A Conversation With My Mother

This week, my mother dragged me along with her to visit a shrine. She wanted to pay her respects to an Islamic Saint buried there. Apparently, he was well known locally for his preaching efforts and his so-called ‘Supernatural Talent’. On our way, my mother took great enthusiasm in filling me in regarding his life and all the miracles that he performed. How great he was. How he was a pioneer in preaching Islam to our country. How he had so much spiritual power and influence. How incredibly pathetic, I thought. I had to stifle my laughter as my rebuttals and questions were already poised on my tongue. I swallowed them and nodded away instead. What else could I do?

As I entered the mosque, a blatant distinction manifested before my eyes. 

Gender Segregation.

Well, nothing surprising here of course. But it was something more than gender apartheid. I observed how the Male Prayer Hall was opulently decorated with grand chandeliers and exquisite furnishing. I observed how elaborately designed curtains were hung before the Mihrab and how the intricately decorated prayer rugs were generously spread around. Most importantly, I observed how ventilated the Hall was. Doors were unbolted. Window panels were unlatched. There was a beautiful blend of sunlight and chandelier light throughout the grand hall.

And then, there was a Female Prayer Room, a tiny shoebox all the way at the back. A dilapidated room that one could have easily mistaken it for a storeroom. Simple plain white lights and a few prayer rugs. Most importantly, I noticed how it was completely shut off from the rest of the world and enclosed by heavy curtains.  It was so stuffy and stifling.  The doors to all 4 walls were closed and women had to open the doors carefully so as to ensure that the outsiders can’t get a glimpse of the women inside. Something about giving them privacy that apparently the men didn’t need. Just another pathetic excuse for sexual objectification of women, I thought skeptically.

“Ma, can women become Imams?” I asked innocently, although I knew the answer.

“Well, women can only lead another group of women. But if there are a male and a female imam of equal Islamic knowledge present, the woman has to step aside.” She replied almost robotically.

“Why so?” I asked firmly.

“Why must she take on a male-leadership role?” She asked in return. My face must have registered an obvious bewildered look, because she said, “There are some things that is best left to men. They know how to handle them.”

What the fuck? Like what, preaching hate and bigotry, carrying out genital mutilations, ignore honour killings and hate crimes committed in the name of Islam, or teach 7th century ideas?

“Who says leadership positions are for men only?” I carried on, somewhat perplexed. “Women have become presidents. Women have conquered Mount Everest. Women have gone to space. Women have done a lot more than what they have been credited for.”

“So you think a woman should be able to lead the prayers? Do you know why men and women cannot pray side by side? It’s because of Hayaa. Islam teaches us shame and we women must protect our Awrah,” she retorted. She went on and on about how it is the duty of women to not cause Fitnah for the ‘poor men’.

I stared at her in disbelief. It is not our duty or responsibility of their sexual desires, or the lack of control of it, I screamed at her in my mind. But I did not dare say it might come off as being too controversial to her. Instead, I cut away our eye contact and looked away in fury.

“I am so sorry, Chista. I know it is very hard being a women. I have cried many days and nights for being born as a woman. It’s a sin, Chista. It is a sin.”

“You know what, I think it is a sin to be born as a hate-mongering idiot who feels more secure and superior from inequality. In a time when the Blacks were subjected to slavery, they rose up and fought for civil rights instead of resigning to fate and thinking that being born in the Black race is a sin. In a time when our country-folks were being killed by those colonial masters, our freedom fighters rose up and fought for independence instead of resigning to fate and thinking that being born in this country is a sin. Likewise, we should be challenging for our rights and respect instead of blindly accepting ideologies that tell us we are subhumans!” I paused to wonder if I had crossed the line. Fearless or foolish, I didn’t know. But I savoured my little victory, without thinking much about any repercussions of my blasphemous statement.

“I am not ashamed to be a woman. I don’t have to apologise. I didn’t even choose the gender I want and yet, it was imposed on me. I know of many strong women around the world who conquered the insurmountable. I aspire to be one of them, and I advise you to rethink your stance.” I concluded fervently.

[Follow me on Twitter @ChistaPantea]

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