A Response from an Oxymoron

A Review of Sasha Brookner’s essay “Muhammad’s Mistresses”

In reading Sasha Brookner’s essay, “Muhammad’s Mistresses,” I was initially furious with Brookner’s outlined attack against Muslim feminists. But upon reading further my anger was exchanged for a mere, “oh.” Brookner’s essay unfolds in a controversial manner but in reality espouses or rather mimics the deeply familiar “western,” offensively liberal, patriarchal nature that she intends to deflect.

Brookner begins the essay enlightening the reader to her knowledge of Muslim women, both historical and contemporary. Albeit through her “praise,” she manages to simultaneously dismiss their entire being declaring, “as I am humbled by your struggles and legacies, my inextricable love and concern for my gender trumps religious tolerance.” Here, Brookner employs the false dichotomy, infused by some secular feminists, that feminism and religion are mutually exclusive.

This intellectual deception fails to mention the countless Mujeristas (Latina), Womanist, Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish feminist theologians that have responded to secular feminists for years on this very issue. It also fails to include Muslim women that may not label themselves as feminist in their belief that the term “Muslim feminist” inherently discounts Islam’s commitment to justice and human rights for all.

She argues further, “Feminism is relinquishing Jehovah for Oshun, Leviticus for Audre Lorde, Allah for Allat, foster care for abortion, and beauty cult for academia.” Feminism, in my understanding, isn’t about choosing at all. It is, in fact, a very patriarchal notion that one (i.e. woman) must choose one or the other—work or mother; virgin or whore; beautiful or ugly, and the list of “choices” goes on. If we are to embrace a wholistic approach to feminism then it must be inclusive and allow for a spectrum of women that are committed to justice whether or not they read Leviticus, choose to mother, or even model.

I encourage Brookner to express her belief, as all women and men should have the freedom to do so. But in doing we must not discount the voices of women theologians and religious women that adhere to their traditions and work fiercely in reclaiming their faith traditions that have been stolen by patriarchy, colonialism, imperialism, neoliberalism and now the disgustingly misused and misunderstood secularism.

Throughout her essay, Brookner makes frequent mention of “Muslim women in the third world” and “these women, living in the margins of existence.” She appears to be calling us to a neocolonialist world order masked in the disguise of time and progress. Her use of “Muslim women in third world countries” falsely imagines that Muslim women exist “somewhere over there.” Thus, making “them” the unfamiliar along with those “backward values.” We’ve heard this rhetoric before in the works of colonial explorations and orientalist such as Bernard Lewis and we watch it now in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the assaults on French Muslim women.

There is no “third world” or “Muslim world.” To fashion a multiplicity of “worlds” within the context of development, both economic and ideological, allows for a paradigm of “us” vs./and “them” in which we fail to acknowledge the existence of shared values. Our refusal to coexist in one world will continue to serve as a hindrance ensuring the human rights of all.

As a student of theological studies, I will refrain from commenting on Brookner’s cursory “interpretation” of surah an- Nisa (The Women), knowing that any selective listing is not only insulting to the discipline but also counteracts the works of women in religious studies such as Leila Ahmed, Amina Wadud, Nimat Barazangi, Asma Barlas and Jamillah Karim. I encourage us all to continue to read and discuss the works and initiatives of scriptural re-interpretation.

Though I found this article deeply concerning and highly problematic in many ways, I must close reminding us again of the patriarchy that has yet to be removed from our conscious and subconscious. Brookner says, “…I’m thoroughly insulted by Muslim women appropriating my beloved “F word,” as if their prophet’s vision even remotely parallels with that of Matilda Joslyn Gage, Angela Davis, Mary Wollstonecraft, Virginia Woolf, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem, Emma Goldman, and bell hooks.” The idea that feminism can be “my” is an oxymoron in itself. The competition of visions parallels not feminism but a capitalist vision that entails a winner and a loser, a right and a wrong, and a dangerous assumption of the monolithic. All of which sends us back to 19th century colonialism or better yet, keeps us in a 21st century “first-world.”

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Are We Married Yet?

Since returning home to work for the summer, I have been asked on numerous occasions, the most dreaded questions of them all, “Are you married yet?” Or attempting a rather more polite posing, “You’re not married right?” Followed by, “Do you want me to find you someone?” and “…But you’re so pretty, why not?” While I wish I could respond with, everyone is horrible! Instead I choose the humble route and simply reply, “Allah al-Alim (Allah knows best), InshaAllah (God willing) my time will come.” I provide this generated response with some degree of sincerity in that I believe there is something to be desired in marriage, a partnership between individuals but simultaneously recognizing that marriage must be representative of something more than what we casually reference.

What do I mean by this? I speak of marriage not in its colloquial form of “soulmates” or in its legalities (though not to discount these realities) but rather its profound duality. The Qur’an’s description of God’s creation of the Heavens and the Earth recalls the creative act that brings duality into existence from unity and establishes the “pairs” as the fundamental components of existence (Casewit, 79)*. Like other religious texts, the Qur’an frequently refers to the existence of pairs (zawjayn) in creation: “And of everything [God] created a pair” (51:49). At every level of creation, one can find a relationship of pairs: in animals and plants, the sun and the moon, and lightness and darkness. Jane Casewit identifies the cosmic pair, Heaven and Earth, as the first “pair” in creation. The phrase “the Heavens and the Earth” (al-samawat wa al-ard) occurs over 200 times in the Qur’an.

Divine duality presents itself on the human level through verses such as Sura Nisa, verse 1: “Fear your Lord, who created you from a single soul; from her/it, He created her/its mate, and sent forth from the two of them many men and women. In Islamic discourse, the intimate relationship between male and female is most often defined and examined through the lens of marriage as interpreted through the Qur’an and the sunnah (practice) of Prophet Muhammad.

Recently, I attended a jum’ah (Friday religious service) service and the imam speaking within the context of community development said, “if you are over the age of 25 and not married, then you are not following the sunnah of the Prophet.” I thought about and discussed the validity and importance of this statement for some time. The sanctity and necessity of marriage is advocated through the popular saying of the Prophet: “When the servant marries, then he has completed half of the deen (faith). Then let him fear Allah (taqwa) with regard to the remaining half” (Saheeh ul-Jaami). This hadith, in addition to the Prophet’s marriage to Khadijah at the age of 25, is used to encourage young Muslims to marry. The reasons for which are of course many, including preventing pregnancy outside of marriage and other “worldly” distractions but perhaps the most important reason being the idea that spiritual growth occurs within the union of two.

Marriage is, of course, not exclusive to the Islamic tradition as a fulfillment of religious obligation. In many religious traditions, cultures, and societies, marriage is representative of a higher level of human companionship that is in connection with the Divine, in whatever form or shape it presents itself. It is thought that, “both male and female reflect qualities of the Divine, and the most profound significance of the union of [persons] is that marriage mirrors the union of the human soul with the Divine spirit”(Casewit, 78).

In thinking of marriage, I am brought back to the statements of a high school teacher of mine.  I always thought his contextualization of marriage to be quite interesting. He spoke of it as a union between the material and the spiritual. I like to think of my life’s journey as being such, constantly navigating my material gains and losses within the spiritual, knowing that a union of balance is possible. And allowing myself to enter a union that finds its soul at complete rest and satisfaction. So, for now, I think I’ll work on marrying this dual existence of the material and spiritual in which we find ourselves.

 

 

**see Jane Casewit’s article, “The Spiritual Significance of Marriage in Islam,” in Voices of Islam: Voices of Life: Family, Home, Society, ed. Vincent J. Cornell and Virginia Gray Henry-Blakemore, vol. 3 of Voices of Islam (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2007).


You Were Made to Meet Your Maker

We have often asked ourselves, “What is my purpose in this life and how do I know when I’ve found it?” For some, the question of purpose can guide minds to places of potential and promise. For others, purpose presents a path filled with anxiety. And for the masses, purpose is simply the unanswerable question met with several possibilities of hope, despair and fulfillment.

I attended a janazzah (funeral) a few weeks ago that prompted a series of thoughts pertaining to matters of purpose. Generally, I have found my experiences at janazzahs to be quite brief and solemn, encompassing the grief and love for the life that has lived, experienced and transitioned. This was quite an unusual janazzah to say the least. Rather than expressing words of comfort and support for the mother who has loss a child, we were called to reflect upon the much anticipated life in the grave. The grave, the Imam said, is in essence what we live our lives for. Therefore, moments of death should be a time for celebration not grieving. Another Imam, further instructed us that “we need not say he’s in a better place because we really don’t know what place he’s in.”

I was struck by the fixation on life and death and its relation to place. We live for the grave. We should anticipate and look forward to what is to come. Is life measured by the places we’ve inhabited and those yet to be seen?

A friend of mine once asked, “What are your thoughts on the afterlife?” I responded, what do you mean? She said, “you know if it’s real or not?” I’ve thought about this question for quite some time and with each thought I’ve found it difficult to focus on the literal imaginings of a heaven and hell.  While I am not quick to dismiss the possibility of an eternal burning flame or a heaven with rivers flowing through and beneath, I am inclined to agree with other religious scholars that have proposed an interpretive approach to theories on the afterlife. I answered my friend asking, what could be worse than a soul that no longer recognizes itself? What could be worse than a soul that has lost all sense of being, of purpose? If we are to speak in the terms of heaven and hell, then for me hell represents the inability to connect and actively engage with self, family, friends, community, and creation–a “place” that is desirable to non.

There is a verse in the Qur’an that I’m pretty fond of and would like to share in conclusion: “(To the righteous soul will be said:) “O (thou) soul, in (complete) rest and satisfaction!” “Come back thou to thy Lord—well pleased (thyself), and well pleasing unto God! “Enter thou, then, among my Devotees! “Yea, enter thou My Heaven!”(Qur’an; 89:27-30). To read or listen to recitation of the entire surah click here.


Guilt.

Guilt.

It consumes us. It guides our actions, dictates our right and wrong, and substantiates our claims on “the good life.”

When do we feel it?

The reflective moments. The sober and not so sober moments. The moments of desperation. The quiet moments. The not so quite moments. It’s there.

Why do we feel it?

The flames. They’re hot. The ice. It’s cold. The darkness. It’s scary. It’s lonely. Eternity. Burning. The Afterlife.

Who is it? What is it? Who’s God? Whose God?

That’s it.


“This is Spiritual Warfare”

Photograph Courtesy of mwza.com

“Live. Love. Lead”, a billboard that can be seen from highways in the Atlanta area, seems to be far from appropriate for New Birth Missionary Baptist Church’s lead pastor Bishop Eddie Long, currently under trial for the sexual abuse of four young males in Atlanta, Georgia. Long is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with males from his youth academy whom were 17 and 18 at the time. According to several news reports, Long would take them on vacations, have them participate in “wedding-like” ceremonies where there would be an exchanging of vows legitimized by biblical verses, and he also suggested the boys refer to him as “daddy”.

I will sacrifice further details, as I’m sure most of you have read or seen details of the case. If not, here is a link to read more on the case from WSBTV.

What strikes me, most, is in the midst of turmoil Long has declared that he is at the center of a “spiritual warfare”. A spiritual warfare in which he is somehow David and those placing accusations are Goliath. I don’t even think I can address the absurdity of such a claim, so I won’t. But what I will address is the parishioners that continue to attend and donate to an individual and institution that has and continues to abuse its power and turned its victims into villains. I must ask, how much power have we given to the church and those that “lead” them?


Black Muslims Left Out of National Conversation on Islam

By Stephon Johnson and Orobosa Igbinedio, Special to the NNPA from the Amsterdam News –

(NNPA) – “We have to be able to decode what’s happening and realize that this is religious intolerance on one hand, and it’s [also] good ol’ red-blooded American racial and ethnic bias on the other hand,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, sitting in his office at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. in Harlem.

A controversial nationwide conversation has sparked following the proposal of a Muslim-themed community center two blocks away from Ground Zero. Those in opposition harbor the national pain of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 nine years ago and feel it is insulting and insensitive to the memory of the near 3,000 people who lost their lives. On the other hand, religious freedom is decreed in the Constitution, therefore, developers of the center at Park 51 have a legal status to build wherever they please.

Click here to read more.


Story of My Life

A story untold of Black Muslims in America beyond Malcom X. I’m excited!! Demand it at a theatre near you! Even if you don’t see it do it for me and every other Muslim of African-American descent that has been ignored by the media. But then again I think I enjoy the easy breezy check-ins at the airport. I hope this movie doesn’t change that. But seriously demand the movie and become a fan on facebook and demand the movie in a theatre near you!