Polygamy is haraam.

I don’t really care about the outrage I’m going to spark, but before I spark it, I want to briefly mention that my understanding of haraam does not contrast starkly with halaal. In the thoughts of most Muslims, “haraam” translates to “forbidden.” Most of you know already that I subscribe to moral absolutes, i.e. I believe in the existence of universal morality. I want to emphasize that this is an entirely different question. It is erroneous to apply this structure to the dynamic of halaal/haraam, which describes the permissibility of a believer’s act specifically in relation to Allah, because while “halaal” does mean “lawful” or “permissible”—“haraam” describes the sacredness of an act.

In other words, the more sinful an act, the more sacred it becomes. Murder? Forbidden to us because human life is sacred, and thus so is the magnitude of severing a soul from its body, a sacred act reserved solely for the angels. Adultery? Forbidden to us because the love in a marriage is sacred, and thus so is the magnitude of destroying trust in its foundation. The realm of haraam encompasses that which is to remain respectfully unapproached. Arriving at this understanding was crucial to my development as a Muslim. An act being “forbidden” is uninspiring—I don’t really care. But if you tell me I can’t do something because it’s sacred, because it was not made for me to do, I …cannot describe how much I understand this in the depth of my heart.

Haraam actions are not forbidden primarily because they are harmful; rather, they are forbidden because they are sacred and the harm is a byproduct. This is of crucial importance: an object, animal, concept, act, that is haraam is meant to be met with a dreaded respect, not disgust. This is the wrong attitude to assign to the perspective of the Divine. Rather, the primary approach for us is that the act is awestriking because it is not fashioned for human beings. Haraam signifies a respectful distance from the act. (I will likely describe the meaning of halaal/haraam in a different post.)

In the Qur’an, polygamy is emphasized as not being fashioned for the human heart (“Allah has not made you with two hearts” —33:4) which is rendered incapable by Divine creation of exercising equality among multiple spouses. In fact, polygamy is made haraam on the point of justice and the incapacity of the human heart in more than just this one [33:4] instance:

And you are unable
to deal justly
among women,
even if you desire.
Do not incline [to favor one]
and exclude [the others].
And if you reconcile
and fear the God/dess
then indeed
the God/dess is ever
Forgiving and Merciful.
—4:129

4:129, like every verse of the Qur’an (including the “two hearts” verse), encompasses both broad and specific applications. It discourages polygamy, stating men could not treat women equally in marriage even if they were careful. This is because men are not Allah, and their gaze and judgment is neither Divine gaze nor Divine judgment, rendering yet another example of the meaning of haraam as an act that is uhuman or with supernatural qualities, or frankly, not one’s station. Broadly the verse employs the word for “women” instead of “wives” thereby curbing men’s unfair advantages in every institution by warning them they are incapable of being just.

Because the Qur’an was delivered to human beings, it speaks to us like us. It inhibits us with different degrees of no, whether polite or direct or incensed, but these are ultimately proclamations of inhibition—ultimately, the text is saying no.

Compare the structure of 4:129, discouraging men from marrying multiple women, with the one forbidding the consumption of alcohol (2:219): “In them [wine and gambling] is great sin and benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.” Most male exegetes read this verse as rendering alcohol haraam, yet do not extend their logic of implicit inhibition to polygamy even though every verse regarding polygamy follows the same structural reason as the “harm outweighing the benefit” in alcohol. You all know I do not contest alcohol is implicitly forbidden in this verse, but by that very logic, so are male exegetes hypocrites when they do not extend the polite inhibition to polygamy just because it’s polite.

The different weights by which the Qur’an forbids an act, but ultimately still forbids it as sacred or haraam, is another subject for its own post. The most widely cited verse regarding polygamy is 4:3.

[4:2] Give the orphans their properties
and do not substitute your defective property
with their superior property.
And do not consume their properties into your own.
That is a great sin.
[4:3] And if you fear that you will not
deal justly with orphans,
then marry amongst yourselves suitable women,
twos or threes or fours.
But if you fear
that you will not exercise justice,
then marry only one, or the responsibility possessing your right hands.
That is more appropriate
that you do not incline to oppress.
—4:2-3

I’ve included 4:2 to lend context to 4:3, which is the marginalization of women and girls. It is specifically familial and financial marginalization. 4:3 describes at least three circumstances in which the women upon its revelation found themselves: the first circumstance is as orphaned girls with property, which men are commanded not to consume into their own. The second circumstance is as marginalized women who are suitable, defined by the verse itself as women from whom these men cannot take property because the women were left with neither property nor guardianship, whom men marry to themselves amongst themselves. The third is “the responsibility possessing your right hand”—i.e. women who are under some guardianship, encompassing but not limited to slaves and captives the institutions of which marriage sought to eliminate, and thus entitled to protections by virtue so that men are less inclined to infringe on unfamiliar rights.

Male exegetes are often confused by “twos or threes or fours” but this is a natural reference to multitudes because the “you” address in this verse is not just the plural “you”—it is contextually the societal you. The “you” of the multitudes. These pairs of “twos or threes or fours” emphasize that societal address of the plural subject, just as the societal description of angels’ wings is offered in 35:1, which praises Allah “Who made the angel messengers having wings, twos or threes or fours” and “increases in creation what S/he wills.” The description is for the society of angels, a different type of contextual plural, and the numbers reference an infinite multitude of weddings, not of wives. Marry them to each other, amongst yourselves. The verb “marry” is not individually reflexive—it is societally reflexive.

It follows then the final circumstance 4:3 describes employs “wahid” to mean not just one but only—as in “one and only”—this circumstance: the circumstance in which a man has guardianship over a newly financially and familially marginalized woman. Any woman in this circumstance is the “only one” (as directly from the verse) he is allowed to marry. He cannot deal justly with orphans who have property, or with women toward whom he has no guardianship, so he can marry only women from whom he is expected to take responsibility. The recognition of “wahid” as operating as “only one circumstance” in 4:3 further supports “twos or threes or fours” as societally reflexive plurals. This happens again such as in verse 34:46, “seek truth in pairs and individually.”

The inclusion of “aw” (or) in “only one, or the responsibility possessing your right hands” operates as introducing the definition of the aforementioned noun. Take for example: “We saw the dancers, or women weaving through the air.” The latter part of the sentence following “or” defines dancer. In fact, in very previous paragraph, I was forced to repeat with in “He cannot deal justly with orphans who have property, or with women toward whom he has no guardianship,” to avoid grammatically defining orphans as “women toward whom he as no guardianship”: the latter is describing a different circumstance, not defining the first. In 4:3, the latter defines the former; otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to say a woman in just one circumstance, and then this other circumstance.

This is all very clear to me: the verse moves from orphans from whom men are not to take property; to women suitable by circumstance of familial and financial marginalization for men (societal plural) to marry; to women for whom men are responsible—women possessing the men’s right hands—and whose rights are familiar to their male guardians. Therefore the entirety of the verse remains intact in terms of context and its concern with addressing marginalized women especially in times of war. The verses emphasize justice toward women, and the feminine voice and interest is always centered to regulate male behavior.

This is the most immediate reading and easy to see. No one could read polygamy into these verses unless they really, really wanted to read polygamy into these verses, particularly since polygamy is described as humanly impossible in the remainder of the Qur’an. However, according to malestream scholars, polygamy was and is allowed in the following conditions: (1) when polygamy is used to relieve a substantial number of people living in poverty if the man who does so is able, in some sort of extravagant fantasy, to treat each wife equally and (2) some scholars are gracious enough to say woman is not forced into or to stay in marriage. When the Prophet’s daughter came to him and told him her husband wanted a second wife, the Prophet asked him not to marry again, because it would displease the Prophet’s daughter. This provides that a man cannot marry again if his wife won’t allow it.

Polygamy isn’t, however, is derived from the Qur’anic text, as I have shown. Men will pull verses to pieces for excuses: some have even suggested that polygamy is not only allowed but necessary in populations in which women outnumber men. The Qur’an simply says nothing about qualifying polygamy in societies where there are more women than men. It does, however, emphasize that men cannot deal justly with women because men are not God, despite whatever ideas they might have. In fact, verses 33:50-52 reluctantly permit the Prophet to marry women who ask to marry him and emphasize that “this is not for other believers” which further illustrates the meaning of haraam as sacred, and confirms that polygamy is in fact haraam.

This is clear, and would make nearly all polygamous marriages today Islamically unlawful. I realize there are women who are second wives in polygamous marriages who become very frustrated when no one believes that they’re happy or satisfied. I’m not making judgments on your happiness by finding it unlawful. When women aren’t abused, it’s none of my business. Rather, the source of permissibility for polygamy is not from the Qur’an. 4:3 states that orphans are to be given the entirety of their rightful properties, that men within a society are to marry financially and familially marginalized women in that society, and that men who cannot deal justly in either circumstance should only marry women in the (only one) circumstance in which they are responsible for these women.

Article: “It’s Time to Stop Acting like Women are the Reason Islamophobia Exists”

In what world is it okay to implicate Muslim women in white supremacy? How does a Muslim man muster up the immodesty to tell a Muslim woman outraged about sexual assault that she’s an agent for white supremacy? That she should watch her words because white men are listening? What, exactly, is she meant to do about that, other than offer herself as some sort of sacrificial lamb for the “greater” cause of fighting racism?

Salaam everyone. I know that it’s been a while. I’m directing you all to an article I recently produced with two other amazing Islamic feminists. It’s posted here on AltMuslim, and also crossposted at Muslimah Media Watch.

I’ll write to you soon. xx

White Feminists Prioritize Race Over Sex: on Failing to Understand White Feminism

My fever for the past few days is currently at 103°F, so I apologize in advance if this post makes jumps, but it all bears repeating.

No one in the history of revolutions has ever placed sex before race, including white women, who consistently prioritize their race over their sex (see: voting for men who’ve assaulted them, voting against the interests of women of color, etc.) but the opposite—believing racism is the only real oppression and should be prioritized over all supposedly imaginary others—has always existed, especially with male revolutionaries of color.

The complaint that a woman is prioritizing sex before race is based on an imaginary perception, and alarmingly, it is an accusation that can only ever be levied against a woman of color. White women don’t actually ever prioritize their sex, because they vote against the interests of women of color. They prioritize their race. When white women do support women of color, it’s an anti-racist cause as much as an anti-sexist cause.

It’s astounding to me that people don’t recognize accusations that a woman of color is placing her sex before her race are specific to her. It’s a racist, sexist accusation. It doesn’t apply to white women. It is only justified if she is upholding white women against women of color, and even then is internalized white supremacy, not a prioritization of sex over race.

White feminism is the prioritization of your race over your sex, not the other way around. This post is obviously not speaking to black women, who coined the term and created its usage, and whose intellectual labor is consistently credited by men to white women. It is speaking to non-black women of color, who misappropriate and misuse black feminist terms in order to uphold a race-over-sex hierarchy supporting men of their own race—just like white feminists (and like the very men of color) that black feminists criticize.

Some of you who’ve been reading me since 2011 know that I’ve had difficulty describing my …relationship with my race, and I think there is an overall (not unjustified, but certainly untrue) assumption that white supremacy factors into that. It doesn’t. And I’m ready now to disclose what it is, very briefly.

I’d noticed that although I’m very detached from my race (resorting to describing it through my hair), I entertain—just like I used to when Muslims accused me of not being Muslim—just a tiny, little, unconcerning strand of thoughts about not wanting to live anymore when a woman of my race accused me of not being of my race, or otherwise sources my work to white feminists. Again, this isn’t serious, and there’s no cause for alarm. I fantasize about a lot of things, all the time. This was strange considering I’m so distant from race and typically unfeeling. How could denial of my race result in this reaction? I knew there must have been something going on. (Sometimes what you don’t feel speaks volumes more than what you do.)

Some of you know that my childhood was, I suppose, what can objectively be considered sort of rough. I’ve mentioned it in passing before, and never really in detail, because I don’t think of it as traumatizing. I tend to bounce back from hardship pretty quickly, or at least I did as a child, even when it drags on for years. But my mother’s physically abusive marriage meant several things in terms of how connected I was to her and subsequently to my race.

My mother’s forced isolation from her family and friends and the confiscation of her paychecks meant that, unlike other girls with perfect families, I didn’t just not have warm coats in the winter or fitted shoes. It also meant that I didn’t have glittering saris brought back from abroad every summer. It meant that I was not surrounded with music or movies from my mother’s home. It meant that I could not visit my mother’s family annually like so many of my classmates did theirs. It meant that all I knew about anything was violence. It was violence at home, and, when I encountered racism, violence at school.

It’s a popular concept to convey, that white women want tiklis and kohl and henna but they don’t want the harder things. All I had was the harder things. And to be told, after that, by some prissy well-to-do girl whose mother was never barred from sending money home and who had two whole parents and routine vacations and something glimmering to wear every Eid, that I wasn’t connected to my race or that I needed to read the black scholarship she supposedly knew well enough to manipulate like that kid who wrote “black lives matter” 100 times for his college essay, was fundamentally and astronomically enraging—in the quiet, internal, not-good-enough, evoking-abuse, destructive kind of way. The kind of rage that isn’t rage. The most dangerous kind. (Thankfully, I am very good at healing myself.)

Having figured this out, it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it still speaks to how obtuse (and ultimately white feminist) non-black women of color are when they source the work of other women of color to white feminists any time that work doesn’t center men of color. It’s not just that white feminism erases race—in fact, it recognizes and prioritizes whiteness—rather, white feminism erases the womanness of women of color. It excludes women of color, as not-women, and that is its main feature—not some failure to include non-black men of color. It’s not about men of color. Please stop centering them for once in your sorry lives. And if you must, at least don’t expect me to do it for you. Thanks.

Functions of the Language Barrier as Protest in the Muslim Feminist Jihad

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.

from %22Why do they hate us%22 by Mona Eltahawy
from Eltahawy’s “Why do they hate us?” unforgivingly criticizing both Arab men and Western “experts” in English 

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 The Washington 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.

Zeineddine violence of men
Nazira Zeineddine contesting that women are inherently evil by suggesting this is a projection of men, whose violence is demonstrable.

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.”

MA Ke-lin (Department of Sociology,Northwest Normal University,Lanzhou 730070,Gansu,China);The influence of Islamic view on femineity over the northwestern Muslim women[J];Social Sciences in Ningxia;2007-03
excerpt from “The Influence of Islamic View on Femininity over the Northwestern Muslim Woman” by MA Ke-lin (Department of Sociology, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, Gansu, China) detailing women’s rights in Islam.
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? tuimanushnagoruThe 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.

Zeineddine 225
“You are afraid of women’s knowledge. You’re afraid to remove the covering from her heart just as you are afraid to remove the veil from her eyes. It seems that you want her heart and eyes to remain blind so that she will be a dumb instrument in the hands of someone like you.” Zeineddine to al-Ghalayini (Unveiling and Veiling, 225).

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.

“Violent” verses in the Qur’an don’t bother me anymore.

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.

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.