Let’s talk about homosexuality, which my previous article does not. I actually don’t like the term “homosexuality,” and I prefer the title of this article, but I’m using the word here because I know you all are searching it when you’re looking for my legal opinions on this website.
No one, not even patriarchal scholars, will dispute that the story of Sodom involves rape. But there are two types of exegetes approaching the recitation: those who read the rape in Sodom as a primary sin, and those who read it as a secondary sin—secondary to the “sin” of same sex relations when projecting their agendas onto the Qur’an. The latter who identify rape in Sodom as a secondary sin are, quite frankly, self-invested and appalling in their implications. Aside from the moral depravity in downplaying how sinful rape is, a Muslim claiming that the story of Sodom is about same-sex relations and not rape is claiming that the Qur’an permits rape as long as it is the rape of women. They are free to state clearly that this is what they mean. They are also free to admit that according to their interpretation, all of the women punished in Sodom were punished because they, too, were commanded not to approach men and instead approach women, rendering their entire interpretation an advocacy of same-sex relationships.
The main verse commonly cited as “evidence” of the Qur’an’s supposed anti-LGBTQ position is 26:165-166 and its refrains (7:81, 29:29), and I want to take a moment to examine it here.
Do you approach males
among the worlds
and abandon what created for you
the God/dess of your spouses? No! You are a people
The verse is conveyed in an interesting structure. Rather than stating outright that the people of Sodom love/lust men besides women and that this is the transgression, the Qur’an asks a question. “Do you approach men lustfully besides women?” The recitation then proceeds to answer its question in the negative, affirming that the sin is (1) committed by heterosexual men and (2) rape, not homosexuality. This is consistent with the Qur’anic use of “bal”—“no!”: it is always to negate or correct a previously alleged belief. The sentiment in 26:165-166 is posed as a question, not a statement, and answered in the negative: the rapists of Sodom do not lust foreign men; rather, they subjugate them.
In other verses that adopt this question-answer structure, the translation often reads, “but rather/in fact”: And they said, “Our hearts are wrapped.” But, [in fact], Allah has cursed them for their disbelief, so little is it that they believe. 2:88. The distressed proclamation, “No!” (bal) both emphasizes the direness of a situation and negates its misdirection: they may believe their hearts are wrapped, but really they have been cursed. Take the very next instance it happens in the Qur’an: Is it not that every time they took a covenant, a portion of them discarded it? But, [in fact], most of them do not believe. 2:100. They did not take a true covenant because they had not in fact ever believed. It’s interesting then that translators have chosen to do the opposite in verses concerning the activities in Sodom, in which they’ve frequently chosen the affirmative i.e. “indeed.”
A correct translation of 26:165-166 is “Is it that you approach men lustfully besides women? No! But rather, you are a people transgressing.” It is not out of the human emotion of love or lust that Sodom sins. It is out of a greed for power. The answer that the Qur’an provides to its question corrects the belief that the surah is about homosexuality. It is about rape. The question-answer structure of these Qur’anic verses is routinely a mark of compassion from the God/dess, a gesture that S/he would negotiate and consider human complications in worship.
My disciple Misha and I will be co-writing a full exegesis regarding this in June. Until then—
You can claim same-sex love is an abomination all you want, but don’t pretend your bigotry is sourced from the Qur’an. You’ll have to look elsewhere to justify it. And you do. No one who has argued with me has ever successfully been able to stay Qur’an-focused and resist venturing into pseudoscientific articles to find “support.”
were serial rapists, who drank heavily to fuel their crimes, attacked visitors in gangs, lusted after the power of angels, knew first hand of the God/dess but refused morality and cheated and lied and thieved. And raped. Raped. Over and over. In mobs.
Will religious leaders have you believe they were destroyed them for raping men instead of women? For an alleged sexual orientation? Are these “leaders” the depraved minds with whom you entrust your faith? The leaders who claim a beloved Prophet would offer his daughters to rapists?
I have incredible compassion for Prophet Lut. The circumstances through which his Prophethood was tried—interrogation and subjugation through rape—are described in the Qur’an itself as devices in a network of sins so horrendous they are unlike any crimes ever committed in the history of creation, and this is only among the sins the Qur’an dares to name. We also delivered Lut and he said to his people: “Do you commit lewdness such as no people in creation ever committed before you?” 7:80. It is for humanity through these ghastly trials that Lut is among those favored over the worlds (6:86).
Scholars miss the fact that the Qur’an alludes to other sins taking place in the city of Sodom that are so horrifying it is deemed best for humanity not to describe them, except to say that they were abominations. Instead, Muslims reduce the activity of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah to “consensual” sex between men, rather than to establishing a hierarchy via rape. This is because the story of Lut’s attempted redemption of his people is single-handedly a critique of patriarchy so embarrassing for patriarchal scholars that they are meekly left to resort to diverting attention to their homophobia instead in order to justify their bigoted, colonized beliefs.
To accomplish this, the male ulema offer a mendacious interpretation of the story of Lut: in what can only be described as a desecration of the Qur’an, your leaders gloss over the fact that all sexes in Sodom and Gomorrah are punished for having created and actively participated in a network of rape. They tactically remove verses from the context of subjugation via rape by hyperfocusing on verses that make any allusion to sex such as 7:81: “Do you approach the men lustfully besides the women; no, you are a people transgressing beyond bounds.” Subsequently what male scholars illegalize is not rape (because why would anyone want to do that), but same-sex intercourse.
But we use the Qur’an to explain itself, and the meaning of this line is elaborated in 26:165-166, which repeats and clarifies, “Do you approach the men of the world”—note here the reference to travel and travelers, which is important in the domination and subjugation of outsiders—“and leave what the God/dess has created of your mates?”— the additional sin of adultery in this gender-neutral use of mates rather than women, referring specifically to the spouses these men married already rather than women as a sex—“No. You are a people transgressing.” It is all of these sins combined—rape, subjugation, humiliation, xenophobia, adultery, and sexism—that comprise the horrific crimes of Sodom.
The Qur’an is very strategic in its delivery when recounting religious history. Any young girl reciting the Qur’an in her early childhood has a disorientating awareness that events are not only out of order but merging into each other. The story of Lut is told in parts over five to six surahs, and it is most notably interwoven with the story of Ibrahim (29:31-32). This is partly because Lut is the nephew of Ibrahim, as all Prophets were closely or very distantly related to one another, and partly because these interwoven stories inform each other. A significant commonality is that both Ibrahim and Lut deeply desired the presence of their children and had a hand in transforming the traditionally sacrificial roles of children.
Ibrahim, who interprets his dream calling him to sacrifice his son as being a vision from the God/dess, for the very first time requests his son’s consent to the sacrifice. This event and what follows—the declination of the sacrifice by the God/dess—marks the end of child sacrifice as a religious ritual in the tradition which Islam recites. Meanwhile Lut, in Sodom, is faced with rapists who are ready to break his door for access to his guests. Lut, whose daughters are grown and married, routinely expresses a profound loneliness. “Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could take refuge in strong support!” (11:80) Lut cries mournfully, because though he has Divine support he is yearning for the comfort of his family and specifically his daughters. He sounds at every turn of his devastation very much like a father who misses his daughters, a father who misses his children who have moved away.
It is why, when the rapists crowd outside of his home, wild in their intoxication (11:72) and in the habit of rape (11:78) and having heard that he has visitors, Lut claims quickly from his own wistfulness that it is not outsiders who have come to visit him, but his own daughters. The townspeople will not rape their own.
“These are my daughters. They are purer for you,” (11:78) Lut pleads urgently to the rapists attempting to force their way into his home, because the townspeople consider their own to be purer—and superior—to travelers. He submits to their logic in a vain attempt to reason with them.
Every exegete in history before me has interpreted 11:78, 15:71 to mean that Lut is offering his daughters to the rapists rather than suggesting to Sodom that it is his daughters who are his guests, not angels. But Lut’s daughters are never present in the text. They do not live with him and the Qur’an offers only ghostly references to them. What is happening is clear: far from offering his visibly absent daughters to rapists, Lut is attempting instead to convince the crowd that his guests behind the doors are his own daughters, not foreigners. His daughters do not reside with him; they belong to different houses. It is easy then that he passes them off/refers to them as visitors. “So fear the God/dess, and do not shame me in front of my guests!” he cries. In front of his daughters, whose shame in the eyes of the townspeople is worthy of considering. “Is there not among you a single right-minded man?” (11:78)
The rapists dismiss this notion. They would not be there if Lut were with his daughters. “We have no use of your daughters; you know what we want,” (11:79) they snarl back to him, and their disbelief that his daughters were visiting him adds to the misery of the situation. It is then that Lut resolves to sigh, “Would that I had power to suppress you or that I could betake myself to support,” (11:80) because he is, in fact, alone, without his daughters, the sole protector of his guests on this “distressful day” (11:77). His wife, quite evidently, is of no help.
Lut’s yearning for familial support is why, when the angel messengers reveal themselves to him, they order him to take his daughters and leave the city (11:81). His wife is to be left behind with the rest of the rapists, who are treated with showers of “brimstone, hard as clay, layer after layer” (11:82, 54:35). Lut’s people are not the only ones who have been destroyed for irreversible damage upon the earth. Prophet Shu’ayb warns, “And, oh, my people! Let not my dissent cause you to sin, lest you suffer the fate of the people of Noah or of Hud or of Salih, nor are the people of Lut far off from you!” (11:89) And yet it is only in this example of Lut that jurists attempt in vain to show homosexuality is a sin.
Yet the Qur’an describes over and over again the full extent of these crimes as patriarchal violations of the utmost malevolence. “Do you indeed approach men, and cut off the highway? And practice evil even in your councils?” (29:29) the verses read in outraged devastation, for the people of Sodom twisted an expression of love into a device of suppression, an act of inexcusable violence.
Analogous to soldiers weaponizing rape in war in order to subdue and interrogate the enemy as tools of sexual domination and humiliation, the crimes of Sodom were of married heterosexual men aggressively using their power over vulnerable populations—namely, those who were in a state of travelling, of temporarily being without homes and susceptible in this transitional state.
This is all of course misogyny: another, very violent example of woman-hating against which the Qur’an rails. Visitors, like prisoners in our contemporary colonizing systems, were raped to strip them of their masculinity, because that is how patriarchy works. Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the wars in which xenophobes rape to subjugate the populations whose nations they’ve invaded… that is Sodom.
Your scholars will not admit this to you. They will imply to you instead without knowing, that Lut committed this very crime when he offered his daughters to rapists, slandering the purer actions of the Prophet against him. They will have you believe it was honorable of him. They will twist acts of love into violent weapons of war to justify their hatred. Nor are the people of Lut far off from you indeed.
Her remark of course, is an example of colonialist Islam, which I’d defined earlier as Islam that is misogynist, anti-black, transphobic, disableist, and oppressive in ways specific to the regressive European colonial influence in the Middle East and South Asia. The root of Colonialist Islam is the belief that “Traditional islam” (or Colonialist Islam), as defined by self-described “traditionalists,” is not diverse in tradition, when history proves otherwise. The term shouldn’t erase or dismiss deeply-rooted pre-colonial oppressions, but challenge the erasure of varied tradition in favor of colonialism’s superficial unification under, for example, anti-woman and anti-LGBT laws. A symptom of colonialist Islam is the belief that either colonialism is the only oppression that exists, or that it should be prioritized over all others. It is revertive and does not recognize that colonialism interfered with/halted the progression of social development in favor of colonial domination because it cannot distinguish the continuation of those progressions from colonial influence.
A couple of you stated you expected better from her, but I did not. I was aware of Saeed’s sexism years ago when she dismissed issues of women’s rights in the Muslim community when they were too “extreme” for her, such as women leading mixed-gender prayer. Subsequently, her ableism came as no surprise to me. Sana Saeed, who is unfamiliar with my anti-colonialist work but contributes intricate theories regarding it, has always prioritized only certain types of Islamophobia. She does not view gendered Islamophobia within the Muslim community as a type of Islamophobia (unless it has to do with hijabs probably), but rather as tradition in what she vaguely describes as “what Islam really is” versus “when Islam stops to look like Islam.” It is easy to see then why she wouldn’t view ableism as a form of Islamophobia against disabled Muslims.
This is a not-so-random reminder that disabled Muslims exist, and that the Prophet was one of them. These comments are fascinating to me considering so many of these individuals claim to love the Prophet. I don’t openly clarify my position, and this would be why. This kind of holier-than-thou-while-I-lowkey-insult-who-the-Prophet-was type behavior is so bizarre to me and completely turns me off. It is common for Muslims to deny that the Prophet was disabled, because after encounters with Christian colonizers, the Prophet was depicted as having been possessed by demons. Instead of addressing the true evil of this accusation (the disgusting Islamophobia and ableism), Muslims downplayed the fact that he had seizures and was not accessible during Revelations, claiming it could not be epilepsy. Maybe it wasn’t. In this context, the diagnosis itself is not so important as the Revelation-caused seizures by which society would render him disabled. What we as an ummah should have said is that it is truly appalling to discredit the Qur’an because of this prejudice. But we didn’t, and we don’t. We erase the disability instead.
A disability is created when society is not built for a specific type of ability, i.e. like if we lived in a society where everything was built for people with wheelchairs, or if the lights turned off when you needed them because you were the only one who wasn’t. You’d be disabled. A friend and I have been discussing whether or not the seizures constitute a disability because of how the episodes were regarded/accommodated in his community as an expectation, but it would certainly qualify as one were it anyone else. This is why it’s so particularly aggravating when the people pretending to defend him use this kind of ableist language. It is for the Prophet to believe whether they truly love him. He would believe it, because he was kind. He was also disabled, and orphaned, and illiterate, and I cannot understand why these characteristics don’t soften the hearts of those who rage, supposedly on his behalf, by using them to insult disabled Muslims.
[Edit] Some have messaged me to ask whether I am disabled myself i.e. whether Jonathan AC Brown, who is clearly still in his feelings about me calling him out for “objectively” defending rapist Tariq Ramadan to whom he is incidentally related, was being ableist against me. I am not disabled in any shape or form, at least temporarily. Abled people cannot face disabelism, so he was not being ableist against me. Just against a large portion of Muslims, including the Prophet.
The vast majority of Muslim men, whether from previously/currently colonized nations or otherwise, live in patriarchal cultures; the Qur’an itself addresses this, for example, when demanding to know why men have buried their daughters alive or when protecting women from accusations of adultery. However, when confronted with this reality, men pretend that they weren’t patriarchal before colonialism when history proves otherwise, and when in fact their patriarchal structures facilitated the spread of colonialism.
While Muslim men love to falsely attribute patriarchy to colonialism, on the Day of Judgment Allah (swt) is going to ask men why they were violent toward us, and they are going to answer “because we were ourselves oppressed,” and it’s not going to suffice.
Indeed, while taking in death
those who sin against their souls,
the angels will ask, “In what condition were you?”
They will say,
“We were oppressed on the earth.”
The angels will say,
“Was the earth of the God/dess
not spacious for you to emigrate therein?”
They will have their sojourn in Hell,
and it is an evil destination.
Except for the oppressed
among the men, women, and children unable
to plan and undirected
to a way.
For those, it is expected
that the God/dess pardon them,
for the God/dess
is ever Merciful,
The argument made in these verses is that if the oppression inflicted upon you is causing you to damage your soul by inclining you to oppress others, you should seek conditions in which you are no longer imposing harm and oppression onto yourself and others. It is of vital importance that we are aware of the state of our own morality.
(Note here that in this verse and the verses that follow, migration is encouraged and the migrant is valorized as someone who goes so far to save their own soul.)
It is of extraordinary significance that these verses appear in surah nisa, as describing the rights of women, and more specifically the regulation of male behaviors in order to protect those rights. It is not the oppression one endures that is emphasized here, but the harm that it commits against the soul and against others. Yet, contrary to the message of the Qur’an, men can’t comprehend that their approach to oppressions from which they do not suffer needs to be more than “chivalrous.” How can a Muslim only care about something for as long as it benefits him?
According to the Qur’an it is insufficient to dismissively declare that transphobic laws are a result of white supremacy, to falsely claim men were sexist because they were taught by whites, to pretend they weren’t afrophobic and anti-black before they were colonized. Here’s a newsflash: White supremacy is not the worst oppression to have ever happened. Oppressions do not have to be contributed to it in order to matter. There are oppressions other than colonialism. I am not going to choose my words carefully just because colonizers happen to be listening.
In addition to its situation in surah nisa, we know verses 4:97-99 are referring to women and structurally oppressed classes because the Qur’an makes a clear distinction between these two types of actions in response to oppression: those against oppressors and those against the soul. For example, 22:60 states,
And whoever responds [to injustice]
with the equivalent of that harm
and then is tyrannized –
the God/dess will surely aid.
Indeed, the God/dess is Forgiving and Merciful.”
These verses assure us that societally tyrannized actions which are clearly a response to oppressors, rather than sins against one’s own, are divinely aided. Comically, the same Muslim men who dismiss violence against women as the work of colonizers will discourage violence against colonizers, effectively inverting both verses of the Qur’an.
Muslim men have adopted the position that their oppression excuses violence against women because the vast majority of “activism” against Islamophobia has relied on the corruption of scholarship of those—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—who descended from matriarchal or gender-equal societies. Subsequently, these men believe they too cannot be held responsible. Like straight men who complain about social expectations that their date will not pick up the cheque at a restaurant, Muslim men want the benefits of equality (and no accountability) without having established a legacy of gender equality in their history.
Immigrants (i.e. more settlers) to settler states adopt black and indigenous scholarship on anti-colonialism without ever being aware that they are living on stolen land, and it results in a belief that they have no culpability when it comes to patriarchy even though they are immigrating from very patriarchal cultures.
If you are indigenous to a place that was colonized that then overthrew the colonizing government, even if you have not yet done away with all of the residual corruption, never forget that there are nations who are still working to overthrow illegal governments, and that you’re on their land by permission of that illegal government. The only way immigrants to Turtle Island can become american/accepted is by signing off on a living legacy of genocide and slavery that requires us to actively perpetuate violence.
Yet in order Muslim men to ever care about oppressions that don’t affect them as long as they can attribute it too white supremacy. Is it so difficult to have empathy for something that has nothing to do with you? And yet they expect empathy in return. It is those whose activism is limited to anti-colonialism who ask questions like, “How can you talk about patriarchy without talking about racism?” when in fact they discuss racism all the time without discussing patriarchy.
The Qur’an in fact describes the arguments that the “oppressed wrongdoers” have with the “arrogant wrongdoers” regarding the actions that signify their disbelief.
But if you could see when the wrongdoers
are made to stand before their Creator,
refuting each other’s words,
Those who were oppressed will say
to those who were arrogant, “If not for you,
we would have been believers.”
Those who were arrogant will say
to those who were oppressed, “Did we avert you
from guidance after it had come to you?
Rather, you were criminals.”
Those who were oppressed will say
to those who were arrogant, “Rather,
a conspiracy by night and day
when you were ordering our disbelief in the God/dess
and attribution of equals to Her.”
It is consistently emphasized in the Qur’an that oppression is no excuse to perpetuate oppression against one’s soul and community, and those who are oppressed and oppressive are identified as the same class of people—this is, in fact, a revolving identity—in both that the oppressed can be oppressors (the arrogant) and that both are “wrongdoers” whose punishments (“shackles on the necks”) are the same.
There is much to discuss in terms of all of the Qur’anic verses that elaborate on this issue and relate to the verses highlighted here, and I will explore these in upcoming posts.
We don’t care about sexist Islamophobia. The men-represent-your-religion-not-you Islamophobia. The prioritize-me-because-I’m-a-Muslim-man Islamophobia.
We don’t care about homophobic Islamophobia, biphobic Islamophobia, transphobic Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQ Islamophobia. The you-can’t-be-Muslim-if-you-love-the-wrong-person Islamophobia. The I’m-going-to-beat-this-out-of-you Islamophobia.
We don’t care about misogynoiristic Islamophobia. The how-can-you-talk-about-Boko-Haraam-when-there-are-drones-in-Afghanistan Islamophobia. The your-body-is-inherently-opposed-to-hijab Islamophobia.
We don’t care about anti-black Islamophobia. The black-Muslims-are-an-afterthought-not-the-founders-of-Islam-in-this-illegal-nation Islamophobia. The we-don’t-claim-black-artists-as-Muslim Islamophobia.
We don’t care about ableist Islamophobia. The pray-at-home-because-we-only-have-stairs Islamophobia. The your-morality-doesn’t-matter-on-judgement-day-anyway-so-don’t-burden-us Islamophobia.
We don’t care about classist Islamophobia. The it’s-getting-harder-and-harder-to-afford-college Islamophobia. The rich-Muslims-were-the-chosen-ones-for-the-pilgrimage Islamophobia.
We don’t care about anti-indigenous Islamopbobia. The isn’t-your-culture-inherently-incompatible-with-Islam Islamophobia. The we-are-immigrants-pursuing-the-american-dream Islamophobia.
We don’t care about any and all combinations of these. All we care about is when a Muslim man is attacked for being a Muslim man and another Muslim happens to complicate this because she is the Wrong Kind Of Muslim. Then suddenly his specific straight-male-able-cisgender-no-intersection struggle applies to all of us. Then suddenly the ummah is united for men. Then suddenly we are propping up the work of black women and chanting intersectionality, intersectionality.
On April 23rd, 2012, Mona Eltahawy wrote an article titled, “Why Do They Hate Us?” to protest the treatment of women in the Middle East. The article, featured in Foreign Policy magazine, prompted a variety of responses, ranging from admiration for the author’s courage to criticism for her portrayal of Egyptian men. In online Islamic feminist circles, the most frequent and perceptive criticism was that Eltahawy had written the article in English, even though she is a native Arabic-speaker capable of effectively conveying her message in the language of the demographic she critiques. Eltahawy’s decision to protest in English served to partially remove the language barrier between Egyptian feminists and a potentially harmful English-speaking audience. This is significant because it suggests that the language barrier serves a protective purpose in protest. The language barrier does more than specify an audience: it precludes one.
Typically, the language barrier is a source of frustration when there is a desire for interaction across linguistic boundaries, which social media facilitates. However, the choice of language can be utilized advantageously in protest: it is a way to criticize misogyny in the Muslim community and circumvent inciting Islamophobia. When Muslim women critique Muslim men in English, some assume the women’s passions for equality are influenced by colonialism, and proceed to appropriate these critiques to embolden xenophobia. However, when Muslim women write in, for example, Arabic, Pashto, Bangla, Mandarin, Punjabi, and Farsi, not only are their critiques rendered inaccessible to an unintended audience, but that audience is barred from assuming ownership of those critiques. The language barrier deters the piracy of the marginalized voice.
There are ways in which, rather than stifling the effect of protest, the language barrier subtly enhances it by limiting agency to those whose struggles are central to its objective, and by enforcing these limits on social media platforms. In fact, language as a metaphorical shield even predates social media: during the British conquest of India, revolutionary writers, such as Kazi Nazrul Islam, whose rebellion against British colonialism won him the title of “Rebel Poet,” advocated gender equality and protested the bigotry of invaders by calling for independence in Bangla, an indigenous language; subsequently, the colonists were hindered from the immediate identification of a threat because they could not access or read his writing. Eventually, Kazi Nazrul Islam was jailed as the language barrier between Indians and the British began to erode. It was Nazrul Islam’s title as “Rebel Poet” that aroused British suspicions. It is no well-kept secret, furthermore, that when colonists arrived on Turtle Island, they not only sought to eliminate Native cultures but the children’s use of indigenous languages in schools. In the United States there are often workplace policies against the use of non-English languages among employees: in 2010, sixty-nine Filipina immigrants filed a lawsuit against the Delano Regional Medical Center in California for harassment and discrimination due to the hospital’s English-only policy. This is a strong indication that the language barrier has a potential to uproot establishments of power by leaving them out—a potential that those in power recognize.
However, in these examples, the potential object of the speakers’ criticism is the system of power itself, and not the religious interpretations or cultures of those who speak the Othered language. There are several prominent Islamic feminists, such as Asra Nomani, as well as prominent Muslim male writers, such as Haroon Moghul, who’ve used their social media platforms to critique the Muslim communities’ application and practice of Islamic beliefs—in English. A subject of criticism among Islamic feminists is Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa’s article in TheWashington Post titled, “As Muslim women, we actually ask you not to wear the hijab in the name of interfaith solidarity”; the article does not—as the title suggests—discourage against cultural appropriation. Instead, it advises non-Muslim women “not [to] wear a headscarf in ‘solidarity’ with the ideology that most silences us, equating our bodies with ‘honor.’ Stand with us instead with moral courage against the ideology of Islamism that demands we cover our hair.” Although Nomani and Arafa discuss the re-interpretation of “hijab” to mean “headscarf” and argue that this is not the original command of the Qur’an, detailing their struggles against Muslims who’ve harassed women to wear the headscarf—and although these are all points made and supported by other Muslim feminists—the targeted audience of the article, (white) non-Muslim women, questionably repositions non-Muslim feminists into the role of the imposing white savior, from which so many Islamic feminists have fought to remove them.
In the case of Nomani and Arafa, the target audience is made clear even from as early as the title of the article, which blatantly addresses a non-Muslim audience. In most cases, however, it is only implied, and can be deciphered from where the publication appears and its main audience.
Subsequently, the question then arises of where Muslims who speak only English are situated in protesting the inequalities in Muslim communities. Muslims critiquing oppressive power structures in either English or non-English languages is protest, and effective. Muslims critiquing each other in their own languages is protest, and effective. Muslims critiquing each other in English, such as the scholar and Islamic feminist Amina Wadud, for Muslim audiences is protest, and effective. Amina Wadud still operates within a form of the language barrier; since she writes for a Muslim audience, she does not define words that recur in Islamic discourse. Culture is tied very much to language, and the language barrier encompasses a cultural one. However, articles in journals such as The Washington Post and The Guardian don’t cater to a Muslim readership or bare the burden of social responsibility, and become sensationalist. Mona Eltahawy, whose activism has been valuable, fell short with her Foreign Policy article.
Articles written in English are still effective if published on a platform whose audience is aware of not only the injustices which the author protests, but of the injustices affecting the Muslim author herself. An author who critiques gender inequality in the Muslim community is just as subject to Islamophobia from her audience as she is to misogyny from her community. Since language hierarchies exist in most Muslim communities in the United States, with a preference for Arabic above all Others, it is important to find a place for diasphoric Muslims who speak languages other than English or Arabic. This may, after all, facilitate the development of a different facet of feminism, one that is freer from both a white savior complex and Arab exclusivity.
When, in Los Angeles in February of 2015, an all-women’s mosque opened as an alternative space to the oppressive, segregated mosques in the remainder of the country, it was identified at once by male scholars as problematic in prohibiting the attendance of men, even though mosques with barriers—literal barriers—bar (and discourage) female attendance. While disparaging women, scholars like Yasir Qadhi, struck by an opportunistic enlightenment, encouraged their audiences on Facebook to address the “root” of the problem: the unwelcome atmosphere in mainstream mosques. Women who attend the mosque, Qadhi argued, should be treated with a special respect for choosing to attend instead of shopping. He stated that it was natural that women would “counter-react” to feeling unwelcome and that some of those counter-reactions would be “illegitimate.” The implication that an all-women’s mosque was illegitimate would have come as a surprise to Muslims who primarily speak neither English nor Arabic, such as, for example Muslim women in China.
In “Debates over Islamic Feminism and Empowerment in Contemporary China,” Masumi Matsumoto describes all-female madrasas and mosques in China:
“Nüxue, or female madrasas, have been mushrooming in China’s Muslim communities since the beginning of the 1990s. Arabic and Islam are taught there. The government permits them tacitly. Such schools have given Muslim women unexpected gender roles and have supported the growth of China’s Islamic feminism. The female madrasa offers alternative values which Party-controlled public schools cannot provide. Based on the tradition of female mosques and female ahong, nüxue is the result of intense negotiations between Muslims and non-Muslim Chinese society, between Muslim women and men, and between Muslims of different social classes. Islamic feminism in China is aimed at eliminating gender discrimination and traditional patriarchy. However, their notion of gender equality with Islamic characteristics contradicts with the more “masculine” gender equality supported by Western feminists and the CCP, which tend to emphasize materialism, nationalism, and militarism.”
In China, the concept of female imams and religious leaders is not a foreign one. Islamophobia is as rampant in China as it is in the United States, but Chinese Muslim feminists have developed an Islamic feminism that is able to dodge accusations from critics of Western influence—they face, I am sure, different accusations, but this raises an incredible point: if (Western) Muslim feminists are too influenced by Western feminism to attain legitimacy in their own communities, how have Chinese Muslim feminists arrived at the same interpretations for centuries? Muslim men who are concerned about neocolonialism and Islamophobia may have an appropriate fear, though manifested in inappropriate measures, of Westernization (colonialism), but their arguments against Islamic feminism perpetuating neocolonialism are insufficient when Chinese Islamic feminists, who don’t communicate their interpretations primarily in English or any Western language, engage in the same practices, assign the same leadership roles to women, as the “Westernized” Islamic feminist.
From the language barrier erect between Muslim American feminists and Muslim Chinese feminists, we are able to discard the notion that equality is inherently and exclusively a colonialist value—it is, in fact, inherently not. There is a feminism that survives in non-English speaking communities that is worth preserving, because it serves the very people it is meant to serve rather than imposing domineering, incompatible concepts, by precluding colonialist audiences and allowing feminism to develop organically in the community.
This preclusion of colonialist audiences through language is already a subject of amusement on social media. In the beginning of 2016, an image was viral on major social media platforms—Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.—which read In Bengali we don’t say ‘I love you.’ We say ‘Tui manush na goru,’ which means ‘My heart loses purpose without you,’ and I think that’s beautiful. Of course, tui manush na goru means Are you human or cow? The joke takes a stab at cultural appropriators, who employ languages foreign to them to maneuver through cultural experiences from which they are barred(i.e. the popular question “How do you say ‘I love you’ in your language?”). It is a subtle, and humorous, form of protest—which makes it powerful. Despite popular notions that Muslim cultures require colonialist influences to create a more just and equal society, Nazira Zeineddine, a pioneer of 20th century feminism, addressed a prominent contemporary scholar she criticized for using an interpretation of Islam to perpetuate misogyny, saying,
“You mentioned, my dear Sheikh, that the health and the morality of the Bedouin and the villagers earned them the right to be unveiled. It was a corrupt morality of city dwellers that blighted them with the veil. Excuse me, sir, I’m a village woman living in the city and I have observed both villagers and city dwellers. I have not seen your city sisters and brothers to be inherently less moral than my sisters and brothers from the villages […] Woe to us if we do not join with our men in breaking our chains to seize our freedoms that are gifts from God Almighty. They provide for the welfare, advancement, and happiness of all.” (Unveiling and Veiling, 290)
Zeineddine manages to make a compelling feminist argument within the parameters of Islamic philosophies. When referencing European authors or appealing to concepts popularly attributed to Western thought, Zeineddine strips herself of pretention by communicating her argument in Arabic. She discusses, specifically, the settings in her own country—the village, the city—to formulate her argument against male figures of authority. Because she communicates her point in Arabic, she speaks to the people whom she criticizes, rather than speaking behind them, the conversation is a more honest one.
Ghalayini, Zeineddine’s most frequent subject of critique, published a refutation entitled Views on the Book “Attributed to Miss Nazira Zeineddine” in which he alleged that Unveiling and Veiling had been written not by a woman named Nazira Zeineddine but by a group of men, while simultaneously accusing Zeineddine of treason by connecting her to the French and foreign enemies of Islam who seek to embarrass the religion—subsequently admitting, of course, that his own interpretations were embarrassing to the religion.
When such critiques are written in Arabic or indigenous languages, it provides a larger space for examination and reexamination. It provides a larger space to examine and reexamine freely, but removing external pressures—which is the reason I suspect that al-Ghalayini and men like him reach desperately for the confines of those pressures even when criticism is communicated in their own languages.
There was a time when I used to read the Qur’an daily for about 30 minutes. When I did this, I noticed myself changing and was forced to reduce the reading to twice a week. When I read “too often,” I became calmer, more at peace, and I cared very little about troublesome events or material loss. It was as though I were turning to water. Unfortunately, this all also meant that I was too tranquil when any kind of injustice befell me. I can not afford to be so forgiving. I need to be a fighter.
I was thinking recently, with all of the Islamophobia I’ve seen, with Muslim women harassed, with men showing up at masjids with guns, that the “violent” verses of the Qur’an that used to bother me–don’t anymore. I’ve written an entire series about verses taken out of context, about how they are actually defensive, but even when I knew that, they’d still bothered me a little, because who really wants to see any unashamed advocation of violence anywhere, even if it is in self-defense, especially in their religious texts of Love? And now they don’t. I have always been unapologetic, but I have never been as unapologetic as now. The non-Muslims who present these verses out of context to prove how violent I am have literally driven me to not caring, to thinking “Good. I hope you learn not to oppress those who are coming to worship.” It made me realize that what I thought was a virtue of my character, the sense that these verses were too harsh, was an unkindness to those whose situations I could not understand. What seems like God’s vengeance towards one group of people is in truth God’s mercy toward another.