Gender, Inequality, Interviews

The Salafi Feminist gets real about her thoughts on feminism, faith, and polygamy

To the haters who say you can't be Muslim and feminist, I say things like, “Fluff off, I have important things to do."

Her online nome de plume sparks plenty of controversies around the internet, but it’s for good reason. According to her blog, she considers herself an “orthodox Muslimah with vaguely left-leaning tendencies,” and she’s been writing about Islam since 2005 – when she was just 14.

The Tempest had a chat with The Salafi Feminist, whose real name is Zainab bint Younus, about her personal thoughts around feminism, activism, and polygamy.

The Tempest: Through your social media posts and articles in different publications online, you don’t shy away from talking about taboo topics. Why is that?

Zainab bint Younus: I didn’t go out of my way to write about these topics specifically. They just happened to be what drew my attention, what interested me, what was relevant to me – and which very few, if any, other Muslim teachers or writers were discussing at all, information on the subjects were restrictive, ignored entire aspects of each topic, and did not reflect a holistic Islamic understanding of how these issues relate to our real lives.

What advice would you give to other young Muslim women wanting to get into activism/ advocacy work in Muslim communities?

Don’t go into it because it’s trendy. Don’t think you’re going to make much of a difference, either. It sounds contradictory, but people who think that they’ll be able to change the world overnight will experience burnout even faster. Seek the Mentorship of female religious scholars and don’t compromise the principles of the religion to fit into social activist circles.

When I first started as a writer, ten years ago, I was aware of many of our community’s issues but was still quite hopeful and idealistic. Life experience drove home the reality of misogyny and how it affects Muslim women on a daily basis.

What’s your most important piece of advice you’d give to those thinking about entering a polygamous marriage?

I very, very, very strongly advise most people from getting into poly because, without a great deal of research and emotional preparation, it will inevitably go down in flames.

Poly is not for the faint of heart: it requires a great deal of emotional intelligence, emotional maturity, and the ability and willingness to accept change and a very unconventional way of living. You will discover things about yourself and your partners that you will be shocked by, and often shaken. How you handle the inevitable conflicts and deeply sensitive situations will make you or break you.

Healthy, happy polygamy can only take place when all parties are aware and consenting – and even then, there will be numerous challenges for you to overcome.If the first wife is kept in the dark, and you as a potential second wife are aware of this, and still decide to go ahead with it – know that you are not getting yourself into a healthy and happy situation.

All that being said – I remain a huge proponent of #positivepoly!

What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Stop feeling guilty and ashamed of being your own person, and stand up for yourself. Stop relying on others to make you feel better or to get you out of a bad situation. Just make du’a and kick some butt.

What’s your favorite or most used come-back to the haters who say you can’t be Muslim and feminist?

I used to bother giving thoughtful explanations, but now I am a crabby hermit who says things like, “Fluff off, I have important things to do.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.