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.
8 thoughts on “Islam Is Out There, Among Women by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”
Very beautifully written post. I admit,
I felt a little shudder pass through me when the would-be convert says, “Where is the mosque?”. I don’t feel the mosque is a safe place for questioning. And some of the ‘answers’ they try to shove down your throat are completely unacceptable. The safe spaces are underground, or “out there, among women” as you say, and much, much harder to find.
Thank you very much nmr. My experience too. Many Mosques are not a place for women to question, starting for the fact our voice is awrah in many of them, how we could questions when we are not allowed to talk. However even if this prohibition doesn’t exist, still is expected muslim women, as newly convert, attach to a role model in religion that include not to question, not to raise your curiosity at all, rather accepting all what is given and many times this means a lot of policing too. For me, is Allah accept us just as we are, because Allah created us this way, the rest of us must make things easier and embrace that diversity as a expression of Rahma https://feminismandreligion.com/2015/05/21/islam-is-out-there-among-women-by-vanessa-rivera-de-la-fuente/?replytocom=286952#respond
As usual, highly interesting. It’s very sad, but it’s also true that fundamentalists of all stripes seem to harass, despise, and look down on women, and those (mostly) men have been doing that for a long, long time. It’s a joy to read your compassionate words.
Thank Barbara for your comment. If we expect men give us something we will die waiting. I like to push myself forward and I want to encourage women to do so.
Well written Vanessa! I thought at first: “I could include Christianity or Judaism with Muslim and it would still be true. What’s with the Abrahamic religions?” Then I thought a bit more and found that there are other religions with the same bias. The problem isn’t with any particular tradition or religion, but goes much deeper. We women need to find our own space, our strength, and a community to grow in. It seems you are helping to develop just that. Thank you.
Patriarchy is a transversal presence in all sides of human living, including spirituality. The same mechanism of exclusion I see in muslims communities, can be found in others.. even outside religions.
Very inspiring article. Islam is a beautiful religion, the more you read about it the more you love it. As I always say our problem not with the religion but with men who interpret the religio according to their needs. Those men look at women as their property and as their servants who by Islam they do not have any right beyond cleaning the house, cooking food and sleeping with them. However, this is not true. Allah created us equals and give each of us role to play in this life. We complement each other . We by the order of Allah should love each other. Marriage in Islam is conditioned by love and mercy. I do not see any other religion that condition love in marriage. In Islam we, women, are respected and free. Allah gives us the freedom we need but those men just take it away. The solution in my opinion is reading Quran and sunnAh. Women should look for their status in their religion. they shouldn’t be just followers for men. Women should be ironed with education and knowledge so no man can force his tradition on them. I am a Muslim and the more I read about my religion I love it. I do not like to be a passive follower. I want to taste the beauty of worshipping Allah. I love Allah and want to follow his orders not the men’s unfair interpretation for Allah’s words.
Salam Aleikum. Thanks for your comment. I want every woman feel free to live her faith at her wish, without worrying about the do´s and dont´s no matter how good they sound. I personally dislike the MUST in relation with espirituality. Regarding marriage, I see all religions, at least monotehistic, impose it on women as a duty they paint with shades that go from light rose to dark grey.. but is still an imposition and it seems until now, is very difficult for muslim women from a variety of sensitiblities regarding their life plans to be accepted or respected in our communities because being non married or childless.I collect my own experiences in this article I wrote for this site time ago https://feminismandreligion.com/2014/02/16/a-not-so-ideal-deal-perspective-on-sexism-in-islamic-marriage-by-vanessa-rivera-de-la-fuente/