photo by Lynsey Addario (Afghanistan / December 16, 2001)
since the fall of the Taliban and the subsequent loosening up of restrictions for women in Afghanistan, many women came out in public for the first time to pray at the mosque, rather than in their homes.
as a Muslim woman, whenever I hear or see prejudiced and unjust cultural, superstitious or political practices being carried out at a Muslim household, I am always inclined to say, “that is not Islam, that is Culture…” which is true – but let me tell you why saying this does not fix the problem, AT ALL. instead, it serves as a fleeting plaster and does very little to nothing to address and/or fix the concern which is being raised.
even though I grew up in a fairly just and “feminist” household, whenever I speak out about the underlying entitlement, misogyny, oppression, injustice many Muslim women face in their own homes, I am often met with criticism often by Muslim men (and women) who accuse me of trying to portray Islam in a sense it is not.
now, one must know that Islam does not condone but condemns every un-just and un-Islamic practice which is so rampant in Muslim households, especially in South Asia. it may be something as simple as Muslim women being shamed for eating at the common dining space during Ramadan during their menses. how many of you have witnessed your mothers or sisters disappearing to the furthest corner of the kitchen to take a sip of water? it may also be something as inhumane and villainous as honour killings which they dreadfully try to justify by claiming that the victim has brought “dishonour” to the family and whatever they did, was to restore their family’s honour. as unpleasant as it is, the reality is that there are thousands of Muslim women who are being oppressed in the name of Islam.
now, I need you to read what I am about to say very carefully before you start on me. these despicable acts are not a part of Islam, but they are definitely a part of (some) Muslims – which makes it a problem among us Muslims. these practices often stem from the misrepresentation of the Qur’an, Sunnah and Hadith which are tools that the Muslim patriarchy thrives on. because most of the time, their understanding of Islam is tainted by their cultural practices and contradicts with the message given in Qur’an with the lived reality of Muslims in their societies. for instance, when a Muslim woman tries to seek a divorce from her abusive husband, she is often told to “have sabr” to try to “work it out” for the sake of her family, and the abusive husband is “awarded” a couple of months to “change his behaviour” or to “set things right” without giving a second thought on what the vulnerable woman will be subjected to once she goes home with the same man. is this what Islam encourages? no. but unfortunately, this is a common practice among our culture, and the courts follow suit. since the very beginning, women are expected to put up with uncomfortable (or sometimes dangerous) situations simply because “men are the protectors and maintainers of women.”
hence, whenever I am tempted to use the phrase “not Islam, but culture” I stop myself. not because that is not true, but because the unjust acts carried out by Muslims makes it a problem for Muslims and saying this does not do ANYTHING to solve it. we need to address it, we need to speak out about it and we need to condemn it rather than brushing it off as a flaw in (y)our culture, further perpetuating the patriarchy by letting this kind of behaviour slide.
for everyone who are tempted to bash me for speaking out about this, read the Qur’an from a feminine perspective, gain an understanding from the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ and read between the lines of every Hadith to find out that Muslim women are worth so much more than what your pea sized brain could comprehend.