Reclaiming Inclusion of Sisters at RIS: Part Two

Reclaiming Inclusion of Sisters at RIS: Part Two January 9, 2012

See Part One here.

Oh it did NOT just go there…

My blood began to rise during the lecture of Dr. Abdal Hakim Jackson within the session, “Changing the Present, Dreaming the Future.” Mid-way during his lecture, Dr. Jackson beseeched us sisters to “calm down for the next 30 seconds.” He then asked the audience what was common between Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Clinton and other politicians whose careers were compromised due to their extramarital relations. Dr. Jackson then proceeded to explain that if their spouses had presented them with the option of marrying a second wife, then perhaps the circumstances in which they found themselves would have been prevented. Although I believe that his intent was good, I personally take issue with his remarks.*

First, asking us to “calm down” was condescending, and carried along with it the assumption that women get too carried away when expressing their rights or discontent with the treatment they endure underneath men.  Second, why must women be blamed for their husbands’ inability to refrain from cheating? How many times must women be blamed for their husbands’ misdeeds? This perspective is extremely negligent to the nature of human sexuality and wrongfully places the victimization on the man.

Both men and women have physical needs; however, the needs of males are always most discussed, almost to the point that women’s needs are pushed to the margins, almost becoming like mythical ideas, like mermaids and unicorns. Women don’t have sexual desires!  They are just there to provide for the pleasure of men! This mentality is what leads to the objectification of women; it opens a window of opportunity for men to pawn off their wives and daughters to others to pay off debts incurred by something as trivial as cock-fighting (gambling), as was mentioned in Sr. Taylor’s lecture earlier on in the day. The truth is that we, as women, have physical desires just like our male counterparts; it’s about high time our brothers realize this, even though many scholars (and others) try to shy away from acknowledging this fact. Although this is often explained as a way to protect the dignity and modesty of their sisters in Islam, there needs to be a way to address her needs with dignity, instead of making her desires non-existent and unworthy of discussion.

A verbal slap to brothers

The highlight of the night was Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s declaration and urgent call to the men within our community to stop abusing the women in their lives and for Muslims to end racist thoughts and behaviours against each other.  Dr. Ramadan’s crucial acknowledgement of racism and sexism within the Muslim community reflects the intersections between different systems of oppression that divide us. Men had lined up along the walls in the sisters section, perhaps undergoing various feelings of unease, guilt or relief. Dr. Ramadan unapologetically schooled the brothers in the audience, noting that out of the 20,000 people at the conference, there are men, there at that moment, who abuse their wives and daughters. He tenaciously yelled, “It is not Islamic to do this. Just stop it!” I couldn’t help but take a peak at the men, trying to catch a glimpse of new revelations, or guilt on their faces.

Gendered violence is closer than you think…

To me, what is so beautiful about events like RIS is the sisterhood and brotherhood that is felt. The knowledge that you are surrounded by thousands of people who, like you, pray in various intervals of the day, fast for the same Creator, and love the same figures within our religion, result in the ingredients for easily opening up to others. One of the sisters that I was privileged to befriend felt comfortable enough within one day of knowing me to share her experience in an abusive marriage, which isolated her away from her family in Canada, as she was sheltered in the Middle East. This young woman’s strength was remarkable as she fought for herself and for her child. Oftentimes we are frustrated and angry at how the mainstream depicts us as a people and as a community, while forgetting that amongst ourselves there are many who are caged, beaten, harassed and misrepresented by the men we call our fathers, our brothers and friends.

* On that note, I do not intend to question the parts of our religion that has been decreed, such as polygamy that allows a man to marry up to four wives after consultation with his first wife. However, what I intended to convey was how the denial of female sexuality and oversimplification of marital relations is damaging to sisters.

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