Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Trifecta of Rape Culture, Sexual Abuse, and the Muslim Community

Editorial Note: TRIGGER WARNING – This article contains explicit stories of sexual assault and trauma. This is part one of a two-part series on rape culture and sexual abuse within Muslim communities. Part one debunks common false statements often given to excuse or ignore sexual abuse and traumaPart two of this series, coming next week, will look at other arguments used to blame victims, and the author will examine them from the Islamic standpoint. Also, the terms “victim” and “survivor” are both used in this piece at the discretion of the person who was relating their story of sexual trauma.
“Islam protects women from rape and sexual assault!” Too many Muslims buy into this line of thinking either out of naivete or ignorance; sometimes clueless and sometimes in denial of the painful realities and tragedies of sexual crime even in the Muslim Ummah.
“Rape culture” is a term that describes “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.  Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.”
Rape culture is not only harmful to women, but men as well. Due to many societal attitudes regarding gender and sexuality, men are also taught to internalize beliefs that contribute to the silencing of sexual assault and rape of boys and men. Ideas such as “men can’t be raped,” “speaking about abuse is weakness,” and so on have all led to the widespread silence surrounding the sexual violence perpetrated against boys and men.
And, contrary to widespread belief, “rape culture” does not solely exist in Western or non-Muslim societies. Unfortunately, many Muslim communities have deeply unhealthy and toxic attitudes regarding sexual violence and the victims thereof.
There are certain phrases in particular that are used to dismiss and belittle the experiences of survivors of sexual crimes. However, none of them reflect the Islamic ethos and attitude regarding such crimes nor do they justify the perpetration of such crimes. As Muslims, we should never think that there is ever an excuse for a person to violate another’s body.
Nonetheless, rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse do exist in the Muslim community, just as it exists in all other faith and race groups. Too many times, Muslims trot out the following series of statements about sexual assault and abuse, which are inherently false and misleading. For every claim, however, there is a much stronger rebuttal – one based on both facts and a deeper understanding of the Islamic perspective.
“If she just wore hijab/niqab, she wouldn’t get harassed or raped …”
This line, often uttered to dismiss cases of rape where the victims did not observe hijab, is one that is not only false, but completely fails to understand the true meaning, role and purpose of hijab.
No doubt, hijab is indeed an obligation in Islam; it is a command from Allah and should be observed by believing women[1]. There are Divine Wisdoms behind its obligation, and in some cases, it can deter a certain type of attention.
However, it is not a force field that physically prevents a rapist from raping his victim. Modest dressing cannot prevent rape or lewd behavior from the abuser. Nor should we ever expect a person whose heart and soul are so corrupted that they would dare to commit such a crime in the first place, to feel deterred merely by some extra layers of fabric. Numerous women have been sexually assaulted and raped while wearing their hijab.
One sister — a convert who wears the hijab and relied upon a small group of other Muslims to be her “community” — shared the following:
“… I thought it was weird for him to sit so close to me, but I didn’t really think anything of it. He’s a “good boy.” Prays five times a day. Ten years my senior and a PhD student at my university. Super intelligent. Calls his mother (who lives overseas) every day despite time zone differences. Meets all the markers of a good person. But I don’t think I’ve ever been alone with him before this.
We were just talking, he paused and pulled me on top of him. Suddenly I was laying on him, and he was holding me against him tightly. I was super freaked out, but I laughed and was like, “[name], stop! What are you doing?” Obviously, I tried to push against him to get off, but he flipped me, so I was pinned underneath him in a matter of seconds, and he was straddling me. He ripped off my hijab, pulled up my shirt and bra and started to bite my breasts. 
I was completely in shock and tried to reason with him to stop. He said something like he’s seen how I look at him (???) and he knows I want him (?????). Completely, absolutely, disgustingly false. 
He held my hands down when I tried to push him off, and I began to fight him with everything I had in me. He pulled down my pants and started to penetrate me with his fingers. By then I was crying, and I kept on telling him over and over to stop, but he said to just let him do it. “If you really don’t like it then why are you so wet?” 
I was terrified and never felt so much like I’ve lost control of my body before. I remember just repeating his name endlessly, as if he would somehow hear his name and wake up and realize what he’s doing. I’ve never been intimate with a man even consensually, so it was beyond overwhelming. Eventually he said, “Relax, it’s not like I’m going to rape you.” And he stopped.
I never figured out what the heck he meant by that. Did he not realize what he just did?!? I put my clothes back on as fast as I could, and I left. I haven’t told anybody. I saw him once on campus by chance, and I felt like I was having a heart attack. For a few weeks after, he kept on texting me and asking how I was and stuff. I never responded. Throughout the entire ordeal and after, I get the feeling that he truly doesn’t think he did something wrong.
This was about three months ago, and none of my friends who were there with me even know. I feel like maybe I should tell the girls at least, so they can watch out for him, but they would never be so stupid to hang out with a man alone in his apartment. I do worry that they would judge me for it. My friends think I’m weird for never hanging out with them whenever I know he’s around, but I don’t know if they’ve put it together. It’s certainly distanced me from them in some regards. I’m a convert and my closest family lives a plane flight away, so these friends are really the only community I have.
I’ve thought about it literally every day. All the time. I’ve prayed and tried to find the same peace in my body as I did before, but it’s so difficult. I find myself wanting to make wudu over and over, and I never really feel pure again.”
“Women should always have a mahram with them!”
The dismissive claim that if women always had a mahram (close male relative – e.g. father, brother, uncle, son – or husband) with them, they wouldn’t experience sexual violence, is a blatantly false one.
First, there is no Islamic requirement for women to always be accompanied by a mahram. The requirement is one solely related to travel, and even then, there are differences of opinion regarding the conditions for this.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, many victims of sexual violence, particularly younger children, are attacked by people who actually are their mahaarim. Consider this: Sexual violence against children and youth is more commonly perpetrated by someone known to the victim (75 percent), usually an acquaintance or a family member.[2]
“I was 8. It was my father’s youngest brother. I didn’t know it was molestation or that it was wrong. After some years, I told my mum about it, she told my dad, and [it] drove them apart. About two years later, my parents got divorced because my mum couldn’t live with that. When I was 20, I told other family members, and my father’s sister said. “What will you gain out of this? You destroy the life of a now-married man? Cause suffering to his family and yours? No one will believe you anyways. You just lack decency.” (female victim)
“She was too seductive.”
The story shared above already demonstrates, “seductiveness” has nothing to do with sexual assault. Many victims of sexual assault are children — both boys and girls.
Statistics Canada reports: “The second most prevalent type of police-reported violence committed against children and youth is sexual assault. In 2008, there were over 13,600 child and youth victims of sexual offences reported to police. Over half (59%) of all victims of sexual assault were children and youth under the age of 18. The rate of sexual assaults against children and youth was 1.5 times higher than the rate for young adults aged 18 to 24 in 2008 (201 per 100,000 children and youth compared to 130 for young adults).”[3]
“I was around 12 years old. I used to go to this Maulana’s [Quran teacher] house for hifz [Quran memorization]. When Maulana was not around, he asked me to read to his son, who was a hafiz [one who has memorized the Quran]. One day this hafiz called me to his room and gave me a story to read. As I was going through the story, he tried to rape me. I screamed and told him to stop. He came to his senses and stopped. Felt like beating him up with a baseball bat. Never told anyone.” (Male victim)
“I don’t know which or whom started first, but I was seven and abused by two different men … a cousin and an “uncle.” Apparently, I was special, as I was allowed into my cousin’s man cave; no one was allowed in there except me. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but I was allowed into a room that even my older brother wasn’t allowed to enter because I was special. It was a touch here and a touch there, until I guess he was comfortable enough to take out his “lollipop” for me to suck on. I was scared of the “lollipop.” I didn’t know what to make of it, but I was special, and that’s why I was given the “lollipop.” I can’t remember whether I sucked on the “lollipop,” but I remember being made to touch it and pet it. It’s funny how your brain works to block things out as you become .” (female survivor)
“This is what happens when our kids are exposed to Western kaafir[nonMuslim/disbeliever] culture.” Or, “Rape only happens to bad girls who are in bad places.”
Rape and sexual assault are just as much of an issue in the Muslim world, – in fact even in the holiest of places. Though many people choose to live in denial, the brutal truth is that unfortunately, women experience sexual harassment and assault even in the sacred cities of Makkah and Madinah and in the Masjid al-Haraam itself.
“A man, in an ihram, grabbed my hand and tried to force me close to him whilst I was doing sa’i [running back and forth between Safa and Marwa, one of the rites of Hajj].” (female victim; age 14 at the time.)
“When I was around 11 years old, my parents took me and my siblings for umrah [the lesser pilgrimage]. We performed umrah and were on our way back to Pakistan. I wanted to use the washroom at Jeddah airport. I went there with my little sisters. 
When we went to washroom, it was crowded because everyone was doing wudu [ablutions] to pray. I went to the washroom and my sisters were waiting outside. It took me a long time, so all the older women had left.
Some man came in and told my sisters to leave too and that people weren’t allowed to come in the washroom. They were 4 and 5, so they didn’t know anything and left me there alone. The man kept knocking at the door. I didn’t know it was a man; I thought it was a woman because it was the women’s washroom.  
I opened the door and he came in. I was so shocked and scared. I was trembling with fear; I was so confused, I didn’t even know what was going on. I was molested there, and I was too shocked to shout or scream, but then I came to my senses and started screaming really loudly. Some men came inside the washroom and started banging on the door, so this guy pulled up his pants, opened the door and ran away.
People were trying to run after him. I don’t know what happened after that because my parents came and took me away. I think they handled it, but we never spoke about it, so I don’t know what happened after it.
It was my first time being molested. Before this, I didn’t even know there was such a thing or that this happens to people. My mum told me not to tell my dad that the man touched me, and to just say the other men came before he could touch me – otherwise, my dad would disown me. So that’s what I did. 
I was very scared to go to school after it because we had many male teachers and there were lots of men around. My 11-year-old brain was too terrified to be around men for around a year.  My mum told me not to tell anyone back home about it, and everyone was just quiet. No one said anything else.” (female victim)
These are just some examples of the common sentiments expressed by Muslims with regards to sexual violence. In turn, each and every story quoted herein was submitted to me directly by the survivors of these crimes. These harrowing stories prove just how false the prevalent ideas surrounding sexual violence in the Muslim community are.
It must be emphasized that none of these statements so many Muslims give in regard to sexual abuse are considered to be Islamically valid or acceptable. They are abhorrent; these mentalities are what allow sexual crimes to continue to be perpetrated in our communities, with little to no accountability for the criminals, and with very few resources or support for the victims.
[3] Ibid

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Virgin and the Unicorn: A Tale of Manhood, Myth and Mysticism, and Potential Murder

Once upon a time, in what was once known as the New World - the name itself was uttered with a combination of scandal and intrigue, contemptuousness and envy - but what is now merely known as "America" (and this name is uttered in tones of fear and anger, with all the bitterness of those whose lives were shattered in pursuit of "the American dream"), there lived a young man who appeared most unremarkable and yet, as we will come to see, was not quite so unremarkable after all.

He was reckoned a boy, still, for the New World had a strange habit of denying the blossoming of its youth; in truth, he was very much a young man. In the Old World, he would have been expected, at this age, to be at very least an apprentice to a smith or a squire to a knight or even a fisherman already providing for a wife whose belly was swollen with their first child.

But he lived in the New World, and so this man-boy lived according to the standards of this world, and though his skin was honey-dark and his eyes amber-bright and his beard already grown in, a proud lion's-mane, he had no wife. Rather, he lived with his mother in a small, cramped set of rooms called an "apartment" - a far cry from the sumptuous suites known as apartments in the Old World, where even a young man of our young man's age would have already begun collecting his harem, guarding them protectively within the sprawling villa to whom no male had access save the master himself and his own sons.

Our young man, as we said, had no wife and no harem. This would be shocking in the Old World, but in the New World was not; what was shocking, however, even by the New World's standards, was that he was a virgin.

His name, that we may become better acquainted with him, was Musa Alvarez.

Virginity has always had power of its own: the tears of a virgin are a vital ingredient of any reliable truth serum; a virgin's innocence is one of the few things that may compel creatures of the Unseen to reveal themselves; the essence of a virgin's first kiss may either break a curse or seal it for all eternity. In Paradise, maidenly virgins await the Hereafter, eternally loyal to their husbands-to-be; there, too, reside chaste youths who will serve the believing women with chalices of glimmering drinks, their countenances bright as pearls.
Virginity has always been a weapon and a prize, the most dangerous tool and the sweetest temptation by virtue of its most delicate state.

Alas, all of this has been forgotten by most in the New World; indeed, even the Old World has lost its veneration for virginity, both male and female, and all that remains is a twisted sense of possessiveness over the sexual purity of its daughters, while turning a blind eye to the immoral indiscretions of its sons. They do not realize that every act of illicit carnality strips them of their own strength, that their own masculinity is sacrificed by acting upon heedless lusts. But so it has become - the power of innocence has been lost, and so power itself is hidden from those who seek it most fervently.

Musa Alvarez lived in a city of palm trees and a bay of water crowned by a glittering bridge; a desert colonized by silicon technology and sleek, chrome buildings built upon ancient burial grounds and wresting more than one creature of sand and flame from its home, leaving them clinging to shadowy back alleys and long stretches of highway.

And in this city of buried fire and ripening dates lived someone else - well, many someone else's, but this someone else matters to our story - and she was much, much older than our youthful hero - though she did not look it. Being the daughter of a ghulaam from Paradise (though he had chosen to foreswear eternal youth, that he may enjoy the full privileges of maturity), and of a very daring jinniyyah, gave her both an impressive lifespan and a particularly unique set of genetics.

Zumurrud's eyes were lustrous as onyx, her complexion both pearlescent and suffused with inner flame, but she was not, all things considered, considered particularly beautiful by the standards of her maternal tribe, nor did she exude the air of ethereal serenity that was the hallmark of her father's people.

She was also short-tempered, given to flights of fancy, and had an unhealthy fascination with the Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. Her mother had long ago eschewed the earthly realms and its vagaries for the tranquil ether of the seven heavens, and her daughter's insistence on mingling - however invisibly - amongst the People of Clay disturbed her.
It was not that she was wont to commit the crime of Iblees and claim superiority of the Jinn over humankind, but Zumurrud's mother was uncomfortably reminded of her own adventurous indiscretions prior to her pious reformation and settlement into marital bliss (not necessarily in that order).

In any case, Zumurrud found herself drawn to those places which held echoes of the Old World of her people even in the urban jungles of the inner city. It was there, in a patch of scrub and prickly succulents and tiny glowing embers of sand that held a thousand secrets, surrounded by buildings of raw cement and peeling paint, barbed wire and the bitter incense of smog and sand-musk, that Zumurrud met Musa.

Inevitably, unavoidably, with the definitive certainty of naseeb and the too-neat, too-predictable symmetry of a thousand and one love stories - she fell hopelessly, maddeningly in love with him.


You must know that the many tribes of the jinn have been given talents and gifts, skills and tools unique to them, just as every nation amongst humans boasts of its own abilities and technologies. Zumurrud's mother hailed from an ancient tribe of smokeless fire and the ability to step betwixt and between, to veil themselves in shadow or shimmer into visibility, to see - even if only in wisps - auras of power and fear and joy and lust and love.

Virginity, as you may recall from our previous soliloquy, is a powerful thing; all the more so when it is cultivated and guarded carefully, protected from onslaughts of seduction. For as the Prophet had said, such nobility and strength and purity deserved nothing less than the shade of the One God's throne on the Day of Judgment.


In the courtyard, Musa Alvarez sat back onto his prayer mat, brow furrowed. Today had been difficult, a struggle to maintain his refusal to join the mindless violence - and guaranteed protection - of the local street gangs. He had promised his mother, and himself, that he would not allow himself to be swept up into the temptation of a fraternity founded on crime and fraught with the promise of a rap sheet before entering college.
The greatest battle that he fought, however, was not sidestepping fistfights and territory tagging, but avoiding the shy smiles and unsubtle flirtations of the young women who competed for the affections of unavailable males.
It was, perhaps, rather trite, but as a red-blooded young man, it was difficult to deny or ignore the effects of silky hair tossed over bared shoulders, or long-lashed eyes casting inviting glances towards shadowy corners. Musa had so far resisted the illicit charms of cheerleaders and chess club alike, but it was becoming increasingly difficult as prom loomed ever closer.

One particular upperclasswoman - doe-eyed, red-haired vixen - had brushed against him in the hallway, smirked at his jump backwards and his burning cheeks, and said saucily, "I heard that your religion lets you have four wives... why have one prom date when you could have three more? Three other girls tagging along with us sounds pretty exciting to me."
She winked at him and sashayed away, leaving him with thoughts that - later, after he frantically referred to his trusted fatwah website - he was relieved to know that he was not alone in having when it came to questions about the intimate permissibilities of polygamy in Islam.

Wracked with both guilt and desire, Musa wondered how much longer he would be able to uphold his vows of chastity.

More and more often, he would retire after school to the courtyard of his apartment complex. It was a coarse kind of place, as prickly and dry as the rest of the city, but he liked its harsh comforts and the solitude it offered him. No one liked coming to this isolated square of sand and dust and stunted cacti; there was far more excitement to be had in more dangerous areas.
Some days, Musa buried himself furiously in his books, determined to maintain the GPA he needed for the scholarship that would take him far from the only neighborhood he had ever known.
Other days, like today, he needed to expend brute physical energy. One hundred and twenty-seven push-ups in, he finally collapsed, rolling onto his back and heaving as his muscles shook from his efforts. Sweat streamed down his face and into his beard, small rivulets cutting through the dust. Though his body was exhausted, his mind finally felt clear; he winced in embarrassment at the thoughts he had been fighting off all day.

"Oh, don't stop yet - just three more to round it up to one hundred and thirty." The voice was low, husky, and distinctly feminine.

Musa bolted upright and whipped around. He saw no one.
And then he did.

Out of the long, lazy shadow of the sole palm tree in the courtyard, stepped... a shadow? Or what began as a shadow, only to slowly undulate into solid form: scraps of sunspots, a penumbra unfolding, gathered, darkened, and blazed - a complexion as sun-burnt as his own, but glowing almost pearlescent; eyes that flickered with literal flame, dancing with wicked humour; lithe limbs enrobed in a darkness that rippled in the nonexistent breeze. The figure that stood before him now was as feminine as the voice that had preceded it.

"A'uthu billaahi min ash-shaytaan ar-rajeem!" The words came unbidden to Musa, an instinct both spiritual and survivalist recognizing that what his eyes beheld was both preternatural and supernatural - something against which only Divine Protection would defend.

The glowing eyes narrowed, the coral-red mouth losing its mischievous curve and pursing instead. "I'm not the devil," she said tartly. "I may have been borne of smokeless flame, but so too have I tasted the rivers of milk and honey, from my father's own chalice, may I add."

Musa's eyes narrowed in turn. "You're a jinn."

She flicked an ember at him from her fingertips, and it landed in his beard, sizzled for a moment, and went out. "You needn't sound so suspicious," she chided. "Yes, I am, of a kind. No, I am not here you to possess you," she snapped, in answer to his unspoken thought.
"You may call me Zumurrud. I shall call you... Lionbeard." She smirked at his expression, his consternation at this sudden, unasked-for familiarity.

"Not much of a conversationalist, are you?" she commented, circling him. She gave him the impression of a lazy she-cat, only a little hungry, but dangerously playful. "Pity, you sound so much more clever when you write your little poems. Ah, well, perhaps you are more the strong, silent type." She glanced at him sidelong, her eyes lingering on the still-gleaming muscle of his bicep.

"Are you trying to seduce me?" Musa asked flatly. This already felt all too familiar - the coy teasing, the brazen glances. His irritation overcame his stupefaction at the supernatural, and he frowned at the shadow-woman.

Zumurrud reared back, offended. "No!" Then she paused, the corner of her mouth curving into a guilty smile. "Perhaps a little," she admitted. "But you make it hard not to, Lionbeard." Her gaze raked over him, lingering appreciatively on the feature she so clearly admired.
"Lower your gaze," he said shortly.
Her grin widened. "Well, if you insist..."
"Not like that!"
She pouted. "It's rude to retract the invitation."
His frown deepened. "Are you even Muslim?"

Now she looked genuinely insulted. "Of course I am. Don't tell me you're just another brown boy who dismisses every jinn as an evil demon - have you ever even read Surah Jinn? Or is the Arabian Nights and masjid aunty stories your only source of information on my kind?"
"You just admitted to attempting to seduce me," he pointed out. "It does seem in keeping with the nature of the tales told about your people."
"Only a little," she objected. "And being Muslim doesn't render me blind. Or immune to certain... needs."
He laughed bitterly. "You're telling me."
She rolled her eyes. "Come back to me when you've been celibate for a few hundred years, not just a couple decades. The Muslim marriage crisis isn't limited by species, you know."
"A... few hundred years?"
She preened. "I do look good for my age, I know."
Musa ran his fingers through his beard, shaking his head. He was not quite sure whether he believed what was happening - if he was, in fact, being flirted with by a girl who had materialized out of shadow, a jinniyyah who quoted Qur'an and gave him a nickname, who casually claimed to be hundreds of years old, whose eyes glinted silver and stygian as she watched him.

Zumurrud inhaled sharply as she observed the flicker and flame of lust and loneliness, conviction and confusion, piety and purity - a faded fire compared to the one that burned around the edges of her own shadow-nature, but his blazed with a clarity that was utterly human and yet something other, too.

"Do you know," she said quietly, "Why women are drawn to you so?"

Musa's smile was sardonic. "Because of my dazzling good looks?" He gestured dismissively. "It's all a game for them. Tempt the straight edge boy at school, see who he finally gives in to - it's an ego trip, that's all."

She shook her head, dark tendrils wrapping around her closely. "No. That's not all. Although yes, you are quite handsome - believe me, I've been around long enough to develop excellent taste in men - but there is something else. There is something about you that calls to us, something in your nature that is different and rare and precious."
She cocked her head. "Have you ever heard of the tale of the virgin and the unicorn?"
Musa looked puzzled. "What?"
Zumurrud's expression was wistful and longing at once.

"Long ago, when maidens were many and both the buraq and its cousins wandered the deserts and forests of Old World and New World alike, those who sought rare ingredients for alchemy or simply the thrill of the hunt knew that there was only one way to lure their ethereal equine prey.

The most effective and valuable of bait is a virgin. Not cranky bachelors or sarcastic spinsters - well, they would do in a pinch, but it was always a prickly affair - but young men and women in the prime of beauty and desire, lustful and longed-for, who still held their chastity for love of God and honour.

Take a virgin to a desert oasis or a meadow in the forest, and there you have the perfect trap for a unicorn. No creature fashioned from the ethereal can resist the call of such purity - like calls to like, and so long as a son of Adam or daughter of Eve abstains from the pleasures of the flesh, the buraq and its kind will seek to bask in the pleasure of that innocence.

The alchemists, the artists, even the 'ulemaa - all had their reasons for obtaining the flesh, blood, or tears of a unicorn. And so they would seek a virgin, male or female, all unknowing, and spin them a tale or pay them a fee for some minor service, whilst the truth of the plot was hidden from them.
Then - in the silence and solitude of that oasis, that meadow, that valley-between-the-worlds - the virgin and the unicorn would behold one another, both caught in the splendor of the other, their hearts quivering - and then the hunter would strike, and the creature captured, and the virgin's innocence lost in a way far beyond the physical.

You see, it was both the purity and the pain of both virgin and unicorn which lent power to the ingredients which every alchemist sought."

"I don't get it." Musa's voice cut through the lilting, lyrical words that the jinniyyah's voice spun, the sand-visions dancing before them spiraling away into the dust. "What's the point of telling me all this?"

Zumurrud's eyes flared in annoyance. "The point of this," she snapped at him, "is to tell you that you, Lionbeard, are both virgin and unicorn, and so you are desired in more ways than one." Her voice softened, deepening with raw vulnerability and hunger for something unspeakable.

"I have fallen in love with you, Musa Alvarez, and I have been commanded to kill you."

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Seeing how excited my daughter gets when she hears a woman reciting Qur'an, or sees a shaykha, or learns about someone like Sahar Al-Faifi​​, highlights over and over again how important it is for Muslim girls to see Muslim women active in religious/social/political spaces.

I want *every* Muslim girl to grow up not only that female scholars, reciters and activists exist, but that they are present and accessible.

I want every Muslim girl to grow up knowing that she has equal claim to Islamic knowledge, to elevate her voice in the recitation of Qur'an.

I want every Muslim girl to know that when she has fears or doubts or worries or even the most mundane of religious questions, she can turn around and find women of Islamic knowledge to listen to her, understand her, and be a safe space of guidance for her.

I want every Muslim girl to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I know Shaykha So-and-So! Yes, let's ask her!"

I want every Muslim girl to know that she has every right to pursue a future in the Islamic sciences; that she won't be dismissed because of her gender; that her contribution will be viewed as just as valuable and meritous as that of any male.

I want her to know that her Lord loves her and will elevate her for piety just as He elevated Maryam (as), Hajar (as), Asiya (as) and so many women who drew close to Him in love, worship, and obedience.

I want every Muslim girl to know that her questions and her concerns are not a source of fitnah, but a motivation to pursue a deeper understanding of the Deen.

I want every Muslim girl to know that her tests of emaan are not because she is inherently corrupt, but because she is being pushed to seek more than kneejerk reactions or shallow responses. She is being pushed to learn more about her Lord and His Wisdom and Justice. She is being pushed to learn what she needs to know to increase in love for her Creator.

I want every Muslim girl to know that her faith should not be dictated by or dependent on men telling her what she should feel or think or whether her faith is "strong enough";  rather, her relationship with Allah should always be nurtured and strengthened positively.

A Muslim woman's faith should not be the battleground on which the socio-religious politics of liberalism vs traditionalism is fought.

A Muslim woman's faith is precious, and should be fought *for* - not over.

And the only way to fight this war - not of gender, but of tawheed against shirk - is to remember that our women are not weak, but warriors.

Our girls carry within themselves the faith of Khadijah, the sacrifice of Sumayyah, the courage of Nusaybah, the ferocity of Hind.

Let us give them, then, the foundations that those women had; the support and the protection of their brothers, their fathers, their husbands and their sons.

Let us give our girls the knowledge and the respect and the wisdom that those women held, and passed down.

Let us raise our daughters not to live eternally on the sidelines, but to fight for their own faith, to learn it, to teach it, and to carry it forward for the next generation of Muslims, male and female, and the generation after that one, and the next, and the next.

{The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those - Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.} (Qur'an 9:71)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

To Marry Conservative Muslim Men or Not to Marry Conservative Muslim Men, That is the Question...

To continue with the marital spiels:
I never discourage marrying conservative Muslim men.
(You may never have guessed it, but I am in fact married to a spectacularly conservative Muslim man. *gasp*shock*horror*. He posits himself as pro-women's-rights-but-anti-feminist-paradigm.)
Here's the thing. A conservative Muslim man is not automatically misogynistic, though he may very well represent the patriarchy in its somewhat more annoying forms.
There are conservative Muslim men who do *not* accept or make excuses for abuse; there are conservative Muslim men who care deeply about being #TrueQawwam, responsible leaders and loving, respectful, considerate husbands and partners who genuinely take their wives seriously.
There are conservative Muslim men who are kind, intelligent, willing to listen to other views, and even change their opinions for the better.
There are conservative Muslim men who are funny, charming, make excellent friends-who-are-awesome-husbands, and are genuinely concerned with improving themselves as individuals.
There are conservative Muslim men who will stand up for women in their families, in their masaajid, and in society at large.
They may abhor the idea of feminism as it is spoken about and debated and discussed, but they are the very first allies and advocates for women.
As a woman whose previous marriage involved the nightmare idea of "conservative Muslim man," I can tell you that there is a world of difference between the type that uses religion to hold you back and hurt you, and the type that believes in religion as a means for *everyone* to flourish and improve.
Having had that previous experience, I appreciate more than ever that the husband I have now is someone who sincerely tries his best to do right by me, and by the others whom he is responsible for.
It also puts into perspective what one's marital priorities should be - certainly, one should never marry a misogynist (get the hell out ASAP if you are), but neither do we need to pull out certain specifically "feminist" checklists to compare every man against.
Rather, focus on the deeply important things: whether he is someone who will respect you as a human being, as a woman, as a partner, as a wife, as possibly a mother; how he conducts himself in times of anger as well as times of peace; whether he despises abuse in all its forms.
Is he someone who will support you, encourage you, and be at your side when you need him to be? Will he be able to handle differences of opinion, no matter how heated they might get? Will he put his family as a priority above the bro's club and social norms and expectations?
There will never be someone who is 100% perfect. All people suck, including ourselves.
Sometimes the greatest growth in a marriage is learning how to identify the things that really matter, vs things which are far more surface level but which we've given too much importance to.
Again, differences of opinion are not always bad - in fiqh or in marriage. Rather, it is how one handles those differences, and giving each other the space to learn and grow and respect one another, is the greatest priority.
(Unless, of course, they're abusive jerkfaces.)
Obviously, no one is perfect - neither men nor women. There will always be growing pains in marriage, conflicts of both the personal kind as well as the ideological. There will be times when you simply won't agree, when there is no resolution to the matter, and when you just have to agree to disagree and/or troll them for eternity.
Debate is healthy. It's totally okay to have robust, hours-long (sometimes days-longs) arguments about SJW buzzwords and feminist ideas and bro's club triggers. Just don't let it affect the rest of your marital life for the worse.

Muslim Adulting 101

Since I am in aunty mode about marriage - I got thoroughly crabby seeing young Muslim men and women on Twitter complaining about how there's no one out there responsible enough for marriage and whatnot.
So here is a very basic list of some adulting skills that everyone should know at least *some* of in preparation for marriage.
(Disclaimer: I learned roughly half these things in the year before marriage, and the rest during first year of marriage. I do not claim to be an expert. I got married at 18, had a kid at 19, and was adulting at a semi proficient level by 20... although yes, I still frantically text my mother even now.)
I learned most of this while living in Egypt (with occasional stints in the village) and in Kuwait (as a broke non-Kuwaiti, not as a spoiled khaleeji). You learn a lot of things the hard way, like how to toast bread on the stove when you can't afford a toaster. Husband, your commentary is unnecessary here.)
Whether male or female, you should know how to make at least 3 breakfast items (toast and frozen items don't count) - depends on your culture, but it should be basic and easy, e.g. scrambled eggs, oatmeal, fool, za3tar and laban, etc.
Same applies for lunch and dinner. Doesn't have to be fancy, but you need to know the basics. Get up and go learn from your mom or dad or Pinterest or whatever. Just learn it instead of daydreaming about your spouse cooking for you. IT'S CALLED SURVIVAL SKILLS. (I learned from Canadian Living, before Pinterest was a thing. My mother still hasn't forgiven me.)
Do your own damn laundry. Know the difference between hot water wash (and what items to use it for), and cold water/ delicates. DON'T MIX A RED ITEM WITH WHITE. (Yes, I ruined my own delicates and the Mouseling's brand new baby onesies. Ugh.)
Know how to make a budget, and how to stick to it. Learn how to avoid debt under all circumstances. Yes, this means being frugal. Yes, this means couponing. Yes, this means not spending $5 every day at Starbucks if you can't afford it. Yes, this means buying things on clearance.
If you weren't raised by cheap desi parents who taught you every budgeting trick there is, then go read a book or look up online how best to budget.
And don't just budget for your immediate needs - anticipate future expenses, create a savings account (for school, Hajj, wedding).
Learn how to be a good host/hostess. That means knowing the adab/ etiquette of having guests over - offering them water or drinks when they come in and are seated, knowing how to turn half a package of Oreos and some cheese sticks into a presentable snack tray, etc.
Growing up, I always saw my parents being extremely generous hosts, even when completely unprepared, and they trained my brothers and I without even realizing it. Kudos to Arabs especially for really knowing how to provide a beautiful experience for their guests.
Learn how to iron. I hate ironing, I avoid doing it as much as possible, I still don't always have the hang of ironing men's shirts (but I can starch a ghutrah like no one's business), but LEARN THE BASICS OF IRONING and how not to burn your brand-new abayah.
Men: this still applies to you. Learn to iron your own clothes. Also learn to iron women's clothing. (Especially hijabs and abayas.)
My grandfather ironed my grandmother's clothes every day, and she always looked like she'd just stepped out of a desi granny fashion mag.
Bonus points if you know how to light bukhoor/ agar bhatti/ Yankee candles.
Good scents are from the Sunnah, and it is a habit that one should make regular for the household. There's nothing quite like walking in through the door and inhaling beautiful incense.
(Unless you or others in your home are allergic to perfumes and strong scents, in which case, never mind.)
Know how to clean a bathroom. That means scrubbing the toilet at least once a week, the bathtub a few times a month, and generally sanitizing all surfaces.
There is nothing nastier than leaving a mess in your bathroom and doing nothing to clean it.
Know how to operate a vacuum, and how to sweep and mop as well.
If you're not doing this in your/ your parents' home, you don't deserve to have a marital home.
Learn how to sew a basic stitch in case of emergencies. I'm not asking you to embroider a tapestry or tailor make a suit, but knowing how to thread a needle and mend a tear or rip is super duper handy. (I failed every sewing class my mother put me in, and my current pile of torn clothing is at her house, but yes, I can technically mend a tear.)
For more Muslim-specific adulting: be the person who wakes everyone up for Fajr (or sets enough alarms that eventually, *someone* will wake up).
In Ramadan, be the person who helps with suhoor and iftaar.
Be the person who reminds the rest of the household to fulfill sunan of Jumu'ah - doing ghusl, wearing best clothes, surah Kahf etc.
Call the adhaan for every salah and encourage everyone at home to pray together.
Remember the hadith of Aishah, describe RasulAllah doing chores.
Ensure that the rizq entering your home is scrupulously halal.
Try to ensure that the food consumed in your home is both halal and tayyib.
Standard sunnah foods to keep on hand: honey, dates, black seed and black seed oil, olive oil. Make it a habit to ruqya-fy honey & oils.
(I.e. recite ayaat used for ruqya over your water, honey, olive and black seed oils. It is a means of protection and benefit, regardless of whether you have ayn or sihr issues; it's beneficial even for physical ailments.
Pro tip: buy big jars/bottles and recite over them.)
Recite Qur'an often in the home. Have it playing regularly on audio.
Say the adhkaar for entering and leaving home, for morning and evening etc.
And that, folks, is a 101 to Basic Muslim-y Adulting. I don't want to hear any whining on the TL about how Muslim boys/ girls aren't responsible enough for marriage. Fulfill this checklist, and you'll be decently prepared for the adulting part. This all applies to men and women equally.
P.S. never underestimate the importance of Tupperwares, and by Tupperware I don't mean the brand name, I mean washing out and using every yogurt tub, jam jar, and pasta bottle you use.

Rape Culture in the Muslim Community

How does rape culture manifest within the Muslim community? What are things you have heard said (by leaders or otherwise) to dismiss or justify rape and sexual crimes, or blame victims?
Personally, the line "If she just wore hijab/niqab" enrages me beyond belief.
Hijab is NOT a force field.
Yes, it is an obligation. Yes, there is a wisdom behind it. Yes, in some cases it does deter a certain type of attention. It does NOT physically prevent a rapist from raping his victim.
Also: "Women should always have a mahram with them."
No, you idiot, we only need a mahram for traveling, not for going to the grocery store.
Also, newsflash, a large number of sexual assault victims are attacked BY mahrams.
"She was too seductive."
Many victims of sexual assault are CHILDREN. And boys, not just girls.
"This is what happens when our kids are exposed to Western kaafir culture."
Rape and sexual assault are just as much of an issue in the Muslim world. It is NOT "a Western problem."
"This is why women are supposed to stay indoors."
We are not prisoners. It is not haraam for us to leave our homes. We are ALLOWED to exist in the public sphere. It is halaal for us to go to school, to work, to go to a park, to walk the streets for perfectly normal reasons.
"A woman's honour is in her virginity."
No. It does not. Her honour lies in her mere existence as a human being, a believing woman. Her 'izzah is not stripped away just because someone violated the sanctity of her body. (Nor does a boy or another man who has been raped or sexually attacked lose their "honour.")
Dishonour belongs solely to the abusers and predators.
"Rape only happens to bad girls who are in bad places."
There have been boys who are raped in masaajid. Girls raped by family members in their own homes. Men and women sexually assaulted by strangers in public places such as the store, the bus, the park.
Indeed, women experience sexual assault IN the Haram itself, during Hajj and Umrah!
"There's no such thing as marital rape."
Okay, don't call it that then.
But if you are physically forcing an unwilling individual into a sexual encounter, such that you are causing them physical, emotional, and psychological harm...
Then it is wrong. Full stop. And no, the "angels cursing" hadith is not a defense or justification - rather, it is evidence against such behaviour to begin with.
It is prohibited to harm a fellow Muslim, in word or in deed, whether or not you are married to them.
"Someone who was raped is the same as someone who committed zina."
Absolutely hell no.
Zina is consensual. Rape is not. The one who has been raped is the victim of a crime; they are not considered equal to the one who willingly engaged in zina.
The Hadd punishment does NOT apply to the victim of rape. The ONLY person to be punished is the rapist themselves.
Anyone who claims otherwise is horrifically, disgustingly ignorant - or flat out evil if they do know the truth but insist otherwise.
"Boys and men cannot be raped or sexually assaulted."
They can be, and sadly, they are. Sometimes by other boys and men, and sometimes even by women. Girls and women can also sexually assaulted by other women.
It is NEVER okay and the victim is never to blame, regardless of gender.
There is, unfortunately, a great deal of ignorance and even wilfull denial over the reality of rape and sexual assault - how it is perceived within the Shar'iah, how common it is in our communities, and how we should deal with it.
As Muslims, we *must* be concerned with justice. We MUST be dedicated to upholding the rights of the vulnerable, eradicating these types of crimes, and dealing with the perpetrators severely. We cannot afford to enable or protect these criminals - our Aakhirah is at stake.
Allah has commanded us to enjoin the good and forbid the evil; we are an Ummah sent to uphold His laws, to hold transgressors accountable, and to fight against oppression wherever it may be - whether it is political or social.
{Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining the good and forbidding evil. And it is they who are the successful.} (Qur'an 3:104)
{You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.} (Qur'an 3:110)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"Traditional Islamic Gender Roles"... or Not.

I am still in aunty marriage mode, but today's post will feature some Salafi feminist ranting, so buckle in.
Dear bros, especially the good ones: when your rishta bio data includes the phrase "traditional Islamic gender roles," "pious housewife," or any variation thereof, know that you aren't just filtering out "those secular liberal independent career women" types. You're also pushing away Muslim women who are religious, conservative, and in fact far more inclined to being what may - be your idea of a good Muslim wife.
Let me explain.
The phrase "traditional Islamic gender roles" & its variations carries a certain type of connotation.
While bros might think it's just an innocent way of saying they want something specific in marriage, the truth is that it has a far more negative meaning for many Muslim women.
Unfortunately, due to a combination of lingering 90s da'wah "the ideal Muslim woman" talks and lectures, the insistence on the Muslim community to fixate on "the role of women," and cultural standards conflated with religion, the message that Muslim women have been taught is that "traditional Islamic gender roles" means a situation where, as women, we are expected to remain at home and solely devote ourselves to husband, home and children - with no other interests or pursuits whatsoever.
Some people might scoff at this & say this doesn't happen anymore.
I am here to tell you that it most certainly does - been there, done that (probably should have gotten the t-shirt). This idea has *not* been stamped out, especially not from the minds of many young Muslim men, who do feel entitled to a marital situation where the wife is indeed wholly focused on his comfort and demands.
As Muslim women, we rightly feel wary when brothers trot out "traditional Islamic gender roles" - not because we are opposed to being wives who don't have a problem with cooking and cleaning, or because we want to dump any children we have in daycare - but because for so long, the phrase has been an euphemism for patriarchy to rule supreme.
The truth is that the culturally absorbed idea of "traditional Islamic gender roles" is not only incredibly narrow and restricted, but doesn't even represent the reality of the first Muslims.
The female Companions of RasulAllah (sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam) *did* often work outside the home - whether in the fields, the marketplace, or even as servants in other people's homes.
Nor was every mother housebound with her children; most women had a larger family network, young sons would often accompany their fathers and male relatives outside as apprentices learning passed-down skills; slavery was common enough that not every woman was obliged to be "domestic."
Our conception of stay at home mothers is really quite recent and new, & does not have any particular special bearing in our Islamic history.
Unfortunately, the binary that was created for women - either being a SAHM or a secular/liberal "career woman" - doesn't reflect reality either.
There are women who work from home in addition to having children and fulfilling the (Western idea of) housewife role. There are women who work part time outside the home yet are dedicated to their families. There are women who are employed in specifically Islamic fields or contexts; there are women who do have "careers" but who do not belittle or dismiss the idea of being a loving wife and mother. There are women who love the idea of being SAHMs but also have other passions and pursuits, whether those be writing, volunteering, entrepreneurship.
When a Muslim bro says something like "traditional Islamic gender roles," it's a pretty good indication that he isn't aware of or interested in all the nuances mentioned above.
Someone could argue that maybe we women are making too many assumptions about these bros, but the truth is that so many of us have already been burned because we naively thought that *of course* a future husband will be reasonable about these things and be flexible... only to find ourselves in situations where that is absolutely not the case.
Once burned, twice shy - whether we experienced it the hard way or witnessed others around us in that situation, none of us are interested in putting ourselves in that particular line of fire, and we will most definitely be very cautious to avoid such a scenario.
If, as a bro looking to get married, you *do* want to talk about your preferences with regards to marital set up, work, children and so on... then have those discussions, by all means. Ask those questions. Ask the person you're talking to what *their* view of a happy and healthy family arrangement is. Ask about having kids, about work, about what the word "traditional" even means to them.
But for the sake of establishing truly healthy, happy, Islamic marriages and homes... just don't use the phrase "traditional Islamic gender roles."