Jordan Peterson: quite controversial a figure. I do find many of his talks and explanations thoroughly insightful.
Yes, I also scrolled down to the comments section for this one. Here is one comment that particularly stood out to me:
“Modern feminism has really been a punch in the gut to me. Raising children is not the honour it needs to be. I always felt that I was a burden even though my husband and family never made me feel that way. Grew up with a hardworking stay-at-home mom. When I went to work, the guilt and inability to juggle it all was unbearable. My family was not priority according to my work. I hope a new feminism brings back the mystery of women, the value of femininity and the strength of it in its own right. Also the value and the strength of masculinity.”
What matters? One’s health and wellbeing matter. One’s family. If you choose to work, your work may matter to you. Some people only partake in economic labour because they must, while others really only partake in it as a hobby thing: an enjoyable and productive way to pass time.
Some women get extremely bored and unhappy when they stay at home. Some women become extremely unwell when they commit to carrying out high-demand economic labour roles.
The most crucial considerations, I think, ought to be: what is truly, holistically good – best – for you? For the people you most deeply care about? For your Deen?
What ought not to play such a significant role: Mere appearances. What other (no offence, but for-the-most-part-irrelevant) people think. These people… will almost undoubtedly always be thoughtlessly ‘thinking’ things.
“She doesn’t work and only stays at home? Why doesn’t she do something useful with her life?”
“She’s only a pharmacist? Why isn’t she a doctor?”
“She works all day and sends her children to daycare?! How pitiable!”
“She earns more than her husband does? Ha!”
“Her husband’s an engineer and she doesn’t work? He should’ve married someone more educated!”
“Why is she tired all the time? Surely it isn’t that hard to have two young children and have a high-flying career?”
“Why can’t she go to work all day and clean the entire house top-to-bottom every day, by herself?”
“How dare she have her own opinions? The insolence! I should never have let my son marry her! She should just keep her mouth shut and cook and clean and say ‘Yes ma’am, whatever you say ma’am’ to everything I say!”
These busybodies, so violent with their words, necessarily a) only see the outermost parts of things, and b) have committed themselves to identifying the perceived negatives in lieu of the positives, so as to soothe themselves, and so as to entertain themselves through gossip. Have no fear, though: all they are really doing is depleting their own Ajr-ic [this should be a word. i.e. relating to Ajr] reservoirs, while contributing to their victims’…
You face your own reality. You know what it is like to be you.
The truth is, when you choose one thing, you necessarily forgo its alternatives. Life, and all of its various aspects: blessings and tests. Necessary upsides and downsides, to each part of it. You inherit a ‘good’ thing: you also inherit its unique ‘downsides’. Mutatis mutandis, ‘bad’ or difficult things, and their unique perks and ‘upsides’.
Ours is a world that finds itself marred by crises: of home; of family; of loneliness and hyper-‘individuality’. Of meaning; of mental wellbeing. It is also true: sacred things like marriage and motherhood are generally no longer looked upon with due sanctity and honour.
In any case, you are a being whose (limited) wealth is time. And health and energy; the ultimately finite amounts of attention you can give to different things. Family. Talents, skills, interests. Allah is Al-Mālik, and
you get to figure out what might be holistically best for you. Seek His guidance: sometimes certain things, decisions and such, may be hard, but
We submit to the Creator, and not to (the fleeting, incomplete, and often-exaggerated takes of) creation. Your life. Between you and your Lord, and also concerning the people whom you love.
I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…
I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…
The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.
And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.
Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]
Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.
I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.
I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.
The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.
As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.
Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.
In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.
Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.
School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?
When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!
And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.
The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.
And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]
These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]
I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.
I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.
The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-drivenways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.
The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.
And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.
I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.
The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.
In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.
I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.
I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.
Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.
The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The human woman is a thing of beauty. This is, without question, how she has been designed and made: beautiful. From her eyelashes to her voice, and to the soul that rests between them, the human female is different to the human male. Both, in general, have differing essences, and each are attracted to differing things, in the other.
In this article, I want to talk about beauty standards. I may also touch on the topics of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like. I want for this article to encapsulate my indignation towards, for instance, the fact that some of the most beautiful women I know think themselves to be hideous; I think current popular conceptions of ‘beauty’ are symptomatic of, well… a world gone mad, taken to deceit, superficiality, and shallowness, among other things.
One of my little cousins, I tell her, she does not need to worry: she is gorgeous how she is, Masha Allah! But she says, no, she is not. Why, I ask? Because, as she tells me, she does not look like her, and she points to a girl she is watching on Tik-Tok, whose face is laden with makeup, whose features are accentuated through the use of certain poses and filters.
The ‘Instagram face’. This is an important concept in today’s world, so it would seem.
I so wish everybody could just know how beautiful they are. A few months ago, I carried out that survey thing, for which the fourth question was about people’s main struggles and insecurities. Everybody responded to this with, looks: they struggle with accepting and appreciating how they look, and this actually holds them back, they find, in other areas of life. People find themselves ugly; want to do away with certain features of theirs, acquire new ones.
What a world we live in, huh? Our notions of beauty are so distorted. This ‘Instagram face’, this template that begins with European features, takes from ‘ethnic ones’, merges them together to create the notorious almost-bionic template that plasters our social media feeds these days. My issue with the culture that this has been fostered by (and then, in turn, fosters) is that we now have humans who are disgusted by some of the baseline stuff of being human: who spend hours hating their own reflections, who look beauty right in the eye each day (when they look into a mirror) but who cannot at all recognise it for what it is.
The media we consume on a daily basis undoubtedly has a massive impact on the ways in which we come to see things. It is all quite interconnected, too: how addictive these platforms are, how much of its content we consume each day (often quite ‘mindlessly’. But it is always having an effect on our minds…), advertising, the cosmetic industry…
The truth is, looks do matter. Of course they do. But it gets awfully political, if you think about it enough: how the ones with the most power, have the power to truly influence how we view things. Like beauty. The thing about beauty is, it is meant to be indicative of goodness [and, I would argue, of Truth. We tend to see things that are unified, proportionate, and harmonious, as being beautiful. I think this points us towards a supreme wisdom, a Oneness. Allah].
An envelope, and then you open it, and there is goodness to be found. But as soon as we come to believe that only some women (i.e. those with European features, lightly infused with more ‘exotic’ and ethnic ones) are truly beautiful, we are also allowing ourselves to believe that they, by nature, hold unique goodness within them. Such ideas – pertaining to both the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ – are strongly linked to European colonial ideas. That white women, for example, are more ‘feminine’ and ‘angelic’ than other ones. [And that white men are more civilised and intelligent than other – the more ‘savage’ and ‘barbaric’ – ones]. Then, these notions of what constitutes seeming ‘angelic’, and how these have, over time, developed into modern conceptualisations of the infantile woman, who is at once childishly adorable, ‘angelic’, and very sexually fecund… doesn’t it all make you a little uncomfortable?
The human Fitrah does ‘naturally’ recognise beauty. Most human beings absolutely love ‘nature’. It is visually, aurally, atmospherically beautiful. But our Fitrahs can be, and very often are, affected by environmental factors. By the media, for example: what we cognitively consume, and just how much of it. These things that can acquire power over you, a hold on you, can in turn deeply influence your thoughts and beliefs.
I wish humanity would just accept its own humanity. I wish we would stop worshipping plastic notions; stop allowing ourselves to be fooled so. Whenever I come across pictures (e.g. at museums) from the past, of people simply having fun, and while looking unashamedly human, I think about the ways of now. How we dress ourselves up so much, to go just about anywhere, and how hyper-aware we can tend to be, of our own physicality.
Sadly, this hyper-awareness stops a lot of people from playing. From having pure, unbridled fun. And from bearing witness to their own inherent beauty. It makes people compare themselves (to heavily engineered images) and then come to consider themselves as being ‘ugly’. It motivates people to go on a lot of these unhealthy ‘diets’, to think about getting nose jobs, bodily implants, and more.
How did we get to this point, at which normal human faces are seen as abnormal? Where, if a woman walks out without makeup, she looks ‘sickly’ and un-groomed. If she wears ‘subtle’ makeup, little girls come to think that this is how they ought to look without makeup [this is what the ‘no makeup makeup look’ does, in truth].
Nobody is born ‘ugly’, and nobody is born seeing themselves this way. In fact, it goes against the inclinations of the human Fitrah, to see ‘ordinary’ humans as being ‘ugly’. This would be tantamount to denying the beauty within walking definitions of beauty!
I reckon it began with makeup. With the arrival of new potential, for women with ‘ordinary’ faces to look special, ‘exotic’ and sexy: to accentuate their features with the use of substances that blacken and bronze and ‘beautify’. Interestingly, the basis of all these makeup products is the promise of an ‘ethnic’ look, a ‘sultry’ and ‘exotic’ one. With mascara, white women could now darken and elongate their eyelashes. With bronzer, they could achieve that ‘sun-kissed’ look. Lip-liner allowed them to achieve the full-lip look. Other various cosmetic powders and liquids allow for skin to look ‘flawless’, glowing. But women who are South Asian, black, Latina, and Arab (generally) naturally have these features already. So where do they fit in, in terms of how the global cosmetics industry direct their advertising and relevance?
To put it simply, white women started to want these ‘exotic’ ethnic features. They were seen, undoubtedly, as being fascinating, and (thus) ‘sexy’. But some ‘exotic’ features had been left behind, in the conceptualisation of this model: uni-brows, for example [and thick eyebrows, too. These only became ‘fashionable’ far later]. And hooked noses, and certain face shapes, among other things. So, it is almost as though a makeup template for white women had been created deeply inspired by certain ‘ethnic’ looks and features, but then, in turn, ‘ethnic’ women took from the new European-with-hints-of-‘exoticism’ model.
And so, lots of white women rushed to get lip fillers, while lots of black women rushed to acquire straighter hair. Lots of Arab women rushed to get nose jobs. Lots of South Asian women rushed to lighten their skin.
See, the entire cosmetic industry peddles the idea that no, you are never ‘enough’, never quite done yet. You do not yet look like the ‘models’ we have created. So keep going, keep buying, keep‘improving’.
And yes, I think ‘celebrity culture’ has played a notable role in all of this. From the beginnings of Hollywood, to the ways of things now, this culture has always relied on some people being presented as being extraordinary, very special, worthy of much popular attention. They had to be set apart from everybody else: talent-wise, and, of course, ‘beauty’-wise.
But, gradually, the cosmetics that only the rich and famous had access to became increasingly accessible to the rest of the public. And, with this ‘celebrity culture’ mentality in mind, of course, people wanted to emulate whom they had been made to perceive as being the ‘successful’. And thus, I think, was birthed these ideas of the most non-human-seeming human things being the most attractive ones. Terrifying, really.
Hooked noses and pointed chins, for example, are not objectively ‘ugly’. And nor are rounded faces, or thinner lips, stretch marks, tummy rolls, or whatever else.
I do think it is a very human, ‘okay’ thing to want to be beautiful. In general, women in particular have innate desires to be beautiful (on the inside, and the ‘out’), while men tend to obtain the majority of their self-esteem from how ‘strong’ they are (both on the physical, and inward, emotional level). But I think our paradigms of beauty ought to be more ‘from us’. Beginning with us, and ending, for the most part, with us: with the beautiful features and things that Allah has given us, already. The goal, perhaps, ought to just be: being as healthy as we can be. Developing according to our own natures (and this should be true, for us, on both the physical level, and the mental ones).
Hey, did Aphrodite not have tummy rolls? She is, then, perhaps more human than most of us today will, unfortunately, allow ourselves to be.
I worry for my little cousins, I really do. In fact, I worry for every woman – especially the younger ones – who finds herself alive, right now, in this world of ours. I want for beautiful people to know that they are beautiful, even where their faces do not fit with the whole Instagram cut-out template.
If I ever have a daughter, I hope I can teach her how to stand before herself and bear witness to the beauty that is inherent in her, a gift from God. I know I would want to protect her from these never-ending streams of media that may seek to tell her that, in terms of beauty, she is lesser than what she, in truth, is.
Dear reader, I want you to know how beautiful you are. So, for today at least, I challenge you to exchange those critical lenses through which you may look at yourself in the mirror, for ones of appreciation. When you actively look for the beauty that (I promise you) is already there, you will surely come to see it, Subhan Allah. Nobody else in the world has the beauty that only you do.
And why would you ever want to look like anybody else?
[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]
There are certain people with whom there is no use attempting to engage in healthy debate. Sometimes these people are white, deeply Islamophobic, truly unpleasant to behold. In their eyes, you are just a terrorist; this view of theirs, no matter how many facts and figures you may direct toward them, is unlikely to ever change. And then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are some men who look rather unlike the first discussed group – at least, upon first glance. Muslim, bearded, seemingly quite ‘religious’. They, too, are often terribly unpleasant to behold. They want to debate with you; they want to prove how girlish, deluded and necessary-of-reform you are. They proceed to bitterly call you a feminist, then proceed to take these matters of ‘reform’ into their own hands.
I do not identify as a feminist. I used to, yes, but I no longer do. One need not be a ‘feminist’ in order to appreciate that women should not be taken for granted nor abused, just as one need not be labelled a ‘communist’ to appreciate that the welfare system – taking care of the most vulnerable in society – is a good idea.
Now, what I find most infuriating about these particular groups of Muslim men – these ones who tend to be rather outwardly ‘pious’ – is that they do not practise what they preach. They seem to lust relentlessly over women; they, at the same time, seem to despise us. I know people who, pretty much all they do is: praise Allah (SWT) – the most noble of things to do – and then proceed to ceaselessly complain about women. Women: the root of all evil, for them. And, yes, misogynists certainly have their equal but opposite counterparts among women. “All men are trash!” some women are known, religiously, to complain.
Some Muslim men, though, undoubtedly do it right. They are evidently soft-hearted, but they are still very masculine. They have a sense of protective jealousy over female relatives, but they are not so weak and insecure on the inside that they will blame the women under their care for the faults of others, nor do they seek to feign excessive levels of authority over women, in order to compensate for such insecurities. These particular men – the Good Ones – do their parts. They are not hypocrites; they are Haleem: gentle, mild, patient, understanding, able to regulate their anger. They understand that they will never be able to fully empathise with the struggles that women may face, but they do not downplay these struggles., either. That is what we (well, I mean I) truly like to see: men who are deeply comfortable in their own masculinity. Comfortable enough to be strong, polite, open-minded. See, healthy masculinity does not generally translate into mindless, meaningless, misogynistic anger. Nor is it shutting down conversation by insolently and freely insulting women – acting like we are all brainless, valueless (except when it comes to male sexual gratification), naive dolls.
I am not opposed to feminism. I am simply not a feminist. I am a Muslim. My main contentions with the ‘feminist movement’ at large is that… it would appear to be intrinsically confused. A lot of it seems, ironically, to promote the ‘liberation’ of women by encouraging women towards a traditionally masculine template. We are encouraged towards hailing the women in pantsuits; who are ‘badasses’, and who refer to themselves as ‘kings’, and not as queens.
The Islamic view, then: gender roles do exist. The divinely-ordained Masculine; the divinely-ordained Feminine; they have much intrinsic value. Islam promotes the upholding of our masculine and feminine essences – these products of our Fitrahs (our innate human constitutions) – and of their associated roles. There are no rules that dictate that a woman cannot go out to work, nor any to suggest that men cannot play key roles in the upbringings of their children, on a deeply emotional level. No… but men are physically stronger; they are built differently, and they think differently, to women. Men have certain rights over, in tandem with responsibilities towards, women. And vice versa. And both parties have their respective, though often overlapping, responsibilities to carry out, towards God.
Men are meant to be, ultimately, the protectors and providers of women. The Qur’an describes them as our ‘overseers’ – a rough translation of the term used. Breadwinners: they must spend their wealth on the maintenance of their families. Women, however, have a right to their own wealth; we need not share with anybody. Men must pray, as much as possible, in the mosque, in congregation. Women need not, and we get monthly ‘breaks’, so to speak, from Salah, which last for a week. Women are vessels through which life is brought into the world – and this is done via the womb, the word for which, in Arabic, shares the same linguistic root as that meaning ‘mercy’. Men have their essence; we have ours. [And so on]. God is neither male nor female; gender is a creation of His. Some Divine qualities (like beauty and mercy) women have relatively more access to the diluted subsets of. And others, men have more access to. Unfortunately, what a lot of modern feminists tend to do is this: they are known to de-sanctify the Divine Feminine at its core, thereafter pitting it against the Masculine, in some sort of strange competition…
I never really understood what it meant when, upon telling certain friends and family members I was a ‘feminist’, they would tell me that they themselves are just ‘Muslim’. I understand this now: Islam is against oppression and interpersonal transgressions – irrespective of who happens to be carrying them out. They are dire sins. And Islam also encourages the preservation of gender roles. So the Islamic way is not necessary ‘liberalist’, but, in many ways – for example, in its unique take on female sexuality – it is not traditionally ‘traditionalist’. Islam is Islam. It is my Deen; it provides the necessary framework for objective morality. At my core, I am not a liberal (while the moral bases for ‘feminism’ are pretty much inextricably tied to the liberal ideology). I am Muslim.
Deep down, we know that many feminists will clap more for women who have sacrificed everything for top professional positions, while neglecting the mothers who choose to be housewives, and whose central concerns are to make their homes a good place for their families – to bring their children up in the best possible way. As usual, the liberal ideology in question is strongly tied to economic considerations. But we Muslims must favour the spiritual ones, before anything. Love of God, and tending to our God-given rights and responsibilities, and love as our central motivator…
Feminism also seems to argue that women should not do things to cater to the Male Gaze. But then the majority of feminists advocate for makeup usage, nudity, and sexual looseness. Because it’s “all about choice”. Do they not see that human ‘freedom’ is always contingent on being enslaved to something – whether to economic ideas of success and the Male Gaze, or… to God? No woman is an island; there are motivations behind our actions. There is no use in pretending that we can exist outside of all societal considerations and such. And for Muslims at least, it is far more meaningful to submit before God, in lieu of whatever else before the people…
As Muslim women, for instance, we really should stop responding to questions like those pertaining to our headscarves with, “Because it’s my choice”. No – we observe the Hijab because we are enslaved not to our own desires, nor to the eyes of men, but to Allah (SWT). All human beings are enslaved; to be enslaved to God is the most noble avenue for our human inclinations towards servitude.
And, yes, ‘intersectional’ feminism does exist. But I would argue that this branch of feminism is the most deeply confused one. It started off by saying “Yes, ALL women!”. That is, Hijabi women, black women, white women, disabled women – and ‘yes’ to how they might each respectively choose to live their lives… But then it subsumed the efforts of LGBT movements, and those of race-based movements, sexual ‘liberation’, pro-abortion-no-matter-what, and even some movements that pertained to the liberation of men under certain circumstances. [So… why continue to label it ‘feminism’, which linguistically implies a focus on women]?
Anti-oppression. This is part of Islam. But anti-oppression… in line with God-given guidelines and commands.
Gendered transgressions that are not in line with the Islamic way of life include domestic violence, certainly. But, for example, sexual irresponsibility is not to be promoted either, according to us; this, in its own way, is a transgression.
And on the topic of well-known statistics like how ‘women make seventy-six cents to every man’s dollar’: well, promulgating this statistic in isolation leads to the overlooking of much nuance. Take, for example, the fact that many women choose to only carry out part-time paid work, and many leave their jobs for extended periods of time in order to look after their growing families. What’s more, the Islamic view is, as aforesaid, that men and women are different. Men have varying attitudes, physiques, motivations, and responsibilities in comparison to women. Our goal here is not to be ‘equal’ in terms of the things we are and do, to them. Nor is our goal, here, to be ‘free’. Relatively free, sure, from oppression and such, but we also have religiously imposed limits that we must not (be arrogant and) rebel against.
“It is true that you [men] have certain rights with regard to your women, but they also have rights over you.”
– Prophet Muhammad (SAW) [Hadith, Tirmidhi]
The goal is to allow men to nurture their masculinity, and to allow women to nurture – and not reject – our femininity, in a healthy manner, and in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. And we must be committed to showing considerable amounts of concern for issues that may concern women (like the fact that most victims of domestic violence tend to be women), and those that concern men (like the fact that disproportionate numbers of men silently suffer from excruciating mental illnesses and suicidal urges), alike.
There is a concept that exists that is known as ‘equality’. There is also ‘justice’. Finally, there is ‘liberation’.
Now, if we imagine the concept of height used in these pictures to only be representative of gender-based differences and not necessarily of the superiority of one, we see that the people in question – in picture – are different. Different perspectives and builds. Now, ‘equality’ involves the same being given to everyone. No considerations of differences, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It is harder for the person in the purple top to see. This is what happens when we only use masculine ideals as the template for everybody.
Next, equity. The same is being done here: we want the others to reach the height of the tallest one. Now, everyone can see. But it still asserts that the smallest one is, by nature, inferior. They cannot ‘see’ without aid. There is still a barrier. This approach does not want to acknowledge the different perspectives.
Finally, liberation. Everybody, from their own individual perspectives, can see the field. No barriers, no proposing that one or the other is centrally inferior. In my view, Islam is liberation. The ‘same field’ is the fact that the spiritual value of a woman is the same as that of a man. We are made differently, and we see things from different perspectives. But that is totally okay. We celebrate our differences, and we are enriched by one another; our value is dependent not on how similar to the man we can be. Rather, it is innate, and then it is dependent on our “piety and good actions” [Hadith].
Though I do subscribe to the ‘live and let live’ way of seeing things, I do think that liberalism has this innate tendency to trample all over the value of sacred things… humanity, true familial connections, the value of rest, the value of gender roles [for the liberal ideology, if you can convince a woman that her professional positions are superior to her role as a mother, you have won. More profits. Even if it means that the woman now has a dual burden – a ‘triple shift’ – to fulfil. See, everything that Islam maintains is sacred and of great value – like worship of God, even – liberalism and capitalism will find a way to distort and redefine, and to gear towards the generation of more profits. Nowadays, many people worship not their Creator, but their bosses at work…]
Generally, it is healthy and (to many) quite attractive for a man to be in touch with his ‘feminine’ side, and for a woman to be in touch with her ‘masculine’ side. But a man’s ‘feminine side’ is not the same as a woman’s expression of the Feminine. And a woman’s ‘masculine side’ is not the same as a man’s expression of the Masculine. And imbalances do, undoubtedly, evidently, lead to issues: issues within the household, issues within individuals, and to greater societal issues… There is Divine wisdom behind gendered roles and obligations!
Moreover, on the question of whether or not ‘Toxic Masculinity’ exists [this is something that feminists quite often vocally disapprove of]… Imbalances in gender identities and subsequently, in gender-relations, do exist. But it can go both ways: a man may behave in, say, a hyper-aggressive manner towards a woman. A woman may become vain and prideful, and sincerely think that she is better than a man on account of her physical beauty. These things happen.
But the Islamic tradition states that a distinction is to be made between being ‘male’ and being a ‘man’, and mutatis mutandis for women. ‘Males’ may recklessly chase after multiple women; may display numerous angry outbursts; may walk pridefully upon the earth. ‘Females’ may see their source of value being solely dependent on their sexual appeal; may never be satisfied with what the male members of their families do for them; may allow hyper-emotionality to cloud their better judgements. But human ‘men’ and ‘women’ are more noble than those who are exclusively ‘male’ and ‘female’. Men and women, for starters, do not exclusively act upon their base instincts. The strongest of men, for instance, as the Prophet (SAW) told us, is not the one who can wrestle the best, but he is the one who best controls his anger when he becomes angry. And the best of women are those who can practise modesty, in person and in appearance. Gratitude, too, and other virtuous qualities…
From a Muslim perspective, women should not try to imitate men, nor should men try to imitate women. Read: the part about imbalances. And, for we women, our ultimate role models shouldn’t really be… the celebrities of today, nor those women who exhibit ‘ladette culture’. Not the ‘cool girls’, not the ‘badasses’. Our purpose here is different. Likewise, for the men: no rap artist, no footballer, no whatever should really take the place in our hearts that belongs to Muhammad (SAW). The greatest and most paradigmatic of human beings to have ever walked upon the Earth.
Islam recognises a constant loop of nature that is nurtured in a particular way. This breeds certain actions and outcomes, which in turn informs our ways of thinking. The phenomenon of gender follows this pattern: men have their hormones and intrinsic inclinations, and we women have ours. What we do as a result of them matters too. We should never be given to excess in anything, so the tendencies of any sort of ‘hyper-male or-female’ is to be frowned upon.
And, both the Masculine and the Feminine are meant to (be whole in and of themselves but also) deeply enrich one another. Allah (SWT), as the popular Qur’anic Ayah tells us, “created us in pairs”; we are meant to be sources of a unique sense of “tranquility” for one another.
We shouldn’t be given to criticising women wholesale, nor men wholesale. Individual men and women might display ‘trashy’ tendencies, but it is not a bad thing at all to be a man or a woman. It is not bad for a man to want to be shown a certain kind of respect; this is in his nature. Nor is it bad for a woman to crave a certain kind of love; this is in her nature. We must respect these differences; be extremely wary of detrimental imbalances; focus on ourselves and on our own behaviour.
There is undoubtedly much more to explore in terms of questions of gender identity from the Islamic perspective. And there are some Muslim men who are utter misogynists; they are transgressors. There are some women who transgress their Deen-related boundaries, too. And I believe in relative liberation for people in line with what Islam says, and not through things like the utter devaluing of gender, nor in the central attachment of a person’s worth to their career-based positions.
Muslim women can have careers; can be extremely successful within whichever fields they wish to enter. But these are not the defining points of our worth as human beings. We are also friends; nurturers; mothers; seekers of knowledge; teachers; vessels of mercy and of much beauty. In old age, we are de facto counsellors – wisened elders. God made us women, and in our womanhood we shall rejoice. We must try to disrupt not the balance, nor allow anyone (e.g. domestic abusers) to disrupt the balance, either.
We must oppose the traits of Jahiliyya (ignorance) which may reach us – irrespective of where they may come from. Some of these traits are, unfortunately, demonstrated by Muslims themselves, and others are hallmarks of certain branches of ‘feminism’.
To a person who does not believe in God, liberation may appear to lie in ‘choice’. And Muslims should subscribe to this principle, as we do believe that people are not to be compelled in matters of religion. But, once the choice to be Muslim is made, indubitably, liberation lies in Truth. And Truth encompasses the respective roles, expectations, and rights, both of the Man, and of the Woman.
Please share with others, if you found this post beneficial / think others might!
Sadia Ahmed J, 2020
“The best of you [men] are those who are best to their women”
Rumki Chowdhury’s Unveiled is an amazing piece of work; it succeeds in conveying the complex nature of the lives of Muslim girls in Western society, attempting to carve out their own identities against a backdrop of confusion, prejudice, and paranoia, especially in the wake of terrorist incidents. The book is a statement of defiance against ignorance, as well as an emblem of reassurance and hope for Muslim women everywhere.
In the first three parts, Chowdhury skilfully explores the three separate but united components of being: the mind- and its barriers to achieving freedom, the body- as well as social pressures pertaining to outward appearances, and, finally, the soul- and creating a sense of inner beauty, strength and peace.
Chowdhury writes about the hijab from her own perspective, as a symbol of choice and empowerment, as opposed to one of oppression; her writing provides an authentic voice, which is extremely necessary when it comes to the discussion of such topics; we are in desperate need of having more genuine, witty, and sincere female Muslim voices like hers to be at the forefront of our discourse.
As someone with a Muslim Bangladeshi background myself, I was able to fully appreciate Chowdhury’s humorous anecdotal tales, and found many of her references very relatable. Her words are eloquent, yet equally accessible and enjoyable. All in all, Unveiled sends a message of hope to readers, and will encourage non-Muslim readers to view the world through the eyes of a strong, intelligent, though frequently misunderstood, Muslimah.
I am two people. I am Bangladeshi and I am British. The first version of my identity stems from the fact that I am the daughter of two immigrants. I say this with a tremendous amount of pride. Especially in recent months, the word ‘immigrant’ has come to be a dirty word, synonymous with images of filthy, diseased, impoverished people who ‘drain the economy’ and refuse to integrate into society. As the product of two immigrants, I can safely say that this is far from the truth.
My mother came to this country at the age of eleven: she left her friends, her beloved grandmother, her livelihood behind, because her father (my grandfather) had made the brave decision to move to England to start anew. He worked at a coat factory, laboriously attaching buttons to coats to provide for his family.
My grandfather (may he rest in peace) first came to this country when he was a teenager. Alone and almost penniless, he travelled to a country that promised work and stability, in the aftermath of World War Two. He often told me stories of how, during the coldest winters here, he and his friends would attempt to identify their houses beneath the many inches of snow, by leaving bricks beside their homes. These simple but endearing stories reminded me of the fact that my ancestors suffered for me to have this life, and for that I am eternally grateful.
My nan’s story is perhaps the most heart-rending of them all. She was born to a poor family with six other children. My great grandmother often went for days without food in order to ensure that her children did not starve. She would tell them white lies, insisting that she had eaten, to fool them into thinking that there was enough food, but there was not. Miniscule rations of rice and lentils were shared sparsely, and eventually, my nan saw through her mother’s façade of strength. The women that I am fortunate enough to be a descendant of are the strongest, most admirable and brave people I have ever heard of, and I aspire to pass their legacies on to my own children.
When it comes to my own mother, I can see that it pains her to retell her story. Her eyes brim with tears when she recounts her euphoric childhood in Bangladesh- how she couldn’t even bear to spend a day away from her grandmother, until a plane brought her to an alien country with people who would look down upon her. My mother started school here when she was in Year Seven. She was forced to learn an entire language with little support, and even then, managed to excel at most of the subjects she took (save for History, which she abhorred). My mother worked ridiculously hard, refusing to let any adversities get in her way: indeed, she was the victim of many a racist incident. Despite this, she acquired a good job, and supported herself through college and extra training. She managed to do all this without much guidance; as supportive as my nan and grandfather were, they were very limited in their English-speaking abilities, and the family’s situation quickly became a case of my mother and her siblings teaching my nan and grandfather. My mother was her own mentor, her own teacher and her own student. She raised me to be inquisitive, resilient and determined. My mother is the definition of strength; she epitomizes the type of magnificence that only women of colour can claim to possess.
My father was also rather independent in his journey. After completing his secondary education in Bangladesh, my father worked a number of temporary jobs at mini cab offices and restaurants, in order to provide for our little family: my parents had me at a relatively young age, when my mother was 22 and my father was 23. They were still finding their way around things: around their identities, around work and around integrating into an unfamiliar society and its customs. Now, sixteen years after my birth, my father owns a successful technology business in East London. He is surrounded by loving friends in a comfortable environment, however I know that deep down, nothing will ever replace my father’s true home, amidst the luscious green fields of Bangladesh. Sometimes when he speaks of his childhood, his voice breaks and he becomes teary. I know that in those moments, my father recalls his mother, who passed away when he had just entered adulthood.
My parents and grandparents have sacrificed and lost so much, in the hope of a better life for my family. The stories they tell are saturated with pain and loss and love and hope, and they have instilled in me values of gratitude, resilience and unbreakable strength. Though I was born here in London, I am the descendant of a family of immigrants. I listen to the tales of their childhoods, I enjoy the aromatic curries that remind them of their former lives, and I enjoy engaging in the hundreds of beautiful traditions that they have imparted on me. I am an immigrant, and I honestly could not be prouder of my identity.
It is far too quiet here; the silence is almost deafening, and interwoven within the silence is an insurmountable desire for adventure.
Everything is quiet now, and I hate the quiet because alongside the silence, there exists an enormous potential for noise and adventure- for taking risks and having regrets and distracting ourselves from reality, yet everything remains quiet.
There is nothing new to talk about, and nothing new to do, and nothing new to feel. We are simply expected to sit back, relax and enjoy the quiet.