Inferiority ~ Voices of ExMuslim Women ~ Solidarity on International Women’s Day
What are some parts of Islam (scripture or practices) that made you feel inferior as a woman?
Bearing the burden of modesty. I was in a world of denial, wearing the hijab and calling myself a feminist. I remember going to an Islamic event and hearing the speaker compare women to pearls. I thought, “What nonsense. I am not a pearl. I am a person just like you.”
Most of the Quran and hadiths are full of scripture and instruction that remind communities of the inferior nature of women. I always followed my mother behind the men. I was banned from the local mosque in high school because I finally refused to comply and enter through the “women’s door” at the back of the building. High school was also when I finally told my Quran teacher to go screw herself after she would remind me how unlady like I was and how Allah didn’t like girls like me.
My relationship with my mother was also awkward. I remember when I got my first period. I screamed and told her I need to go to the emergency room. I was bleeding. She nonchalantly threw a sanitary napkin at me and told me it would go away in five days. She also told me not to touch things. I felt like an untouchable. And I felt alone – with something happening to my body that I had never experienced before. Since then, my mother would make it a point to remove me from prayers and fasts when I was menstruating.
I was never allowed to spend time with the uncles at parties. I was constantly told that my father was the head of the household and I was to respect him. My mother also used to threaten me for mumbling as a little girl. She said the Prophet Muhammad didn’t like it and he’d send me to hell if I didn’t start speaking properly.
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As a Muslim girl, one of the most traumatic experiences, that troubled my heart, nearly broke my spirit, made me ashamed of my female body, my female self, was that notorious saying of Muhammad standing on the footsteps of hell and proclaiming that most of the screams, and burning flesh were that of women. I asked my 12 year old self, what is it about women that makes her more deceitful, more disloyal to her god and his messenger than her brothers? Why did I have to be born within such a lascivious group? What a curse! Why does god damn some for eternity and endlessly reward others? It was hadiths like that that alienate many Muslim women, disempower them, leaving them dumb, deaf and blind and ashamed of their female body…it was hadiths like the one above that caused a heath of self-hatred within, that 13 years later with the help supportive networks like EXMNA I am seeking to unravel…seeking to love and forgive…
We are treated like children. We are objects that are carried from our parents to our husbands. Why would we want to have our own careers, our own lives if someone else can take care of us? I’m luckier than most in that I’m allowed a university education. It was only recently when I realized that my education was not intended for me. It was to impress the future suitors because who would ever want a wife that didn’t have an education?
There’s a part somewhere in the Koran that instructs men to first gently ask, then stop sleeping with, and as a final resort, beat their wives with a stick if they are not doing their Islamic duty and raising their kids in an Islamic manner. That always felt very infantilizing to me. You instruct, then withhold love, and finally beat your kids when they are being bad, NOT someone who is supposed to be your equal partner.
No matter how grand the mosque, the women’s section was always in the back. Always more cramped, always with lesser resources than the men’s sections. That infuriated me. I was literally made to walk through the back door. If women are “separate but equal,” in Islam, then why are the women’s sections always so badly resourced? I once asked around to my female relatives why men always got to be in the front and was told that when we bend at the knee and lean forward for “sajda” during prayers, our backsides are prominent and that would distract men from prayer. I was and am still furious about this. Why couldn’t the men develop better morals during prayer? Why was it my duty to help them not screw up their prayer? Why was their prayer concentration more important than my equality at the mosque? A lot of women said to me, “this is just the way things are, this is how we’re made, its unfair but you have to accept it”. I wondered, if Allah was so merciful and all knowing and good, then why didn’t he make it so that men and women had equal rights? Islam was a good sociopolitical development for its time when compared to other religions it came women more legal rights, but if Islam is THE one true path, shouldn’t Allah have been more fair?
I was thinking recently, that I never felt human living in Saudi Arabia, or under Islam. Nor was I ever treated like one. It is nice now to experience being human and to be able to exercise the rights given to me as one. Also, I never really understood why what I did with my vagina and having an intact hymen was everyone and their uncle’s business but mine. As a woman, this most private part of me actually never belonged to me. My mother once caught me masturbating. She placed a large spoon of Tabasco sauce in my mouth then locked me in the balcony under the Saudi hot sun for 2 hours. I remember crying and licking the walls trying to get the pain in mouth to settle… Till this day I cannot look or taste nor do I own any type of hot sauce. This was a frequent punishment for any sexual ‘deviance’ acts I committed as young girl.
We’re told that we need to hide ourselves from the male gaze, as if it is a curse. We’re told that we need to hide ourselves as if being visible as a woman is an insult to society. Women are expected to accommodate the raging libidos of *every man* they are in any vicinity to.
In a culture that vehemently suppresses sexual desire, how ironic is it that everything becomes laced with notions of sex?
One test that I began using to test equality between men and women, in an Islamic or non-Islamic context, is to flip gender roles and expectations. By doing this, I realize the absurdity of rules and obligations that are enforced upon women by men.
Men and women’s rights are not equal because you say that they’re equal, they’re equal when you outwardly express the equality.
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“There will be more female inhabitants in hell.” …because they gossip, are ungrateful to their husbands, seductive… etc. Um, ok. The stupidity of this is too much that I don’t want to give it any dignity by explaining all the wrong with this -and what a WAKE-UP CALL this should be to all Muslim women. I know this is one hadith, and that some hadiths don’t have much support – but that’s an excuse.
Islamists don’t want me to succeed. They don’t want me free. Empowered. They don’t want me to hold the keys to my life in my own hands. They don’t want me safe.
I’m hated. Spit on. Reviled. Look down upon. My mother gets calls from relatives who barely know me. Who never talk to me. Declaring what a whore I am. What a failure of a mother she is. What a failure of a daughter I am.
My one sin? I left home. I wanted a career. I wanted something other than babies and a husband. I wanted to protect myself. I would never become my aunt whose husband beats her but she can’t leave because she has no means to support herself. I would never become my cousin whose husband cheats on her and flaunts it in her face, but she can’t leave because no one else will take her in. Honor your husband, her family tells her. I would never be put down, be told I’m less than an equal.
They don’t even know that I not only left home. But I also left Allah. I can only imagine what they would do then.