My time away from blogging has allowed me to reflect on many things, one of which is my reason for starting a blog in the first place. I remember feeling the urgent need to “provide an alternative voice for Muslim women”. I was tired of all the negative stereotypes which are constantly being portrayed about Muslim women and I wanted people to understand that those stereotypes are more often than not, completely false, and perhaps can only be found to be true for a small percentage of Muslim women. I wanted people to realise that stereotypes about Muslim women could never be accurate, because in actual fact Muslim women are as diverse as the different flowers which can be found all around the world. I was pleased to find that there are many women out there who thought the same thing, but I’ve realised that in relation to this, is something which is also quite disturbing for me.
Recently I came across a project done by a group of American Muslim sisters. Their motivation behind this particular project was to “give Muslim women a voice”. They said things like, “we are tired of having others speak for us” and so on. All of this I can relate to easily, but the thing that created this nagging feeling inside of me is that all the talk was directed at showing the world that “we are just like you”. The bold claim being reiterated was that we want the rest of you to see that we are the same as you. Now please note that what I write here is my own opinion, you are allowed to differ with me and most of you probably will, but I’ll explain to you why I have a problem with this type of thinking.
You see as soon as we say that “we are just like you”, what we are doing is accepting a Standard. In this case, the “Standard” being mainstream Americans; and what this does is remove the place for cultural diversity and deny anything that is different. Instead of saying, ‘look we may be different, dress differently, speak differently and have different beliefs, but let’s find away to get along despite our differences’, what this type of thinking does is say, well you may see us as different but we are in actual fact just like you and we’ll do whatever we have to in order to prove this. That’s a completely different ball game because what we’re saying then is ‘we’ll only get along if we are the same!’ And that’s where I have a problem.
What stood out for me with this particular project was that American culture, beliefs and even way of dress was embraced to the detriment of Islamic beliefs. Now, I am not the judge of anyone, let us leave the judgement to the only one who owns judgement, Allah Almighty. However, to have a Muslim woman, dressed in western dress, and who does not wear a headscarf and who’s married to or engaged to an American man (which is not a problem in itself), sit there and say that “We’ve decided to speak for Muslim women”, really makes me wonder.
I just feel that a lot of the experiences that Muslim women face are lost in this case. For example, the discrimination that women who wear headscarves face for instance cannot be understood properly by a woman who does not wear a headscarf, and so on. Sure, the plight may be understood, but it’s not the same as actually experiencing it.
It just seems that there’s a whole lot of defensiveness going on, where Muslim women, from all walks, feel the need to stand up and “defend” who they are. And why should this be so? Why should anyone have to defend who they are? If you are happy with who you are and you are not harming anyone then why should you need to keep telling the world that they are wrong? In telling the world that they are wrong, does this actually change anything? And who gets to decide what “the Standard” is? Who gets to say that this is “wrong” and this is “right”? Are the powerful nations in the world automatically regarded as the “Standard” by default? Why do women all around the world have to lose their culture in order to fit in and embrace “empowerment”? Why do African women in my country feel the need to lose their traditional way of dress and start adopting a westernised style of dressing when they go to university or are in the workplace? Is losing your culture and fitting in with the western culture a prerequisite for good performance? Why do women from all cultures in my country (and there are many) all end up talking, dressing, looking and acting the same when they study and work? Is this empowerment?
Yes, as you can see my mind has been working overtime, I have so many questions and thoughts and I’ve contemplated writing this for a while because I didn’t know if it was going to come out of my head the way I intended. But nonetheless, I just feel saddened that we have to “justify” ourselves and that in order for Muslim women to fit in we have to keep making claims that “we are the same as you!”
So if I am to continue writing on this blog, I need to make certain things clear. I am different! I am different from what you claim as “the standard”. I do not dress the same, I do not have the same beliefs, I do not follow the same principles, I do not have the same culture. I do not have the same ideas of “empowerment” and “liberation”, I do not have the same understanding of “independence”. I do not have the same take on “gender relations”… But despite all this, I know that we have a lot in common. I am willing to accept you for who you are (although I disagree with a lot of what you say or do), and likewise I would expect that you accept me for who I am (although you disagree with a lot of what I say and do). I do not at any time expect you to tell me that you are the same as me, this would be taking away who you are. It doesn’t matter to me if you are different, as long as we don’t allow this difference to cause any harm to anyone.
Furthermore, I have my own “standard” to follow. Being a Muslim woman, my standard is the example of my beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and likewise all the female companions and family members of my beloved Prophet are my example. I wish to emulate them only!
Finally, to make it clear, I cannot speak for all Muslim women. This would be ridiculous to claim. I can speak for myself, and the small group of women in my community and that’s about it. I can speak for us only because I know what our beliefs are since we are always discussing what we think and feel. Other than that, I can’t speak for Muslim women in America, England, Australia- hey I can’t even speak for Muslim women in another part of my own country.
We need to be very careful that in our quest to “take back the voice of Muslim women”, we don’t end up further silencing the very people we claim to be speaking for!
I think that’s all I’ll write for now, although I have many more reflections, if time permits and if Allah Almighty wills then I will share some more, but until then, take care and stay in peace!