Last week I was touring the capital of my country, Chile, for conferences and workshops on Islam, Gender and Human Rights. One of the issues I address there was the tyranny of stereotypes Muslim women carry with us and the difficulties we women in general face in order to embrace our spirituality, and to accept ourselves and each other just as we are. It was a nice weekend and a great joy to meet people and make new friends. I learned a lot from colleagues and attendees. One of the happiest moments in my life is talking about Islam outside of religious spaces with non-Muslims – especially with women.
After the event on Queer Spiritualities, I was approached by a young woman who told me:
I attended one of your lectures on women in Islam last year. I came from my town (two hours away) just to listen to you today and thank you. Last year, I left your conference with a lot of motivation for finding my spiritual path, my head free of prejudices and my heart full of joy. I did what you said: To read by myself and reflect in my heart. Today I came to tell you that two weeks ago I CONVERTED TO ISLAM. I AM NOW A MUSLIM. Thank you for introducing Islam in such a beautiful way, thank you for your words that gave me confidence, thank you for your passion and honesty. Thank you. Blessed you always be.
Something similar happened the next day, at the end of the workshop on ¨Muslim Women and Stereotypes.¨ Several of the female attendees approached me to ask: ¨Where can I learn more? Can you recommend books on Islam?¨ And, ¨Is there a Mosque I can visit? – I see you so happy, so free, your smile comes from the heart, I want this joy for me too.¨ ¨I am in my spiritual search, that’s why I came…¨
I realize clearly that women are pushing to have access to their souls, those souls that have been hijacked for centuries by a narrative of duties and repression, rather than joy and happiness in relationship with the Divine. Women want to decide for themselves what they want to believe in, to have their opinions about what spirituality and religion mean, and to find common grounds with other women in similar searching.
I see Islam is out there, among women, more than under the beards of the Ulemas or enclosed within the walls of the mosques; it is in the vibrating strings of the hearts of those who want to know more; in the halls of libraries, in muttering classrooms, in the brightness of the eyes that look at me in each conference. Islam is in the Muslim sister attendees, willing to meet and share their views, something I am thankful for, and their presence is increasingly common.
However, I wonder: is there room in Islam for these female seekers? Will they be welcomed just as they are, or will they be harassed, despised, and looked down upon if any of them don´t fit the stereotypes that many Muslims have in their heads about how to be a Muslim or a Muslim Feminist?
As good as it is to see women in the search of their spirituality in Islam, it is sad finding out the ignorance that some Muslims suffer, ignorance which they fill with pride. They do not know the content of our holy book. In fact, they have a distorted concept of God, take the statement “Image and Likeness” so seriously, to the point they believe that Allah has the same characteristics as they have. Some believe that God belongs to a particular race or nation and others that God follows the views of this individual specifically. Some complain about the stereotypes that affect them, but they don’t hesitate to stereotype their sisters, even with a strong misogynyst- Islamophobic bias when condemning the way women celebrate their spirituality, as Shehnaz Haqqani says in her article Misogyny in the Muslim Community is a Form of Islamophobia.
The misogyny of correcting Muslim women’s practice of Islam as they themselves understand it or according to their own experiences is often mocked and relegated to a lesser form of Islam than that of a mainstream variant, which unfortunately happens to be deeply patriarchal… This way, both Islamophobes and Muslim misogynists share a similarity: they believe that Islam inherently views women as inferior to men.
Considering this, if Islam is out there among women: is it better for women to stay where they are?
Islam is out there by Mercy of Allah. This Rahma is a main attribute. There is no person in this world who cannot reflect the divine attributes of God. If we seek to know what God wants from us, we have to set our hearts in the guidance that God gives us in the opening of each Sura of the Holy Quran: to see that Divinity defines Herself as: Ar-Rahman ar-Rahim , the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful; also, according to the interpretation of some authors, the Matricious, a creative power that transforms everything to goodness, a term that is exclusively an feminine attribute.
People purporting to act in the name of Allah or knowing what Allah wants or thinks, should reflect on God’s mercy; only then can their actions, words, and thoughts be the most honest, generous, humble and compassionate as possible.
Islam is mercy and is out there, among women; seeking us as we women seek it. It is my conviction that the peace, compassion and beauty of the Divine attributes can be embodied in everyone. If so, those who call ourselves Muslims, should try to judge less, divide less, criticize less, ambush each other less, speculate less, be less proud about having “The Truth,” and humbly accept our condition as mere fallible and imperfect instruments and seekers of Compassion, so we can allow all human beings, regardless origin, status, gender, race, history or sexual orientation, to speak their spiritual truths.
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.