An expert traveler knows that the best part of leaving is coming back. I am happy to open another year writing here again, after a necessary break, since writing is the way I maintain my strong ties with my critical spirit and this community that I cherish and has become through the years, my safe space.
Let me start with this. At the end of last year I was teaching a course on Gender, Women and Islam for social science students at a College in Mexico. One of the question I was often asked was: Madam, Is God a She?
In my early years in Islam, I used to ask this question to senior believers. I never received a direct response, but expressions of outrage with a resounding NO. NO! NO! No way! God is not SHE! HE is the neutral!
I avoided linguistic controversies, privileging actual political intervention in religious sphere. However, the context we live in, where patriarchal violence grows in cruelty and impunity, challenging a neutral masculine becomes critical to denounce the predation on women and minorized bodies.
According to the Quran, Allah does not have a gender. Is not a man, nor a woman nor a thing. It is not possible to assimilate Allah with anything created. Sura 112 says that God is:
… the One God, the Everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, nor has been begotten…
God is one, everything created is a godly manifestation. God is everything and in everything there is something of God: You and I, the dawn and the flight of the birds, the thousands of varieties of orchids, the sublime design of the snowflakes, the joy and the sadness, the anger and the calm. God is eternal, nothing in this world can contain or express such Magnificence. God speaks clearly to us in the Quran about the all-encompassing and non-generic Divine Nature in Sura 24:
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth (…) Light upon light.
If God is the light, a radiant light whose merciful glow embraces everything, then, I wonder: Why is mandatory using the He to name God? Why using She is taken as linguistic rebellion? God is gender-neutral, there should be no problem in calling God a She.
Few days ago, I came across a text of Nahida S. Nisa called Pronouns, where she says that in her mother tongue “Everyone has one pronoun, the same pronoun, adjusted to singular or to plural or to familiarity. That’s a true neutral.” Nahida states that the fondness in using He to name God, is due to the limitations of language and the shortcomings of believers:
You don’t know language. You only speak primitive languages that rely on gendered pronouns. English. Arabic. French. Primitive, just like you. You will never understand that as long as She exists—and you have tried very hard to erase her existence—He will never be neutral…
She has a point. Our languages are poor in comparison to God´s Depth. Also, there is no obligation for Muslims to call God as He. Ibn al- Arabi, a prominent 12th century Islamic philosopher, said, “I sometimes employ the feminine pronoun in addressing Allah, keeping in view The Essence.”
Shahla Khan Salter in her article Inside Allah, The One Divine Mother And The Conscience Of Islam states that the words rooted in RAHMA that describe the main attributes of Allah (The Compassionate and The Merciful) express the feminine side of the Divine:
Al Rahman and Al Raheem directly emanate from The Divine Feminine. Why? Because, it is from the root of these words, Al Rahman and Al Raheem, that we discover a direct correlation to The Divine Feminine specifically from the word, “RHM” which means Womb.
If Allah is a Matrix, then God is also a She.
So, in Islam, God has no gender nor human form, so the pronoun She, should be considered equally projective of God’s nature. Even if we are humanly guided by language, there is a powerful feminine expression in fundamental divine attributes.
Think about it. God is also a She. Her mercy encompasses all things. This should not be controversial. So, what is the problem?
Is not God, of course. Maybe believers who live in patriarchal societies where the masculine is seen as the preferred gender over the feminine? Believers who have scholars and preachers who pollute the sacred notion of Tawheed with the divisive arrogance of his male chauvinism? Believers who disobey God and stay repeating what they’re told, with no further reflection?
What is the level of vanity and ignorance of those “wise men and scholars”, who claim to act in knowledge of ALLAH, THE CREATOR, while giving to misogyny a divine rank? Why are they so afraid of thinking about God with female expressions? I think they know they are weak before the Powerful Divine Creative Force, which is and will be eternally SHE. All act of creation needs and depends on a Matrix to happen and succeed so, without a WOMB nothing exist.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a Global Consultant on Gender, Human Rights and Development, a Writer and a Muslim Feminist.
A short and edited version of this article will be published in the February issue of Muslim Views, South Africa. Image: Divine Womanhood by Gioia Albano. Used only for illustrative purposes