Albert Einstein said that there are two ways for understanding life: One, to believe nothing is a miracle; the other, to believe everything is a miracle. I think life is a bit of both. There are experiences that result from a chain of events we can easily recognize. Others are just a gift. My meeting with Amina Wadud was of the second kind – a beautiful gift from life in the beginning of the autumn in Santiago of Chile.
Meeting The Lady
Since I converted to Islam, around 5 years ago, and started my path now as a feminist Muslim, it is not possible to explain one without the other in my life history- the presence, words and activities of Amina Wadud have been a source of inspiration for me.
Her book, Quran and Woman, was the first approach to and basis for an Islamic Feminism that stands with strong feet against misogyny and fundamentalism in the name of religion. Her courage when she dared to preach a jutba (sermon) and lead a mix prayer – something still forbidden officially for women in Islam – led us to question our physical place and its symbolic meaning in the mosque. Her vocation as a globetrotter, talking, meeting, and encouraging people in the world to build new meanings and communities based in freedom of spirit, made me understand that the message of Islam and its different reading on gender, is not only on behalf of Muslim women or Muslims in general, but is on behalf of all humankind, like a whole family looking for social justice and freedom, passengers in this big mosque and madrassa that is Allah’s creation.
There are many things a person can learn from Amina Wadud. But what did I learn from this woman convert to Islam, the daughter of a Christian pastor and mother of 5 children? That, precisely.
I expected to talk to the scholar, the master of Islamic studies, with the expert in Qur’anic hermeneutics. Instead, even better and with joy, I met a woman like me, who received me with the warmth one receives a friend. A woman with a wide smile and open conversation who asked me about my life, my family, my dreams and projects.
The conversation was varied. Amina inspired me in so many ways as a woman, a mother, a believer, a feminist. I am amazed for the similarities I found in her life story and mine. I am not comparing myself to her, just want to highlight that too often we forget we are every woman and each one of us speak somehow in the voice of the other.
I would like to share with you some thoughts of Amina I gathered along our conversation, which touched me deeply; simple but deep lessons about Faith – faith that talks to us about universal union, social justice, and divine love but, at the same time, enlightens us regarding the responsibility we have in the building of social justice, peace, and coexistence.
Some Thunders of a Brain Storm
Our reflections revolved around Universality and Tawheed. One God, One Humankind. Islam is compatible with all identities. You can be Muslim and Chilean, and black, and gay, and a non-Arabic speaker. There is no such thing as a “right way” of being Muslim that can be represented by a culture or a dress. Diversity is the seal of Allah.
This idea brought to the table the situations of many Latin-American Muslims who are pressed to adopt the cultural patterns of a foreign Islam that is not rooted in our own identity. Truth is, there is no reason to tell a Latin-American to abandon their cultural identity , breaking family or social ties, to exclude her/himself of their society and reject those aspects of our life that are part of our history as a person – all just to fit a stereotype. Allah‘s mercy has made us different. Islam is universal and its universality is its message.
The right way to be a Muslim is clearly stated in the Quran: practicing the Rahma (Mercy) of Allah, and to act correctly with Imaan (Faith) and Ihsan (Virtue), looking for the most fair and honest manner to proceed in all cases. This has nothing to do with clothes, ways of talking, eating, and living in other cultures.
A recurring problem is that a sheikh teaches a recipe: To be part of Islam, someone must meet the A, B and C requirements, otherwise you cannot. This is absurd. Humans are A, B and C but also A, B and D or F, H, Z, and so on. We are this way by the will of Allah. Pretending to change the will of Allah to the personal opinion of Sheikh about being a good Muslim is oppressive and vain.
What happens when a human being does not have the ingredients in the recipe? Islam becomes a source of stress and limitations. Humans cannot go against our very nature. Then the person gets frustrated, begins to hate him/herself, and project that hatred to others. Why? Because in the attempt to find and meet Allah, they have forgotten that they are a manifestation of knowledge and wisdom of Allah just the way. This forgetfulness is the source of much unhappiness.
Islam is a path of spiritual liberation whose center is the relationship between human beings and their Creator. No freedom, but violence, can be found in denying our individuality.
Muslims have a serious problem, namely, the spread of dogmatic currents worldwide, imposed with a label of “true Islam” to discriminate, exclude, and foster a climate of tension between Muslim converts and the societies in which they live.
Those who really know what the message of the Quran means and are committed to its core values cannot allow this. We need to actively engage with others to let them know that our faith doesn’t allow violence and that violence is not part of our religion.
It is important to make a clear and courageous stand against fundamentalism and the preaching of misogyny and exclusion. Silence is consent. Those who preach violence are not only opposing Islam, even if they say they are Muslims, but are opposing all humankind. We need to build peace – for everyone, with all – a peace of all.
No Muslim needs permission from anyone to congregate with others – if you do not feel included in the mosque, meet elsewhere, even in a house. Perform activities with people of other faiths, do volunteer work. Share about Islam with your neighbors, classmates, or colleagues. Gather to read and study the Quran. Invite other people, whether they are Muslims or not. Ask them what they would like to know. What they would like to discuss? Become active agents of Islam as a religion of peace.
Meeting the person behind the scholar and comparing realities that touch us in a similar way as mothers, heads of households, workers, advocates, and believers has been a blessing for me and a great opportunity for experiencing sorority.
I am grateful for the Sorority I received from Amina, her interest in my person and work, in my plans, the advice she gave me to do better and the support she offered.
This ability to influence us to each other to facilitate our Empowerment and bring about the necessary changes towards greater equity and participation is the material from which are made the women’s movement and Islamic Feminism should not be the exception.
Sorority is something women must learn and build because we have been taught not to have it. Beyond our formal knowledge, there is a natural and divine wisdom we have been given, ready for blooming and flourishing in benefit of ourselves and others. Our natural wisdom flows when two women meet with open minds and hearts, making us sisters in faith but also in life, in pain… in hope.
Amina Wadud is a great person, not only for her academic achievements and openness for more a inclusive Islam, where women’s voices are heard, but also because she recognizes and value all people as equally diverse. True greatness is to make everyone feel great in their own way and can break down the walls that hinder them. After an afternoon of dialogue and exchange of ideas, I was able to knock down some walls to make my “Self” closer to the divine and more committed to the building of “Us.”
After meeting Amina Wadud I am more convinced that Islamic Feminism is a universal call for Sorority in a Gender Jihad: A struggle of women, by women and with women, all together, where all parties have equal participation for the fulfillment of a transcendental purpose for humankind, as the Quran states, the installation of Social Justice and Freedom and the end of oppression based on gender. Unity in diversity is the inevitable fate of creation and the Feminist Movement. As the wise Rumi said: “The lamps are different but the light is the same.”
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Writer, Mentor and Community Educator in Capacity Building for Grass Roots Female Leaders and Advocates. A Muslim Feminist who is an Independent Researcher of Gender and Islam in Latin America on Feminist Hermeneutics, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. She blogs in Spanish at Mezquita de Mujeres, a site dedicated to explore the links between Gender, Religion and Feminism as well to Women from the Global South as Change Makers in their communities.