I know, the topic itself sounds controversial. But then again this is the question all of us face one time or another. Be it in our minds or hearts or sometimes aloud in our conversations in texts with our friends or discussions in or living room.
This woman in question has some sort of an education. But regardless of her circumstances, she is a living, breathing, and thinking human being. She might have overcome many life challenges or might be going through some of life’s trials and changes. Still, at some point she feels she needs to question her existence.
Who am I ?
What is my purpose? Why am I doing what I am doing?
Is there an end goal?
There’s nothing wrong with these self-analytical questions. But what scares me (and something I often get to hear too) is the preconceived notions of what the answers should be. Attached with it an array of self-doubt bubbling under the surface about the truthful answers. Does that make sense?
Let me give you an example.
What Am I ?
- All of the family and relationship tags (in laws, aunt etc)
- Community member
- Useless (fat, light, dark, tall, short etc) woman with no goals who binge watches Netflix and eats ice creme or chocolate or bread or drinks unhealthy beverages and goes to bed.
This last one is the bottom of our self-pity, self-doubt, self-loathing, and self sabotaging self-esteem talk. Let’s not go there now.
But this is the reality of many Muslim women from Generation X, Y and Z. We have scores of women amongst these three generations, who are not only confused but hurt too. As a result, they end up looking for alternatives to find their self-worth, purpose, and self-esteem outside of our deen.
While a detailed analysis of the crisis we women face in terms of our purpose, roles and identity as Muslim women is beyond the scope of this post. But on the level, one can observe much of the existential crisis Muslim women (and men) face today is a result of post-colonial trauma and reform of education in the Muslim world.
The classical understanding of Islam, what it actually is, and how it applies in our day to day life has been largely removed from the education system. In its place, we now have a very superficial and shallow understanding of Islam. And in return, this shallow understanding has given rise to many social injustices. Not only that, but it also caused many to mimic the ideas and way of life of the former colonizers. Some of the popular amongst these ideologies are secular liberalism and its gendered offshoot, feminism.
Now let’s break down a few fundamental facts to understand why we, women folk are divided when it comes to religion, culture, identity, and religion.
The core foundation of liberalism is that everyone should be free to say and do whatever they want and the right of an individual and their choice is above what is good or bad for society as a whole.
A good example of this can be clothing. A liberal-minded would argue I have a choice to walk nude and no one can tell me otherwise. While a healthy society (Muslim or not) would argue that walking nude isn’t benefiting the people, in fact, it is causing confusion and probably harassing common folk.
Liberal societies are supportive of secularism and humanism.
Secularism is a form of government that does not take religion into account when making and passing laws. It’s a divide between state and church.
A humanist in laymen’s terms is someone not following any particular religion. The belief is set on the fact that people are able to derive morality on their own. They are capable of solving problems of humanity through rational dialogue and coming together and making the world a better place.
Liberalism is a political ideology that is a byproduct of social, political, and religious issues of late medieval Europe. The European world needed liberalism and secularism because they could not get along with one another in regard to their religious diversity.
On the other hand, the Muslim world never had a clash between science and religion. They did not face contention between their scholars and the common folk because in Islam all have the right to read, learn, and understand Quran and go through religious training, learn from the fuqaha and scholars. There was no feudalism when it came to learning the book of Allah or exploring science. It was an understood fact that the sciences are the creations of God and in order to understand God better, it is our duty to explore different fields. Muslims were pioneers, engineers, doctors, scientists, etc.
So in the light of given history and understanding of what’s liberalism and why it was adopted, we as Muslims should understand that it was a solution for the post enlightened Europe and cater to European problems at the time. It cannot be used as a model to tackle Muslim society issues, as its core is to submit to one’s own ego and the disregarding of the Creator of the heavens and the earth, from the very start.
In a Liberal society, I do have the benefit of wearing a hijab. But, I also have to respect the nude community. In a liberal society, we are all individuals, affecting one another. But not taking the responsibility for the moral deformation of the society at large.
And that’s exactly what’s wrong with the concept of liberalism. No accountability as a society at large. Because each one of us is living a life of self-absorption.
Feminism – The Gendered offshoot of Liberalism:
Feminism began as a movement in the late 19th century. There’s no agreed-upon definition of feminism but it can be broadly defined as a movement for equal rights for women. Since it’s beginning to now, the movement is divided into four waves. Each wave is characterized by its own strands and campaigns.
There’s a lot of disparity on agreed-upon notions even amongst feminists themselves. I want to highlight this with the example of the third wave of feminism.
The third wave of feminism (late 20th and early-21st centuries) has many strands. Some of the positives of which are:
1. Raising voice against harassment at workplace,
2. Demand for equality in pay.
However, some strands are on the opposite side of the spectrum eg support for pornography and prostitution.
There are feminists who say this is disgusting, demeaning and should be banned. On the other hand, there is a group that says it is like any other workforce industry, which should pay taxes and should be provided government protection.
One of the interesting facts is that this same wave of feminists also took motherhood to be anti-feminist. They think that the act of giving birth is submission to men. I wouldn’t go into detail, but it’s an interesting fact to note that feminism does not take motherhood as a feminist act!
Zara Faris in her article “Do Muslims need a feminist Theology?”, writes:
Ironically, unlike Islam, feminism has no holy book, no code or canon, nor an authoritative body to arbitrate what is authentically feminism and what is not. This leaves us with the absurd but accurate realization that feminism is more unclear, confused and subject to interpretation than it can claim to be the case with Islam. In light of this, one should fail to see the use of trying to see into apparently muddy waters by using an even muddier lens.
Now that I have made some points about the concept of Western enlightenment through the modernity of Liberalism, humanism, secularism and feminism, let’s come back to Islam.
Islam and my journey
I would like to address the fact that we generally as a Muslim society are frustrated at a lot of things.
We are frustrated by the wrong understanding and false narrative about what the Quran says.
We are frustrated with the fabricated Ahadith which have suffocated our womenfolk to the extent that a whole generation of women does not want to hear or learn about the correct deen.
I for one also came to deen in my late 20’s, after becoming a mother of two children. The very liberal society that I argue against gave me the chance to freely understand Quran and learn. I was able to dismantle my negative biases regarding religion, through understating and learning the book of Allah, the Sunnah of the beloved Prophet ﷺ.
I must say I was desperate to understand who I was.
What was my role in and outside of the house?
What exactly were my rights and responsibilities?
I was fed up with the same narrative of sabr and compromise because I did not understand the ideology behind it.
I couldn’t separate the irrational from the rational.
I saw abuse in marriages. Whenever I would argue, I was shut down by the same dogmatic response: Allah has commanded sabr. You have become too liberal, too Western.
Alhamdulilallah for deen, Alhamdulilallah for the mercy of Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem.
How is it that He would allow his servant to burn for answers and the right path and not guide him or her to it?
And so I learned that in order to understand myself and ultimately release myself from the shackles of man-made religion, I need to understand and learn the God sent religion.
The answer always brings you back to the concept of Abd and Ibdah.
This is my truth. I hold it tightly, humbly and gratefully.
The modern world has taught us to worship ourselves.
We have become Demigods, obsessed with our looks, socioeconomic status, social media following, our appearances. We lose our night’s sleepover how much of ourselves should we reveal to fit the mold of the progressive woman. Because this woman has been taught that only she is in control.
With anxiety pills and depression medication, or if from a low-income class then silently suffering from mental disorders – our women are left to feel hollow.
We have to take back the narrative of what a Muslim woman should be.
Our identity and way of life shouldn’t be defined by the western outlook because that outlook is the root cause of the path of our self-destruction.
We have to make connections in understating how white supremacy and colonialism played into our insecurities and taught us that the man-made laws are far better and above the laws of God.
It is funny to witness how we are trying to escape the cultural human-made laws in the Muslim world to derogatory human-made laws of the West.
Why haven’t we learnt our history?
Beyond our Ummahat ul Momineen and the Sahabiyat (may Allah ﷻ be pleased with them all), there was an era of Muslim women scholars.
There was a time when each Muslim household had both its men and women learned in the Quran, Hadith and Fiqh sciences.
It was a Muslim woman who set up the first university in the world.
Allah hu Akbar!
Why do we not want to learn from our golden past as Muslim women to honor ourselves and our roles?
Why is it that godlessness is becoming the answer to our temporary false sham of fulfillment?
Let’s invest in ourselves by learning what the Quran actually says and asks of us.
Let’s learn our deen so that we can confidently refute a weak hadith from the correct one and save our daughters and the future generation of mothers, sisters, granddaughters from years of religious and emotional abuse.
There is empowerment in knowledge.
The knowledge of self is gained through seeking, understanding, and loving our Rab. The self can not be sought through man-made philosophies that are thrown out as outdated or false after every 50 some years.
Let’s learn about Hafsah bint Sarin who was the sister of the famous scholar Ibn Sirin. She was a jurist and a scholar who lived in the times of Hasan Al Basri.
Let’s learn about Nafisa bint Ali Al Hasan who the decedent of Ali رضي الله عنه . Imam Ash Shafi sat in her study circles at the height of his career.
Let’s learn about Aisha bint Muhammad bin Abdul Hadi in the 14th century. She was a Muhadisah in Damascus and also was a teacher of Ibn Hajar.
There are many more examples of wonderful and learned women of knowledge in Islamic history. The need is to wipe out the noise of the propaganda and turn back to Allah.
Take charge of your education dear Muslim woman.
Educate yourself in Qur’an and Sunnah. For your sake, for the sake of a better future for your sons and daughters, do it!
Let us raise sons and daughters who would be pious, righteous, and respectful of each other. Let us raise a generation who would not oppress each other in the name of gender equality and social norms, but will be each other’s support to build a better ummah.
It is not a far fetched dream.
We as humans have the gift of adaptivity. The current pandemic has proven once again: we are resilient and intelligent human beings. Let us not be the sheep, blindfolded with whims and desires leading us to an abyss of destruction.
It is time to wake up.
Wake up oh daughter of Eve, wake up.
About the writer: Iram bint Safia is a Muslim American, with Pakistani roots. She works passionately creating educational awareness about Islam, women’s rights, racial injustice, homeschooling, social reform. She likes to speak about anything and everything that affects our lives or will have a long-lasting impact on our families and our societies.
Her motto is Service. Service for life, towards God, family, and community.
She can be found blogging at: https://www.parentinguncomplicated.com/
She can be reached over at https://www.instagram.com/irambintsafia_spark_inspire/