“Muslim Men Can Be Feminists” by Adeel Ahmed
Adeel Ahmed – “Muslim Men Can Be Feminists”
Living in local pagan society in the 7th century Arab world, the Prophet Muhammad was seen as a feminist. Women were given little to no rights. It was custom to bury unwanted female newborns. Women were property of their husbands and they weren’t allowed to vote. The Prophet Muhammand preached and advocated against these actions. Islamic law made the education of girls a duty, giving the right to women to inherit and own property. Even the Prophet’s wife, Khadija, was a businesswoman.
Of course, 14 centuries later these advances may not seem like much. But, now, living in the 21st century, it seems like Muslims are stuck in the 7th century. We’ve heard about the honor killings, the lack of rights given to women in Muslim countries, and of course, shooting of girls like Malala all in the name of Islam. Yet Muslims defend their religion saying those who are using Islam as a justification to these actions are misconstruing the religion. Only to lead one to ask, “then where does this come from?”
The problem starts within the Muslim community itself. Go to a mosque and a woman will find herself entering through a separate entrance, usually a back door of some sort, into a small cramped room or the basement of the building. I’ve even witnessed a women’s room that didn’t have air conditioning during the summer while men did. The women of this mosque had to raise money through a fundraiser to get their system working, even though there were funds within the mosque that could do this.
Recently, at a local mosque, I was asked to join a shura, a consultation committee that puts together recreational events and makes decisions for the mosque. The purpose of this particular shura was to help promote and encourage youth and young adults to come to the mosque through programs.
It was near the beginning of Ramadan, so we planned a Ramadan kick-off barbeque in a park. As we laid out the details, I soon realized that the all-male shura was only planning to invite young men. When I raised my hand and asked why women were not invited, I was stared at with shock.
“But Brother, we cannot encourage mingling with the opposite sex,” one shura member explained. “That is bid’ah,” (innovation of the religion that is looked down upon).
I tried arguing about how unfair it was that women were being left out. Yet, no one listened. So, I decided to do research on women and their “mosque” rights.
I began sending emails to the men in the shura. First about how the mosque’s structure was flawed by separating men and women. During the Prophet Muhammad’s time men and women actually prayed in the same space. The prophet Muhammad didn’t put women behind partitions. I further explained that during the most sacred event a Muslim can partake in, Hajj, or pilgrimage, men and women stand side by side and pray together. If you believe separation is absolutely necessary, I explained to the men in the shura, there’s no need for walls and sheets as barriers. Barriers are just sexist man-made rules.
Next, I asked about the consequences of discouraging women from partaking in mosque activities. Would we also tell children they cannot come? Afterall, it is the women of these families who take care of the children. If the mother is treated like a second class citizen, how do the kids of these families get involved? The Prophet never discouraged a woman in a mosque, who are we to do that?
Again, no response.
As a consequence of these emails, I was slowly separated from the shura. No more emails about weekly meetings, I was taken off the WhatsApp group. No more text messages about upcoming agendas.
I don’t think all mosques are like this, but I do know enough to know that many women around the globe are treated as second-class citizens in Muslim communities. Living in America, it comes to me as a shock. How are second-generation American Muslims okay with this behavior and carrying on these traditions that are intertwined by culture, not religion?
As American Muslims, perhaps we should look at American history. During times when women were suppressed, men stepped up. During the woman suffrage movement, men were some of the first active and vocal supporters. Without votes by Congressmen, women’s rights would not have moved forward.
And just like the brave men who stepped up to move women ahead and help them gain rights, Muslim men must step up and push for the rights and voices of women in their communities and mosques. It is important for Muslim men around the globe to become vocal about these issues and hopefully move forward from the 7th century mentality and culture. There have been enough Malala shootings and honor killings. We must start from within our community with baby steps and start to respect Muslim women in order to see a change.
Adeel Ahmed is an actor and writer based in NY. He has performed at The Kennedy Center and his work has screened at Sundance Film Festival and SXSW. Most recently shot a pilot for HBO entitled Criminal Justice. Credits include: The Domestic Crusaders, Law and Order, Deception. He has been a guest on NPR, BBC and more.