Categories
Reproductive Rights Gender Advice Wellness Inequality Interviews

These Muslim domestic violence survivors saved themselves – now they’re working to save others

One day, Verona Collection co-founder, Lisa Vogl, went public with an incredibly painful story on her Instagram about the abuse she faced in her previous marriage. The post quickly snowballed, turning into an opportunity to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Muslim community – and what Muslims can do to prevent future abuse, rather than enable it.

Domestic violence is not particular to any race, religion or culture, and is rampant in the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 4 women has been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in the U.S.

Salma Abugideiri, the founding board member of the Peaceful Families Project (PFP) and a licensed professional counselor, provided insight into domestic violence in the Muslim community.

According to a 2011 PFP survey, the number of Muslims affected by domestic violence is comparable to the national U.S. average. When asked about domestic violence in the Muslim community, Abugideiri stated that Vogl’s case is not an isolated incident. In fact,  she stressed that the matter of domestic abuse needs to be taken more seriously in the Muslim community.

The topic tends to get swept under the rug due to the value Muslims place on privacy, especially concerning family matters, as well as the pervasive idea that a person of faith wouldn’t face such issues.

That, of course, is far from the truth.

Lisa Vogl, who shared her heartbreaking story of being slapped, hit, kicked and even strangled while pregnant during her three years of marriage, thought long and hard before deciding to speak out. “No matter how many times I speak out about it and speak out on stage, I still cry, but I want to use what I went through to help others.”

Vogl made it clear that “this is not a Muslim issue and statistically there’s no difference based on education, race, ethnicity, religion; it happens across the board, but my community needs to step it up with how they handle the situation.” Vogl and her ex-husband went to four different counselors and multiple imams, and, unfortunately, only the non-Muslim therapist took the situation seriously.

On the other hand, they were told by some Muslims to pray, read more Quran, and be patient.

However, Vogl also stated that she wants to “paint the full and accurate picture that I had just as much, if not more help from Muslims. It was my Muslims friends who got me in the car, that paid for me to get to Orlando, that took me in.”

Salman Siddiqui, Director of Community Development at Islamic Circle of North America Relief (ICNA Relief) Central Florida, shared that the organization has opened eighteen women’s transitional houses and two domestic violence shelters in the United States.

When we asked if he felt that community leaders across the nation were properly helping survivors, Siddiqui responded, “I think, in our community, imams have good intentions and try to do their best from an Islamic point of view, but they might not be educated enough to help [survivors].” He believes that more education and courses on how to deal with domestic violence issues would help communities move forward.

Through PFP, Abugideiri has been working to educate imams to educate on how to react and provide assistance to domestic and sexual violence victims. “PFP hosts the National Imam and Chaplain training and workshops around the country to provide training to imams on how to recognize domestic violence, how to respond to it in a way that prioritizes the survivor’s safety and in a way that facilitates accountability in the abuser.” PFP also trains community leaders to learn how to work collaboratively with other advocates and professionals to develop a coordinated community response.

Sheerin Siddique, an attorney, blogger, secretary of the Women’s March Michigan, and survivor, has been outspoken for years about her ten-year-long marriage filled with emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse. For Siddique, divorce was never an option for her, even though the abuse started right from the beginning. “He hit me, bit me, even pushed me down the stairs. He was so possessive and very critical in all aspects, from my height to my looks to my personality. He would ask me if I was really a Muslim and if I prayed.”

Siddique also spoke to imams and was even kicked out of her home by her ex-husband, all while an imam was present. However, she was told by the imam to “give it some more time and keep trying.”

What finally pushed her to leave the marriage came during one particular night of rage: “The night that I left, my three daughters were sleeping in their room, and he came upstairs screaming and shouting, and he literally started choking me. At that point, I knew he was going to kill me, and all I kept thinking was what is going to happen to my girls if I die.”

In both Vogl and Siddique’s cases, the fear of being killed was the final push that led these women to leave their homes. Vogl explained that “abuse does so much to you that you end up thinking that you need the abuser. I was so broken down inside that I felt like I couldn’t live without him, not the other way around.”

Unfortunately, even in the light of stories like Vogl and Siddique, our community continues to stay in denial. Rather than standing up for survivors, many still encourage patience and prayer, regardless of the situation.

In response, Abugideiri says that she talks about safety: “Safety might be that you stay home and he leaves. Safety might be that you separate for a while. Safety might be that somebody comes to live with you. Safety can take lots of different forms. If in exploring safety, leaving is the best option, then it’s really important that, as Muslims, we understand that divorce is not a sin. [In fact,] in the Quran, God said to stay together in kindness or separate with kindness.”

 

If you or anyone you know has been affected by domestic violence, please reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. To bring imam and chaplain training to your area, contact the Peaceful Families Project.

Categories
Weddings

Masjid weddings have a simple beauty to them that I can’t explain

As a frequent attendee of weddings at different setups and venues, I have to say that masjid weddings are among my favorites.

One of my clearest memories involves a former Quran teacher’s wedding ceremony.

The sun filtered through the wide glass windows and cast a halo over my teacher’s head as she signed the marriage contract. I remember giddily leaning over the balcony railing of the sisters’ section to look down on the groom as he carefully wrote down his own name, to the cheers of his friends as the imam officiated over the contract.

As sweets were passed, my friends and I watched the bride run off in a flurry of loose flowers from her bouquet, trying to hide her teary eyes for a private moment in her car. She returned after a while, flushed and with a watery smile. “It was just very powerful. I realize now what this all meant,” she said.

To me, that has always been the strongest blessing of a masjid wedding.

Of course, you are married no matter where you are when your wedding ceremony takes place, but there is something charismatic about being inside a masjid when it happens. You are conscious of the fact that you are carrying on a long-held tradition, a wonder and a fulfillment of faith that is changing your life in ways you do not even expect during the wedding itself.

In the use of a masjid as a wedding space, you are acknowledging the roots you stem from and using them to ground you further into this new stage of life.

The masjid was our favorite haunt during high school.

We felt safe and welcomed, whether we were attending a formal halaqah (gathering for religious studying) or just using the upstairs space to discuss life and exams and college plans. Unlike cafes, we could stay inside masjids without needing to purchase an item to justify our staying there. Thus, the masjid was a foreground of our personal memories alongside our heritage.

 

One of my best friends was married in our local masjid a few years ago. It was the first of several days of planned celebration, including two receptions and a henna night, so the bride kept her guest list small. She chose to wear one of her favorite dresses instead of a formal gown.

In the hour between Maghrib and Isha – dusk and the decided darkness of evening – the masjid was hushed and we lowered our voices in respect. The attending friends nudged each other, took selfies, and laughed like any other day in the masjid.

As our friend’s relationship with her fiance transformed into an eternal one, we shared this experience with her in this same space that we had spent countless other happy memories. The Quran recitation was familiar but also brand new for all of us, given the personal context.

By the time she was declared a wife, we were all joyous and emotional.

This is what a masjid wedding means to me: being welcomed into and blessed by a space that appreciates you for who you are and what you believe. It is particularly powerful to consider how space can be syncretic despite differing culture, belief, and customs usually in practice at a particular masjid.

I have also attended a wedding in an Indonesian masjid where Afghani food was catered for an interracial couple who did not belong to either culture.

I have seen our community masjid basement transformed by a particularly talented Black sister for her daughter’s wedding. It went from a drab concrete and plastic tables to an ornate, draped marvel. After the wedding, the basement was reassembled and cleaned up without any fuss – or wagering over the price paid per occupied seat.

Accessibility at low or no cost is one of the beautiful things about a masjid wedding. In a time when friends have privately shared stories of going into debt for lavish hall-hosted weddings, to be able to use a space with the understanding that you can mold it to what you need without financial difficulty is incredible.

There is no rule that you have to get married in a masjid as a Muslim, but having the option – and the mosque being utilized by those in the community – is amazing.

When I attend a masjid wedding, I do so in a state of awe.

No matter what is going on in the world around us, we keep living and loving and upholding our sense of faith. And to get married it in that sacred space makes our belief and sense of belonging stronger.

Categories
Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

“A Place For Us” perfectly captured my complex relationship with community

Any love story worth paying attention to has two integral components: conflict and devotion. Often the former gives way to the latter, but in Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel, A Place For Us, the two coexist, both in her writing and in the lived experiences that inspired it. Mirza’s novel is not a love story in the way that you are thinking, although there are a number of romantic subplots within the narrative. At its core, A Place For Us is a love letter to community, specifically the Indian-American Muslim community whose culture, customs and complexities are at the center of the narrative.

The novel catches a family in the middle of their eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding, which also marks the return of Amar, the estranged youngest child, back into the folds of his family after three years away. Going back and forth in time, the novel tells the story of Rafiq and Layla, immigrants from India, to whom religion, tradition, and culture are both a comforting reminder of their old lives in India and an anchor in their new lives as Americans. Their children, Hadia, Huda and Amar, are attempting to navigate their way between their parents’ world and their present reality, to find a balance between doing right by their roots and staying true to themselves.

Throughout her novel, Mirza situates this family firmly within a wider community and culture. This is evident in the locations where much of the novel takes place: obligatory prayers and Quran classes at the local mosque, functions at the homes of different families within the community, basketball games in mosque parking lots. Many of the most significant events in the characters’ lives are also a by-product of these wider influences, from the pressure to fit in, rumors and gossip, to unconditional support and unspoken solidarity. It is clear that their community, culture, and religious convictions have a deep pull on the central characters, who are both fiercely loyal to and struggling against them.

When you belong to a community that is not widely represented in mainstream media and art – like the one Mirza writes about – there are certain complexities in how you choose to depict them when given the chance. Ideally, you would do so with total accuracy and transparency, but there is always the fear that if you expose the bad as well as the good, the former will contribute to pre-existing stereotypes and rhetoric while the latter remains largely ignored. This is particularly true with regard to Muslim communities because we are at the mercy of a media landscape that refuses to see us as anything but homogenous. And so we are torn between propaganda and accuracy, between irresponsibility and betrayal.

Mirza finds a solution to this dilemma in a single, powerful tool that is the foundation of her storytelling: empathy. She knows her characters intimately and loves them despite this. The same applies to the wider community in the novel, which is reflective of her own. Raised in California by Indian Muslim immigrants, Mirza walks the precarious line between loyalty and clear-sightedness with careful diplomacy.

It can be intimidating to disclose – no matter how subtly – the flaws of one’s community, marginalized or otherwise. And Mirza is subtle, touching on the sexism, the judgment, and the immense pressure that exists within the Indian Muslim community without ever sounding preachy or deprecatory. Even in her criticism, she is deeply empathetic. She recognizes where these flaws come from, in what environments these injustices and oppressions grow, compelling us to understand them without excusing them. She communicates that all these things exist simultaneously with the warmth of the community, the hospitality, the unyielding loyalty, the generosity, the fierce love – and that to weigh either side against the other to come to a definitive conclusion is both impossible and unnecessary.

 As we do with those we truly love, Mirza recognizes and confronts her community’s shortcomings with a degree of empathy and thoughtfulness that catches you off-guard, especially in the fourth and final part of the novel. A Place For Us shows that there is a middle ground in between the extremes of blind loyalty and calculated critique and that writers and artists from marginalized communities must claim for themselves that space that is so easily afforded to everyone else.

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Categories
Race Inequality

The Christchurch tragedy proved that terrorists are whiter than people think

The shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, on the afternoon of April 17 were unquestionably one of the most violent examples of religious extremism in recent history. On a Friday afternoon, a single white man walked into Al Noor Mosque with the weaponry he had modified and was able to murder dozens of peaceful, innocent people while they were in prayer. He continued the attack some minutes later at Linwood Islamic Centre and was allegedly moving to a next target when he was located and arrested. The event was labeled an “act of extreme and unprecedented violence” by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the event has officially been labeled a terrorist attack.

There are some facts we must remember: The attacks were a premeditated strike, aimed at a place of religious worship. Fifty people between the ages of three and 71 were murdered. Eight more victims, including 4-year-old Alen Alsati, were hospitalized and in critical condition.

The shooter openly and proudly identified himself as a white supremacist.

He deliberately chose to attack during Friday afternoon prayers, a day sacrosanct to the Muslim community and host to the largest regular congregation in mosques.

It is concerning enough that something so vile occurred at all. And yet, the fact is that not only did the Christchurch shootings happen, but they were also born from a politicized racial hatred that has been fostered into white supremacist ideology over decades. The perpetrator live-streamed the attack and published his manifesto openly on the internet, repeating hateful rhetoric we have heard time and time again from people in power and those around us alike.

Many of the horrible, ignorant things the terrorist easily published on the internet included a judgment that has been passed against Muslims and immigrants by white people. This constant verbal assault has gone on for years before the Christchurch incident, continues in its midst and will most likely continue in the future.

Unfortunately, the only problem a lot of people have with Islamophobia is with actually using the word for their racial hatred.

The fostering of openly Islamophobic rhetoric and legitimizing it with political statements and actions, however, is not solely responsible for the rising rate of white terrorist action. Other factors contribute just as much: including how easily white terrorists are humanized and their easy access to both firearms and ideology that can be easily weaponized.

Gun laws remain lax enough to allow mass shootings with semi-regularity. National protest groups like Reclaim Australia and even individuals like the shooter in question spread the white supremacist manifesto, insisting that people of color are ‘invaders’ and the white colonizers are the land’s rightful owners. In media, the word Islamophobia often symbolizes a phenomenon lesser than the unadulterated hatred and bigotry it actually represents in an attempt to dilute it into a justifiable fear.

None of that means that there aren’t any Muslim terrorist organizations or that nobody has used Islam as an excuse to hate and pass judgment onto others.

Of course, they have.

However, it is just as true that the first time New Zealand’s threat level was raised this ‘high’ in the country’s entire history, it was at the hands of a dangerous white supremacist.

Not a mentally unstable lone wolf. Not a misunderstood young man.  He was a hateful, inhumane bigot who believed innocent people deserved to die for migrating to his country.

What the rhetoric of hate around the world establishes, whether it is directed at minorities by the white, or vice versa, is that bad people belong to every group. That does not necessarily mean every single person who is Muslim or Black or Afghan or white is bad: and that is not something that should still need to be spelled out.

However, when the President of the United States has the gall to say that white nationalism is “[not] really” a rising threat after such blatant atrocities have been committed is a testament to just how little Muslim lives mean to white supremacists. The fact remains that, in the white supremacist’s mind, he believed that all Muslims are terrorists, part of ISIS, self-proclaimed jihadis, and are violent and hateful—that’s just not true.

Yes, terrorists are bad people. Some of them are Muslims. Some of them are self-important and loathsome white boys. Not all of them are treated equally. When there is a Muslim attack, it gives power to those who hate them. You’re right, it says, all Muslims want to kill you and your loved ones. They deserve to be hated and punished. When a white boy kills 50 people in cold blood, it is an isolated incident and not at all indicative of a spreading rot in global society.

The hypocrisy in that narrative is something the Christchurch shootings prove, at the expense of too many lost lives. At the end of the day, a shooter in a mosque is the same as a shooter in a church, a synagogue, a temple, a shrine, a school, a street, a house, a club. Their adherence to a certain race or religion does not absolve them of what they truly are.

A terrorist.

Categories
Race Policy Inequality

When will politicians and influencers finally start calling anti-Muslim bigotry by its name: Islamophobia?

Last week’s terror attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, have left 50 Muslims dead and a further 34 injured. On social media, public figures – among them politicians, activists, artists and journalists – have offered their condolences to the people of New Zealand, along with their thoughts and prayers.

Two things are different about the online responses to this attack, however. One is that the number of people speaking out about hate crimes against Muslims is disproportionately lower than the numbers that speak out in response to any other display of violence and hatred. This is unsurprising – Islam and anything to do with it has become so deeply politicized that any declaration of solidarity with or sympathy for the Muslim community is perceived as some sort of radical political statement.

To say that Muslims shouldn’t be murdered for their faith is, judging by the few who are saying it, a controversial move in a way that saying it of any other religious group would not be.

The second difference in the social media response to the massacre is that well-meaning as they may be, public figures simply refuse to call it like it is.

There are a lot of mentions of ‘condemning hatred’, of ‘fighting all forms of bigotry’ – vague terms, and, in this case, empty ones. In not mentioning by name the Islamophobia that fuelled the attack and the Muslims that paid for it with their lives, these statements render us invisible. They group the fifty Muslims killed in worship with the victims of countless other attacks, all of whom are denied the right to their individual identities and the acknowledgment of the specific breed of hatred and bigotry that killed them.

Activist Shaun King, in a tweet, described this as “basically ‘All Lives Mattering’ the issue of Islamophobia.” When the motive behind an attack is so blatantly obvious and its victims so deliberately chosen, it is not enough to attribute it to simply ‘hatred’ or ‘bigotry’.

The Christchurch attack was inspired and fuelled by a widespread Islamophobic ideology perpetuated by mainstream media rhetoric, political figures, and social media. It was carried out with the intention of hurting the Muslim community specifically, in their place of worship, on the holiest day of the week.

There is profound power in language.

Vagueness, euphemisms, ambiguity – these are all detractors. They hide the real issues and protect perpetrators. They are of no substantial value, and all they do is prolong the pursuit of justice and accountability.

In not verbalizing the root cause of an attack, in being vague about what fuelled and continues to fuel this hatred, you are doing Muslim communities everywhere a grave disservice. It is not enough to condemn ‘hatred in all its forms’ or to ‘send love to those affected’. The hatred is in the form of Islamophobia, so mention that. The victims are Muslims, mention that too.

There is no ambiguity here, no gray area. In not naming us, in refusing to acknowledge the ideology that is killing us, you are failing us.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life Stories Life

I was abused by my Quran teacher and I’m not the only one

Trigger Warning: Descriptions of physical and sexual abuse of minors. 

There are things about some Quran teachers that, unfortunately, are kept in the dark.

It could be because these issues are usually discouraged from being discussed in our circles. It could be that kids don’t think anyone will believe them, or, due to the power dynamic involved with speaking up against a teacher, are afraid of taking a stand. And so, these stories continue to be suppressed and ignored, leaving many children to deal with their torment alone.

When I was around 12, I had a Quran teacher who came to our house in the evenings.

My sister and I used to attend classes with him. A few months down the line, he brought a small bottle of ‘atar, the Arabic perfumes you pour on your fingers and dab onto yourself. He said he brought it especially for us and that he’d put it on us because we’d end up spilling it if we tried to do it ourselves.

He put some on my sister first, then put a bit on my wrists. Then he said, “it’s actually best to put it on your clothes,” and reached for my shirt.

I didn’t realize what he was doing.

When I started to feel his hands caressing my chest. He rubbed my chest much longer than was necessary to just put on some perfume. I don’t remember what my reaction had been, I think I told myself I’m just overreacting or imagining it. I didn’t say anything. And we went back to reading the Quran.

A few days later, it happened again. He brought perfume and said it was a new scent he wanted us to try. My sister was around 6 years old.

Too young to know or realize anything was unusual.

He put it on her first, then smiled at me and attempted to put some on my shirt. This time, there was no mistaking what he was doing. He didn’t even pretend to be passing his hands over my entire shirt. Instead, he went straight for my chest and grabbed me there. I was frozen. I did nothing. My mind didn’t even know how to process this.

Although I never told anyone about it, I never let him touch me after that day. He tried bringing perfume on other occasions, but I didn’t let him put any on me. When that didn’t work, he tried other techniques. Once, he tried to play-fight with me and reached out towards my chest. I dodged him immediately. All this time, my little sister just thought it was a game and played along with him. Maybe her innocence only served to encourage him. Maybe it didn’t matter at all.

But I never allowed him to touch me again, no matter what.

Years later, my youngest sister wanted to learn the Quran. My parents got her a tutor who came to our house. It didn’t last very long, though, because unlike us, our youngest sister had the sense to quickly tell my mom that he randomly started “tickling” her in the middle of lessons. He was fired immediately.

Over the years I’ve heard these kinds of unsettling accounts from more than one of my friends.

One guy told me his Quran teacher used to ask him to sit in his lap sometimes and then let his hand “fall” between his legs. One girl told me her Quran teacher used to give her uncomfortably long hugs. And so on.

And mind you none of these people recall these stories from when they were teenagers. These incidents occurred when they were little kids. Kids who might not even realize what’s really happening or who might be too afraid or confused to tell their parents about it. 20 percent of children who are sexually abused are under the age of eight.

I personally remember not even knowing how to have a conversation about it with my parents. The sad thing is I am not even sure how many parents would believe the kids or end up doing something about it.

Because these are Quran teachers! They are teaching you the religious word! How could they do such a horrific thing?

Unfortunately, there are teachers who do. It is more common than it should be. There are numerous articles online talking about these experiences. It is disgusting to think that these teachers of religion are abusing their positions to take advantage of little children, but it happens enough for it to not be overlooked or considered a lone incident.

So why don’t we talk about it? On top of that, why do these kinds of teachers get to make their own rules when it comes to the treatment of children?

That brings me to what parents need to know.

First off: Stop letting Quran tutors – no matter how trustworthy they seem – teach your kids in an isolated room or corner of the house. A lot of less-than-savory teachers do that under the guise of “wanting peace and quiet” or to “avoid seeing the women of the house.” Allowing that type of behavior to take place won’t head anywhere good, nor is that even a good enough excuse to let children be closed in a room with them. Make sure your children are taught in areas of the home that are open or within your view.

Teach children from a young age that it’s important to talk about these things. I remember when it happened to me, I was too embarrassed to bring it up with my parents. Don’t let that happen. Children need to know what type of touch is okay and what isn’t. If a touch makes the child feel uncomfortable, whether it came from a stranger or a relative, ensure that they know that they can say no. That the child has rights.

These kinds of conversations tend to be taboo in Muslim communities, but all that perpetuates is lifelong damage, shame, and concealed abuse. 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser. That’s a devastating statistic. If these incidents continue to be pushed under the rug, you’re only giving abusers a chance to keep going, because you’ve ensured that they know they’ll never be held accountable for it. Children should know, without a doubt, that they have a parent, relative, or friend who can serve as a safe place to turn to when they want to talk about something.

So, if that safe place can be you, be there for them.

Categories
Culture Gender & Identity Fashion Lookbook

Stop telling me that I’m “not like other Muslims”

Presented in partnership with SADOQ. 

Generalizations are never a good idea.

Yet most people don’t offer Muslims that common courtesy of not passing judgment. To too many, we look physically the same, our names are blended, our cultures are wrongfully intermixed (insert Aladdin),  and our voices are silenced.

According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims make up a majority of the population in 49 countries around the world. And although many people assume Muslims are all from the Middle East, we are more widespread than people think.

Journalist Zara Asad (@zaraasad) in Sadoq’s EMANUELLE scarf. Property of Zara Asad.

That means that not every Muslim knows one another, nor do they have an underground book club discussing how they plan to conquer the Western world and convert everyone to Islam. It means that we come from all over the world, speak different languages, crave different foods, practice different cultures.

The main keyword here: different. 

Yet we are constantly painted with the same harsh brush of people’s biased opinions, which are then equated as “facts” on mainstream news or “harmless comedy” in movies and TV. 

Spoiler alert: it’s harmless to everyone but Muslims.

But what if we reversed this Western cultural ideology of blaming Muslims? 

What if we forced white Christians to explicitly explain to people on a daily basis that they’re not part of the KKK because their skin color is white. 

What if we demanded that every Christian condemn the acts of the KKK, along with every white Christian gunman that’s committed an act of terrorism? 

Now think about not only having to explain but apologize and present a strategic game plan on behalf of all white people explaining why you aren’t going to be the next shooter because of your religious beliefs. 

Imagine simply trying to take a vacation and “randomly” getting pulled aside in a small, dark room to be questioned whether you really love this country and if you consider the president your president.

No other religion in the Western world has to deal with its followers getting generalized with the same decades-old stereotypes, but for us, there’s no escape. 

It’s never-ending. 

It seems no matter how many articles are written or videos are made or interfaith events are held or Muslim men and women serve in the armed forces: Muslims will always be considered a monolith.

[bctt tweet=” Contrary to popular belief, Muslims don’t get a preview of upcoming terror attacks in mosque basements because they have nothing to do with them. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

This generalization is an underlying problem in our country and culture. It’s a threat to minorities and all skin colors that are a slight shade darker than white. Why is it that we classify Muslims as one body, only in reference to anything criminal and insensitive? One person commits a crime and every Muslim alive is suddenly accountable.

There is no excuse for ignorantly asking Muslims to explain their association to ISIS or to ask Muslims to speak on behalf of the barbaric militant group. It’s absurd to ask Muslims to condemn terrorism but most people don’t think twice. 

It’s mind-boggling to make the statement, “I’m not saying all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” 

Yeah, except for the vast majority who aren’t. 

But if we ask every white person to condemn slavery and mass shootings and ask them to condemn them all the time, most people are stunned. 

Rather, as Dalia Mogahed says, “We need to take a step back and ask a different question. Is it justified to demand that Muslims condemn terrorism? Condoning the killing of civilians is the most monstrous thing you can do and to be suspected of doing something so monstrous simply because of your faith seems very unfair.”

Journalist Zara Asad (@zaraasad) in Sadoq’s EMANUELLE scarf. Property of Zara Asad.

Contrary to popular belief, Muslims don’t get a preview of upcoming terror attacks in mosque basements because they have nothing to do with them. Even if the individual who committed the violent act identifies himself/herself as a Muslim.

Sidenote: Do mosques even have basements? Most barely have wifi.

This idea people hold of Muslims being a monolith not only affects Muslims as a whole, but it affects Muslim men and women individually. Muslim men are subjugated to intense “random searches” at airports. On the other hand, Muslim women are considered a monolith of oppressed, voiceless beings who have been forced to hide their bodies and bow in silence to men. These are the stereotypes many people consider to be the truth and from which they base their claims of having Muslims all figured out.

Time after time, debate after debate, Islamophobes like to make the argument that the Muslim community knew the terrorist, the Muslim community did nothing about it which turns into, the Muslim community is not on the side of the American people because they knew what was going on. “The Muslim community,” instantly becomes solely responsible.

Here’s where the problem lies: the American people know nearly nothing about mosques because most of them have never attempted to visit one, nor have they integrated with the Muslim community on a regular basis. To constantly badger the Muslim community and to pin them as responsible is where we, the American people, become incredibly irresponsible.

The reality is there is a different standard with different rules for Muslims, especially in the West. As Americans, some of us like to say, “They’ve come to our country so they have to leave their backward cultures and non-American ideologies behind.” Muslims are expected to know and respect other people’s religions. Muslims go out of their way to research and look up what communions, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, baptisms, Passover, Easter, and other religious and cultural traditions are, whether they have friends of those religions or not.

But here’s a question: how many people look up Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-al-Adha, Ramadan, the Quran, or anything Muslim related?

So here’s my question for you: when will we – as Americans – start understanding Muslims or their religion? When will we stop making every brown movie or TV character a terrorist, who conveniently happens to be a Muslim? 

Muslims are not a monolith, despite how convenient it is for your plot lines, newsrooms and political agendas. And continuously putting out these false narratives ironically affects not just Muslims – but the world as a whole.

It’s time to move past that.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

I’m Muslim, and I used to be ashamed to call myself a feminist. Here’s what changed.

Anyone that knows me, knows how much of a proud feminist I am.

Ever since ninth grade, it has been my most significant identifier. My love for feminism even drove me to want to study Journalism and Women’s Studies in college. The more I read about women’s issues, the more I wanted to leave my own impact on the world.

But I wasn’t always like this. When I first started calling myself a feminist in high school, someone very close to me told me that it was against Islam and that it was “too western” of a concept. I remember feeling hurt, confused, and guilty. I love being Muslim, but I also love being a feminist. I didn’t understand why I had to choose between two things that are a big part of my identity.

It was odd to me that there was this perception about Islam, even within the Muslim community, that women are not granted their rights. Some believed that if Muslims were to become feminists, they would start questioning a lot of the principles interpreted from the Quran.

But it just didn’t make any sense to me that so many people would believe in something that treated people unequally. So, like anyone going through an identity crisis, I started doing my own research.

I found that everything that person had said to me, and so much of what others thought about women’s status in Islam, could not be further from the truth.

Everything that I had heard about how Islam oppresses women and strips away their rights was simply not true.

It is not Islam that does this. It is some people’s misinterpretation of Islam.

I learned that Islam was the first religion to give women the right to inheritance. Not only that, but they have full control of any money they inherit/earn. Moreover, Islam prohibited female infanticide, a practice common in pre-Islamic Arabia, and one that still exists in some countries outside the Middle East today. Islam also encourages women to get an education and work, something that was exclusive to men around the world at the time.

These were all advancements for women’s rights the west only made years later.

The prophet even made sure to include how integral it is for men to respect women in his Farewell Sermon, which he delivered before he died. In one of the sayings of the Hadith, Muhammad says, “The best men are those who are best to their wives.” He also believed that a daughter was a blessing and a father’s pathway to heaven.

I quickly realized that it would be un-Islamic of me to not be a feminist. In fact, it was this realization that drove so many women and men to develop Islamic feminism, a form of feminism based on the interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith (a collection of the prophet’s sayings).

It is our responsibility as feminists and/or Muslims, to take the time to develop our understanding of the belief systems around us. We have to stop acting like feminism and Islam are mutually exclusive when they are not.

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Gender & Identity Life

Desi Muslim women are always blamed for their divorce – never the men

When I heard the news about my aunt’s divorce for the first time, I was relieved. Thank God, she was finally free from her miserable marriage. She was so nice to everyone and it was a shame for her to stay in her emotionally abusive marriage. I wondered why it took so long for them to split up after being together for almost 15 years, but that did not matter anymore since she was finally a free woman. She was happier than ever. Divorce was indeed the best decision she ever made that time.

But that was not how my family sees it.

There was one time when my aunt, my grandmother and I were having a conversation. Suddenly my grandmother brought up my aunt’s divorce and hearing her every word about it, I could not be more shocked. She advised my aunt to dress modestly and not to talk to men for the time being.

It baffled me at first. That was weird. How did that have anything to do with her divorce?

My grandmother continued, saying that it was not appropriate for a divorcée to dress a certain way. A lot of people would think she was up to no good and trying to get attention from any man she could. As a newly-divorced woman, she would be seen as desperate for a man’s companionship after splitting up with her husband. After all, it must have been lonely, being on her own after living with her husbands for years. My aunt was not surprised, but I was flabbergasted. Was that really how society perceived divorced women? Sadly, for Muslim communities, the answer is yes.

To this day, nothing has changed. Women are still marginalized from society because of their status as a divorcée. Their quality as a woman is lowered and she is considered the last option for men. But worse, women are seen as the reason for the marriage breakup.

This is a reality for the Muslim community in Asia. No matter what the reason is, women are always at fault for the divorce. Most women will get the blame for divorce while men are off the hook from any accusation or from being the topic of gossip.

“You could not take care of your husband well, now look what happened.”

“You were not good enough for him and look what happened? He is now taken by another woman!”

Those are just some of the things Muslim divorcées hear. There are a lot nastier and sometimes, ridiculous reasons people can come up with to just to blame women.

As a divorced woman, she will either be the topic of conversations or avoided altogether. A divorcée is either a slut or problematic and there is no in between or other categories.

Just imagine a divorced man, talking and laughing with other women. No one would say a word because nothing seems wrong with that. But when a divorced woman does it, everyone starts to talk. Instead of being supportive, the community would rather bring women down. Perhaps, this is why divorced women tend to keep their status in the dark.

Things are no different in Middle East countries, either. The way women are perceived after divorce is just like in Asia – the wrong ones and the potential homewreckers. Unlike women in Asia who hides their status, Middle Eastern women would rather stay in their problematic marriage than be free of it. They are willing to endure any kind of abuse, believing it is better than to face the negative backlash from their family and society. In some cases, the parents interfered and refused to let their daughters get a divorce because of the dishonor it would bring to the family. Because the moment it is finalized, these women will step out of the court with a new status – failure in the community.

There is one thought crossed my mind sometimes – did they ever once wonder how does it feel to be in these women’s circumstances?

There is no reason for any woman to leave a happy marriage and condemn their life into loneliness. Divorce is a distressing experience for all women. It will take a while for them to come to terms with their situation, but there are more obstacles and difficulties to be overcome. Especially for single mothers, they need love and support, emotionally and financially from their close ones. However, society is too quick to judge, which added more to their struggles and burden without realizing sometimes divorce is inevitable.

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Gender & Identity Life

Her community doesn’t accept her – but her only crime was her birth

She was, just like her other siblings, excited to receive guests in their home. These were the special guests, as their parents said, for they had been friends for a long time. The home was tidied, the food was served in the dining area and they only had to wait for the arrival.

When the moment finally came and it was her turn to greet them politely…

… they responded with cold shoulders. No smiles, hugs or shaking hands.

She was completely ignored.

She was utterly shattered by the way they behaved, but still, she kept a brave face as if nothing had happened. Even her parents could not do anything as they could only watch as their friends treated their other children with affection while their eldest was cast aside.

There was nothing wrong with her. She was a pretty teenager blooming with beauty. She never causes any trouble or had any immoral transgression in her whole life.

Unfortunately, this was not a new occurrence for her. It was just another day.

She was an outcast in her school, too.

The students and teachers regarded her as filth. Since elementary school, the kids were forbidden by their parents to befriend or even be within a meter of her. In high school, the pressure was exacerbated even more.

Every day, she would hear people calling her a disease in the community or a potential whore, like her mother. Her existence was a disgrace to them and people avoided her like a plague. Living with verbal harassments from every student every day was a torture, but sometimes it turned into physical bullying. Worst of all, most teachers would not do anything about it. For them all, she deserved every bit of their harsh treatment.

She was being discriminated against for a reason.

She was an illegitimate daughter. A child born out of wedlock.

[bctt tweet=”She was an illegitimate daughter.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Her parents were married after she was born. Her younger siblings, however, were all born with valid legitimacy status and rights. They had more privileges than her when it comes to inheritance of their father’s properties and assets.

It started with the misdemeanor of the unmarried parents. The act of fornication and adultery itself by communities in countries like Malaysia, as some people following a specific understanding of Islam believe it has clearly forbidden these acts. The society, of course, is always quick to condemn these sinners and their outrageous mistake. But unfortunately, their bias has extended to the children born to their sinned mothers.

As if the child is retrospectively responsible for the circumstances of their births.

A child born out of marriage holds the lowest status in the social rank in Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. They are looked down upon and regarded as an affront to morality. Most of them are perceived as amoral and undeserving of the respect and compassion normally offered to children. This negative view has been accepted as the societal norm and most people would rather remain set in their ways than to recognize the error they are committing.

[bctt tweet=”They are looked down upon, regarded as an affront to morality.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Child blaming is not fair.

How does a child know anything about their parents’ mistake?

In this religion, babies were born with a pure mind and soul, not tainted by their parents’ sins. It is not themselves or even their parents’ sin that tarnished their status, but society. Society’s negative perceptions have ruined children’s lives, their futures, and their prospects as they will never be fully accepted by everyone. They are forever spurned and ostracized for the rest of their life as long as the community still hold them responsible for their parents’ immoral actions.

Somehow people believe they inherit their parents’ misbehavior.

[bctt tweet=”Why do we blame children for their parents’ mistake?” username=”wearethetempest”]

Instead of being punished for something they never committed, they need love, support, and care, especially from their family. Just like any other children, they deserve kindness and warm affection from everyone.

The parents might have created a black mark on their family name, but the children are innocent from their faults.

Categories
Gender Fashion Lookbook Inequality

Islam doesn’t oppress women – but this absolutely does

Presented in partnership with SADOQ. 

“Why does Islam oppress women? Why are Muslim men so controlling? Why do Muslim countries suppress women?”

These are condescending valid questions that need answers, according to bigots.

The Muslim community believes that Muslims don’t always accurately represent Islamic teachings. Similar to how America’s problems of misogyny, sexism, sexual abuse, and harassment don’t represent American values.

When some people who commit inhumane crimes claim to have been inspired by Islamic teachings, there is an uproar against Muslims around the world.

If extremists are claiming that their actions are encouraged by religion then how can that statement be challenged in any way? Muslims, after all, don’t condemn such actions because their religion preaches such barbaric teachings, right?

Wrong.

To recognize that the East and West have very different cultures is a start. Some of the differences stem from the difference in religious majorities. Others come from the difference in cultures. Cultures can be vibrant, entertaining, and offer a sense of identity and belonging, but if mixed with religion, cultures can be the root of a lot of evil.

Religion often takes the heat for a lot of the injustices around the world but the underlining issue is culture, not religion.

Why are all Muslims countries pigeonholed under the banner of oppressors? If you were to compare the Christian communities in Asia or the Middle East to the Christian communities in America and Canada, you would find more differences than similarities. That’s because people adopt the culture, language, the slang, the clothes, the flavor of the place they live in differently.

Let’s forget, contrasting countries; analyze the East and West coast in America and you’ll find staggering cultural differences. So it is not justified in any way now to call the oppression of Muslim women a Muslim problem or an Islamic problem the way most media outlets have done for the past 16 years.

Forced marriages, honor killings, female genital mutilation and the oppression of women are practices which all stem from deeply entrenched cultural traditions; and from the lack of education of correct religious teachings.

In most developing Muslim countries, people have misconceptions about Islam and the Quran.

Religion is misconstrued and the practices are changed. Religion is practiced, not to grow closer to God, but to look religious in the eyes of family, friends, neighbors and the community; because, religiosity is usually associated with good character and respect. Rather than using religion as a way of life, people pick and choose to follow what they desire from religion. This allows them to mix their cultural practices along the way and calling their ignorant actions the “Will of God.”

This includes corruption that is masked under the cover of religion and used as a tool to manipulate the public. Examples of this are imams or religious priests who are responsible for child marriages, domestic violence, and backward ideologies.

No religion teaches its followers to oppress, harass, abuse and rape women. No religion, makes ignorant statements claiming men are superior to women. And women must be subservient to their male counterparts.

Only a man-made culture would perpetuate such an ideology.

In these cultural ideologies, women aren’t the priority. Their voices are silenced and their interests are caged over the superiority of men. Women are suppressed and dominated to the point where their basic human rights are revoked. So much so that it is assumed that if women are given the freedom to go where they like and take up a hobby that it’s going to spoil them. That whatever “it” is that worries men will get to women’s heads.

So to keep their women in control, culture is mixed with religion solely for the purpose of justifying their criminal actions against humanity.

For example, in some cultures men eat first, women aren’t allowed to drive, women can’t leave the house without asking for permission first, women are forced to cover from head to toe in burqa’s, women aren’t allowed to go to the mosque and girls aren’t allowed to attend school. To make matters permanent, women are forced to marry whom they don’t want.

And the control of the patriarchy is extended as far as dominating sexual relations until they become sexual abuse.

The subject of the rights and duties of women in Islam are often clouded by controversy, personal opinions, and sheer ignorance. There is eminent corruption in cultural practices which have no tolerance in Islam. Islam acknowledges the established medical fact that men and women have different biological compositions. Due to these differences, men and women have certain rights and responsibilities that don’t have to undergo the criteria of compare and contrast. Islam makes the statement very clear: neither gender is inferior or superior to the other; instead they complement each like the two halves of a whole.

But while the cultures led by men continue to deny women their God-given rights, here are some rights granted to women through Islam:

  • In regards to equality, men and women are equal and they will both be judged, rewarded, or punished according to their individual actions.
  • Mothers have three times more of a right to kindness and attention than fathers.
  • “The world and all things in it are precious, and the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman.” (Ahmad and Muslim)
  • “Whoever looks after two girls till they reach maturity, he (Prophet Muhammad) and I will enter paradise together like these two fingers (the index and middle fingers).” (Muslim and At-Tirmidhi 1)
  • “Acquiring knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim.” (At-Tabarani)
  • Attending prayers at the mosque is mandatory for men but because women have the role of motherhood, a role which does not end at a specific time, they have been exempted from attending the mandatory prayers at the mosque. However, if they wish to attend the mosque, no one can stop them.
  • Men and women are both obligated to give charity, but a woman can choose to give charity from her husband’s income and not hers.
  • A woman has the right to keep her property and wealth, whether earned or inherited. She is allowed to work but is not obligated to support her husband financially. Whatever money she earns is hers and she doesn’t owe a penny to her husband, sons, brothers, or father.
  • Few societies exist in which the ordinary citizen can confront a ruler face to face and challenge their policies, and even fewer societies allow women to be so bold. Yet, the Islamic ideal has always been to allow women the freedom of expression and encourages women to enter politics, law, and business.
  • Women are permitted to participate in the battlefield not just as nurses but as soldiers.
  • Under no circumstance can a male force a woman against her wishes to marry whom she doesn’t want. She is free to accept or reject anyone as she is allowed to ask for a divorce.
  • Under Islamic law, women are awarded custody of their children without having to prove anything to the courts.
  • A daughter receives half the share of inheritance compared to her brothers because men are given the responsibility of using their inheritance to look after the women in their lives while women can spend their inheritance however they want and are not obligated to look after their families financially.

It’s easy for people to blame religion rather than their cultures because their pride and arrogance get in the way. They refuse to proclaim that their cultural customs are wrong, oppressive or have any sort of flaw in them. Cultures shape people’s identities and to raise a hand on the identity of a person will absolutely force them to get defensive. Societies always need someone to blame for the crimes and injustices that take place and men aren’t going to blame themselves.

That’s why it’s easier to blame God and religion when religion is supposed to serve as a form of peace, discipline, and spirituality.

Islam doesn’t oppress women, cultures led by sexist men oppress women. Lack of a secular and religious education oppresses women. That’s exactly why certain cultures prevent girls from going to school because religiously women have far more rights than men.

The question worth asking here is: why is it that it is never a woman stopping a little girl or another woman from going to school? Whenever a woman has been beaten or had a bullet to her head for trying to go to school, there’s always been a man and his cultural mentality holding the gun.

The oppression of women has nothing to do with religion.

To propose that God made men superior to women is a man-made ideology that only sexist men would make and then blame on religion.

Categories
Gender & Identity Life

Just because I’m not getting married now doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim woman

Growing up, I found myself surrounded by many “let’s get you married tomorrow!” support networks. Rarely did I ever come across a support network in my community that was focused on investing in the self-development of women on a personal or professional level.

In my community, women’s empowerment efforts on self-development and pursuing career goals are rare and often non-existent. Instead, there’s an exaggerated focus on getting young women to prioritize marriage above all other dreams and goals in life.

Really?

In a conversation with a mentor of mine not too long ago, I shared with her that I was considering working abroad for a few months. Her response?

“No, I don’t think you should do that. It will ruin your reputation, which will lower the prospect of marriage proposals for you.”

About a year and a half ago, I met up with another mentor of mine to discuss challenges I was facing in search of a job. His response? “Well you’re still in your early twenties. Give it a couple of years and you’ll be married.”

That was the most belittling and absurd career advice I have received.

As a strong-willed stubborn perfectionist, sitting around and waiting for a husband is not something I ever planned to do.

My career plans involve becoming a world renowned expert in design theory and design philosophy. I’m not about to extinguish my passion for a hypothetical marriage that not a single person can guarantee a timeline for.

It’s in God’s hands. That is what I was raised to believe and that is what I will continue to believe.

I can’t fulfill God’s wishes if I know that I have the potential to become a scholar but instead of working towards achieving that potential, I instead spend my energy investing in a hypothetical reality. A reality that doesn’t even make sense to me.

I mean, what’s the point of sharing your life, if you don’t even know what it’s about? However, my community has made it an uphill battle for any woman who prioritizes self-development over marriage to accomplish her goals.

On top of that, they’ve conditioned women to believe that marriage is the be-all-end-all of life. As a result, we largely fail to celebrate the accomplishments of women, unless they’re related to getting married and having kids.

For some reason, my investment in my own growth is far less impressive, than if I were to sit around and wait for a chap to peg me as wifey material. My accomplishments are categorized as being unworthy of recognition and endorsement until I am hitched.

It’s like I am a mirage that no one sees until I get married. Suddenly, I become visible. Suddenly, I can be seen and heard.

It is disturbing that my community has a hard time believing in a women’s potential unless they’re married.

Is it not enough that we are human?

Don’t get me wrong: I believe marriage is a wonderful thing, but for some reason, we tend to forget that a woman’s life begins way before she gets married.