholding enslaved women as equal and worthy as free men. The dynamics in this verse confirms that muḥ’ṣanāti describes women who are of a state of power to withhold consent.

In this way too, the function of the word and its true meaning importantly interrogates male responsibility and accountability. If an enslaved woman is not in a state of power to withhold consent, which she never is, then according to 4:25, society has not empowered her to qualify as muḥ’ṣanāti and the man who has taken that power from her cannot wed her.

Those of you reading for a while know I’ve arrived to this conclusion before.

(And let refrain those
who do not find means
for marriage, until the God/dess
enriches them.

You mustn’t compel
the woman to need
who wishes to be independent. –24:33)

4:24 is not making haraam to men women who are married. It is making haraam to men women who refuse to marry them.

When an exegesis is substantial, it is validated in every shade of the Qur’an. A similar sentiment graces verse 24:60:

And women who have menstruated
and do not desire marriage
then it is not upon them any blame if they
cast aside their garments,
not displaying their adornments. It is better
if they modestly refrain [yastaʿfif’na].

There is an assumption among male translators that the “modest refraining” is in reference to casting aside garments, that women who do not desire marriage needn’t dress modestly but it’s “better” if they should. However, it is clear to me that “should modestly refrain” refers to refraining from marriage, as it is this desire to refuse or not consent to marriage that is the subject of the verse. It is better for them to refrain from marriage because their souls have not consented to marriage. This is, demonstrably, consistent to variations of the root of what is translated to mean “restrain” “guard” or “remain chaste” which signifies the power to deny consent.

Severing a population from its allies and support network is abuse.

There are Muslim men who say things like “only Muslims should be able to comment on sexual assault in the Muslim community” WHILE NOT BEING WOMEN. You’re seriously not registering that you’re asking people of an outside demographic to stop, while being part of an outside demographic? You don’t get to choose our allies for us. Sure, I’d probably tell Ashton and McKenzie to shut it but that’s because I get to choose my allies to save your ass out of a courtesy to you that I don’t owe, and you don’t get to choose them for me.

When Muslims are anti-LBGT, the non-Muslim LGBT community gets to say things unless LGBT Muslims silence them. Straight, cisgender Muslims don’t get to make that decision.

When Muslims are anti-black, black non-Muslims can object and it’s only for BLACK MUSLIMS to tell them to stop. Non-black Muslims don’t get a say in who is or isn’t able to check our anti-blackness.

When Muslims are sexist or gender essentialist ONLY MUSLIM WOMEN AND NB MUSLIMS decide that non-Muslims can’t comment. Muslim men do not. You are looking for a way to dodge accountability so that you don’t have to hear about it. It’s the new respectability politics.

Severing a population from its allies and support network is abuse. It is also (again) a gross misunderstanding of intersectionality, by privileging one identity (in this case the Muslimness of victims) over another (the femaleness of victims), which is the only mindset that can birth such an obnoxious maxim as “only Muslims can comment on sexual assault” while not being a woman. Here’s a newsflash brown men: your little world of oppression is neither all-encompassing nor the only one that exists.

Moon Visitors

I have not made any serious attempts to visit the moon, yet somehow yesterday when I encountered an ad that started, “You may never visit the moon, but…” I was like HOW DARE YOU.

In all seriousness, the very gentle and kind friends I have are enough to send me into space. I noticed a long time ago, that although this week I’ve spoken of an anxiety of losing control or self-determination, that’s not my real issue. I don’t feel this way with friends or situations I trust. I love letting go when I have faith in these.

Sometimes when we’re drained we consider rearranging our priorities. I’ve always thought this was the wrong question. Fortunately, I’ve never had the thought that I needed to put myself first, because when I begin to feel this way it’s a signal that I am not surrounded by those who bring out the best in me or who do the best for me. Too many believe they have issues relinquishing control when it is not a control issue: it’s a trust issue. They don’t trust that they will be taken care of just as they have cared for others. And that’s because they wouldn’t be. (And that’s when it’s time to walk away.) The people surrounding us should ease the harsh lines in our personalities, not exacerbate them. My faith is an integral part of myself, and I refuse to place myself with those who compromise who I am as a person.

I thank my friends for understanding me, not because they know me, but because I make sense to them. Aside from valentine’s I know the parts of my life I celebrate are unusual: I’ve never celebrated my own graduation or really my own birthdays, but I’ve celebrated having finished writing a novel, having walked away from a job that paid too little, having kept my roses alive for three weeks because this has been the longest I’ve gone without killing a plant. And I also celebrate friends who laugh when I simmer at how I’d just been told I’d never visit the moon. What a perfectly vicious thing to say to a person!

I saw an ad this morning for a bra that cannot be seen through a blouse. My response to a visible bra strap is always, “Good, it was expensive.” (These ‘targeted’ ads know nothing about me and have no manners.)

Diaspora Romanticizing Discarded Patriarchal Traditions

Speaking of piercings, my mother informed me recently that in our culture, women used to wear the noluk (septum piercing) to indicate that they were newly married. If the women weren’t already pierced, the bridal party would puncture the ring through the septum on the very day of the ceremony.

Septum rings have never appealed to me aesthetically, though I do think they look better on darker skin. When my mother told me this, however, I was so enthralled to know of it, the somehow novel idea that facial piercings are not taboo in our culture, that in my mind I romanticized the tradition for a few seconds.

“It was absolute torture,” my mother said, wincing. “I’m so glad women stopped doing this.”

“When did they stop?”

“With your great grandmother, I think. My mother didn’t have one. It’s such a relief.” She shuddered.

It was, of course, a patriarchal tradition, and my momentary fascination borne out of a longing for connection explains the egomaniacal mindset of diasporic men and their counteractive behaviors. This was a practice traditional women ended on their own agency, and suggestions of revival are regressive to the legacy of tradition in the exact same way that colonialism halts social progression in the societies it terrorizes. What men of color like this do, essentially, is recolonize. Of course, they won’t see that, because women are the powerless gatekeepers of tradition.