At the Intersection of Gender, Religion, and Race by Jameelah X. Medina

Since 9/11, many Muslim women in the USA are in a similar predicament as what African American and Chicana women found themselves in decades ago during the Black Power and Chicano Power Movements. African American and Chicana women stood along side African American and Chicano men to fight against oppression and injustices against them by the power structure and the people in positions of power. In both movements, women’s issues were relegated to the sidelines; they were only visible in the periphery of decision-making. Both African American women and Chicanas decided that they had to stand up for themselves and call it like they saw it—they were being oppressed and marginalized in mainstream society because of their race and ethnicity and also within their racial group because of gender. 
Many African American women and Chicanas encountered great resistance and even violence from men. They were accused of being traitors to their race because of their fight to be valued and respected as women with rights. Sound familiar? Stuck between a rock and a hard place, African American women and Chicanas also found that they were marginalized within the Women’s Rights/Power Movement. White women in the Women’s Movement were not prepared to address the particular issues of concern to African American and Chicanas. And later, Womanism became the preferred term for women of color who considered themselves feminist/womanist. Muslim women, who are able to distinguish between the religion of Islam and what Muslims do, find that feminists try to coerce them into rejecting Islam as the culprit of women’s rights abuses rather than the abusive behavior of some men who profess to adhere to the religion of Islam.

My point is not to give a history lesson. My point is that Muslim women and other marginalized groups within Muslim communities (i.e., Ahmadiyah, African Americans, other non-Arab groups, converts, Shi’a, LGBT, etc.) will have to continue taking unpopular steps to ensure that we fight for justice within our communities and in our country. Just like the American Muslim women who contributed essays to the new book, I Speak for Myself: American Women on being Muslim, we must give voice to our experiences without seeing it as airing dirty laundry, thus adhering to a false idea of loyalty. What kind of victory will it be when we win some civil rights cases on behalf of religious rights in the US but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Muslims are still not even recognized as Muslims in many of our communities? Or if women are still not even allowed in a few mosques?

Religious rights in the US are just as important as women’s rights in the Muslim community, which are just as important as human rights in all realms of life. So, how is it that some Muslims can fight for our religious rights so fervently but not also be willing to fight for and respect human rights for all? Questioning ourselves, interrogating our motives, examining our hearts, and reviewing our practices within the community are some things we should all engage in. It’s time to clean house. Are you in?

Jameelah X. Medina is a Ph.D. candidate at Claremont Graduate University. She is also an educator, author, orator, and business owner residing in southern California with her husband and daughter. www.jameelahmedina.com She is also a contributor to I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of 40 personal essays written by American Muslim women under the age of 40.

This post is cross posted on Altmuslimah.com.



Categories: Feminism, Gender and Power, Islam

Tags: , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. Hi Jameelah. One comment on the article ~ why don’t women who want to be associated with a religious order, develop one for themselves, with the principles they believe in? We don’t have to long to be in a “men’s club” religion established by men with tenants favorable to men.
    Sincerely, Wanda Grace

    Like

    • Hi Wanda,

      That is a good question that I am not sure I can answer. I can say that I don’t start a religion of my own for other women because I don’t really need to associate with an organized religion, but I do choose to associate with Islam. If I were to develop a religion, it would look just like how I currently understand and practice Islam. But it would be very different from how men have reshaped it to fit their needs and desires and also different from how most Muslim practice it.

      Like

    • Hi Wanda,

      That is a good question that I am not sure I can answer. I can say that I don’t start a religion of my own for other women because I don’t really need to associate with an organized religion, but I do choose to associate with Islam. If I were to develop a religion, it would look just like how I currently understand and practice Islam. But it would be very different from how men have reshaped it to fit their needs and desires and also different from how most Muslim practice it.

      Jameelah

      Like

  2. I liked the insights into race and sex Jameelah, but like Wanda above, I too wonder why women don’t form our own religious orders or develop new ones with principles we believe in? All religions are men’s clubs— Islam, Catholicism, Judiaism, Buddhism— it’s a matter of degree how much women are oppressed within each tradition, or what the relative degree of all of this is. A lot of it has to do with what kind of human rights exist for women in any given country. And it never quite adds up well. In a white western setting, Muslim women get subjected to amazingly horrific racism.
    After 9/11 it just got worse. However, I wouldn’t want to be a lesbian in a long term relationship with another woman in a Muslim country.

    I would, however, probably find an all woman shopping mall in Saudi Arabia rather wonderful compared to the complete absense of large women only shops in America. Always interesting to see what contexts get better or worse, what is the primary injury that we experience. Is it race? Is it sex? Is it religion or nationality?

    If it’s a double oppression… race and sex, it will have a different feel to it than if it is a single oppression just based on sex. Sex meaning biological, not the stupid term gender, which is enforced roles by patriarchies not actual human traits.

    Like

    • Hi Turtle Woman,

      I think religions are made into men’s clubs but are not inherently so. Or better said, the ideology the religions are based on is not pro-man and anti-woman. Men make it into that and women allow it.

      I do agree that there is oppression of women withint religions due to practice and also within different societies. As you state, here in the USA in mainstream society, my discrimination is based on

      being a Muslim woman while I am also discriminated against in the mosques for being a woman. The primary injury depends on what the majority looks.

      Like

  3. My friend Asphodel said (we called it “Asphodel’s Law!)

    Men are oppressed and women are oppressed. But where men are oppressed, women are doubly or even triply oppressed.

    Like

  4. Gender, religion and race truly intersect, and are not independent of each other. In addition, as Carter Heyward so eloquently states, heterosexism is another problem that fuels these other forms of hatred.

    Like

  5. “Religious rights in the US are just as important as women’s rights in the Muslim community, which are just as important as human rights in all realms of life. ”

    AMEN!

    Like

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