The Wings of the Butterfly by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente



Shhhhh… good women are quiet.
My mother was a beautiful woman, she never complained.

Denial is a silent violence that aims to make invisible a trauma maybe evident or not, to make it acceptable as normal and allow the victims of this trauma to be exploited from a system of oppression or people in power. Denial is that voice sugarcoated with correctness that asks us to shut up and sit down on our own pain so as to not disturb anyone. Is a silence that yells loudly, because sooner or later it will speak through the different ways we hurt ourselves and others.

It is not a mystery that women all over the world are subjected to a variety of violence and oppression. Women and girls are hijacked, raped, assaulted, murdered, their experiences mocked or banalized and their bodies thrown around like trash. People get outraged asking how this is possible? Well, this is possible because when a girl is born, she is “bestowed” the foundational denial that will allow the normalization of this violence and belittling during all her life: The denial that she is a human being. Continue reading “The Wings of the Butterfly by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

Rape, Community and Healing by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

During my last months in Cape Town I have been facilitating a series of workshops on Rape, Gender Justice and Culture of Consent. I am blissful for the opportunity to teach and learn with a group of people with whom we have navigated in the approach of Rape and Sexual Assault in their different perspectives, from the socio-political to the intimate tenets.

This has been an exciting journey of healing and soul blooming. I have realized the critical role that Cape Town has played in pushing me towards empowerment and thriving, enhancing my taking back ownership of my body and all the experiences happening through it.

This journey started few years ago when I decided to come out of the closet as a rape survivor. I wrote about it on Feminism and Religion. This was the first step of my breakthrough. Little by little I became confident and shameless about saying: “Yes, I was raped”.

Continue reading “Rape, Community and Healing by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson

I will never forget the day Nasr Abu Zaid (1943-2010), an Islamic Studies scholar and teacher extraordinaire, told me, “Shariah is not a law.”  In spite of his assertion, many people—both Muslims and non-Muslims—are convinced that Shariah is synonymous with archaic legal rulings that are at odds with democracy and modernity.


What is Shariah, then, if not a law?  When we see or hear the word Shariah, the word “Law” almost always follows.  Shariah literally means a path—a well-trodden path such as animals use on their way to a watering hole.  Shariah, then, can be understood as something that when embraced has potential to give life and sustenance.


Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel circa 600 C.E.  That revelation—Muslims believe it to be God’s actual speech—took place over a period of approximately twenty-one years. The Qur’an contains Shariah (path) in the form of information, narrative, and poetry.  Since Shariah is essentially a path that leads to life, the critical question centers on how Shariah can be appropriated, leading us to the water that sustains.

Continue reading “Shariah is not a Law by Esther Nelson”

Earth-Spirituality in the Qur’an and Green Muslims by Elisabeth Schilling

green pathThere is some very helpful guidance in the Qur’an for how we should and should not treat the earth. In my exploration of Qur’anic verses on the environment, I have found a great deal of Earth-love that I want to share.

The first idea is that the earth is not ours to trash and misuse recklessly or indulgently. Sura 2:284 says, “Whatever is in the heavens and in the earth belongs to God.” This sentiment is found throughout the scriptures. Individual wealth and the practice of financial profit and salary as reward has given us the illusion that, if we’ve earned the cash, we can do with it whatever we like. We can buy anything we want, show it off, hoard it, and then trash it. How often do we quell our suffering or attachments through consumerism as if there were no consequences? But we need to begin to shift to the perspective of honoring the earth as not something we are entitled to or even deserve. If we are supposed to be stewards of the earth, then fine. But it seems that selfishness and personal gain have distracted us, making us neglect our duty. The idea that the earth is a bestowed gift is embedded into the Qur’anic “golden rule”: “You who believe, give charitably from the good things you have acquired and that We have produced for you from the earth. Do not seek to give bad things that you yourself would only accept with your eyes closed” (2:267). Yes, we work the land to produce food, but not everything is within our jurisdiction. Continue reading “Earth-Spirituality in the Qur’an and Green Muslims by Elisabeth Schilling”

Offering My First Khutba: On Imaan & The Divine Presence by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Vanessa Rivera First KhutbaFor the last 6 weeks, I’ve been living in Cape Town, South Africa. This has been a blessed opportunity to grow, to gain more knowledge, and to reach outcomes that are beneficial both for my work as an activist and for my life as individual. One of the challenges I took up, on Friday, July 24th, was to offer my first Khutba ever: the text of which I share with you:


I thank God for this day. I praise Allah for the paths I had to walk that led me to its light and the present day. I ask the protection of the Divine that lives in the essence of everything. and I invite my female ancestors to walk with me in this journey.

On Imaan and The Divine Presence

Allah speaks about Imaan (Faith) in the Holy Qur’an in Surat number 2 verses 1 to 5, which some scholars call “The verses of faith and belief.” I like especially ayat 2 that says:

“That is the book. There is NO DOUBT in it, a guidance to those who are truly conscious.” Another translation says, “Sure, without doubt, a guidance for those who are God-fearing.”

Let’s think a moment about this:

1.- Allah tells us that the Holy Qur’an is, without doubt, surely, with complete certainty, a guide. There Is No Doubt, that we can put our faith and trust in it, and we won’t be deceived. That’s a beautiful aspect of Faith. We can trust in the promise of Allah that the Qur’an is… without doubt… a guide, a path of spiritual growth and happiness in this world and in the hereafter.

2.- A guide to whom? Allah says in the Qur’an “For those who are truly conscious and God-fearing.” Reflect on this. What kind of Imaan is that? Being “truly conscious” is being aware, and this is to be awakened, alert, attentive,and  in possession of knowledge with our senses and reasoning functioning properly. Then, this is not a blind Faith, but a conscious Faith, an Imaan over which we have direct and personal accountability. Then, the Qur’an is certainly a guide to those who are God-fearing, meaning those who are aware and accountable for their faith; for those who have come to certainty after an effort of conscious reflection, because, as God says in the Qur’an: “Truly in that there are signs for a folk who reflect” (45:13). There is no Imaan without a personal Jihad in matters of belief. Continue reading “Offering My First Khutba: On Imaan & The Divine Presence by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

Reconstructions of the Past: Hafsa bint Sirin (“Introduction”) by Laury Silvers

silvers-bio-pic-frblog - Version 2This blog and those to follow will be taken from an academic talk I gave on the life of the early pious worshipper, scholar of Qur’an, Hadith, and their legal meanings, Hafsa bint Sirin (d. ca. 100/800). I used some of the material for the talk in my chapter on early pious, mystic, and Sufi women in the Cambridge Companion to Sufism, but most of what I will share with you here and in the future has never been published. Whenever I sat down to write this material up for a journal, I realized I would not be able to expand the piece in the way I wanted in keeping with a properly skeptical historical attitude. I would need to hem and haw in all those places I just want to be bold and write what I think, without concession.

I want to tell her story as I have imagined it. Granted, what I have imagined is rooted in what can be known about the historical circumstances of her life and the lives of other women in that time and place. But I want to be honest about my agenda. My feminist agenda. In telling Hafsa’s story, I want to address and produce my own counter narrative to those stories told about pious and Sufi women over the years that hold up women’s silence and seclusion as the height of women’s piety. Continue reading “Reconstructions of the Past: Hafsa bint Sirin (“Introduction”) by Laury Silvers”

Nature: The Best Muslim and My Favorite Muse by Jameelah X. Medina

Jameelah MedinaNow that spring is upon us, it started me thinking about the beach. I love the ocean. Like me, lots of people get that back-to-the-peaceful-womb feeling when looking at the ocean. As I thought about the ocean, I realized I saw it as having a very strong feminine energy. She is like our distant relative. I mean, we are mostly water and when we cry it’s salty, when we sweat it’s salty, and we both (ocean and human) are alive, and we are both Muslims (in the sense of submission to Allah), so we are connected.

Allah says that there is nothing Allah did NOT create from water; I think this water connection is what so many of us feel when we are at the foot of the ocean. We feel closeness to Allah because we are in our element, or better said, we are in a space so close to something that shares the same chemical elements as us perhaps. The earth is one big organism within which we all play a part, though we think we are completely independent. Khalil Gibran has a quote that says something like if we love, our love neither comes from us nor belongs to us; if we are happy, our happiness is not in us, but in life itself; if we feel pain, our pain is not in our wounds, but in all of nature. I believe this. If we are still enough and just tune into that faculty beyond the most recognized, we can also feel it. Continue reading “Nature: The Best Muslim and My Favorite Muse by Jameelah X. Medina”

Queer in Islam and a Theology of Dissent by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. Queer and IslamMost of the time, when we talk about being “Queer in Islam,” we identify the term with a hermeneutics developed by or on behalf of LGTBQI Muslims in order to allow their inclusion in religious spaces and recognize their agency in matters of faith.

Is not my intention to appropriate the voice of LGTBQI Muslims in this issue, just to share my reflections about a topic that deserves a larger and deeper treatment. Continue reading “Queer in Islam and a Theology of Dissent by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

The Power to Interpret for Myself by Jameelah X. Medina

Jameelah MedinaMy father always encouraged us to interpret scripture for ourselves. We read text, learned mainstream interpretations, and then he would ask for our authentic self-generated interpretations delivered in the form of book and chapter reports due to him. Growing up, all prayers and supplications were done in English; my parents wanted us to really understand and synthesize rather than simply memorize Arabic words with a generic sense of what we were reading or reciting.

Having grown up with the understanding that my own mind was powerful enough to make sense of religious matters, I took it for granted. Trying to fit into the mainstream Islamic mold was something I sought for a few years in my late 20s. I tried to be certain of the mainstream interpretations of heaven, hell, the creation story, the Night Journey, and even became obsessed with studying hundreds and hundreds of hadith (prophetic sayings) and memorizing Quranic verses in Arabic instead of English. I temporarily gave away my own power to have that direct relationship with God that Islam supports. Mainstream Islamic scholars became my middle men. At every step, I despised feeling powerless and mindless. However, I worked hard at suppressing my own doubts and questions…until the day I had enough and finally called “bullshit!” on this new shadow of my former self I was trying so hard to create. Continue reading “The Power to Interpret for Myself by Jameelah X. Medina”

Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality? by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedThis was the title of a two day conference recently held at Columbia University. At one point on the first day, one presenter asked if there was anyone who is not Christian. Two hands went up, sitting side by side: mine and a film maker friend who had been instrumental in getting me invited to present. She is Buddhist and was showing a trailer from her documentary on rape in the Black community.

One problem with my participation was how to introduce another conception of “God” while still engaging the intersection of race and sexuality with only 15 minutes. So I had to talk really fast.

While the easy answer is, “No,” the God in Islam is not afraid of Black sexuality, I still had a lot of ground to cover about the sex-affirming history and spirit of Islamic thought and practice. Because the preference is to marry, which is a contract and not a sacrament. Marriage is not for the purpose of procreation but for the pleasure of sex. Marriage is preferred over celibacy such that no spiritual virtue is applied to the latter. Marriage is the normative example (sunnah) of the Prophet. Continue reading “Are the Gods Afraid of Black Sexuality? by amina wadud”

No Ramadan Gloom and Doom by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedThe first blog I read about Ramadan this year was full of the usual self-righteous pontification that takes this occasion to remind people to do such and such at this or that level. Who is the target audience for such an approach, I wondered? It seemed to operate on the basic idea that Muslims will NOT do the right thing unless someone tells them to. Mostly, though I noticed the gloom and doom of it and I decided then to make my Ramadan focus on joy.

First a quick reminder about the basics: Throughout the 9th lunar month, Muslims are obliged to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse during the day. It goes on like this for 29-30 days. There are also points of difference about some details of the fast, like how we determine which day to start. Either we actually cite the new moon, go by advanced calculations of the new moon, or some combination of these two. This leads to healthy chaos at the beginning because no one knows when the first day will, be but must prepare in order to get in that pre-dawn meal, called suhur. I say, healthy chaos, not only because I’m a bit of an anarchist, but also because I like that no one has complete control about such an important decision. Continue reading “No Ramadan Gloom and Doom by amina wadud”

Enlivened Truth by Safa Plenty

aqua and red


My joy is rebellion, and so is my passion,
my excitement, and even my sexuality,
but only here where truth is kept secret.

Where joy exploding in my vocal cords
and coursing through my limbs is
silenced or censored looked upon as foreign
in this house haunted by sad spirits.


Where my passion rising above the lull
of everyday existence, more in tune with
childlike exuberance is drowned out by
the endless buzz of television noise.

Where my excitement for learning is
relegated to four walls of my blue bedroom,
and conversation and connection propels
me from our first floor to my sister’s
basement apartment.

Where my sexuality is cloistered inciting
fear that even its refined expression would
lead to some mythical disaster in which
men would prey on my delicate femininity.

Where my mind has constricted from being,
asked why I can’t force myself to be satisfied
with a linear spiritual existence or someone’s else
fears and expectations for my life.

My joy is rebellion, and so is my passion,
my excitement, and even my sexuality,
but with love as my fuel, I will be
a rebel with a cause and that cause
will be enlivened truth.

Safa N. Plenty ©2014


As an American Muslim women of African Caribbean, Native American, and European decent, this poem is a reflection on the remnants of both historical trauma and being partially raised in an ultra-conservative community . An experience I am still continuing to heal from. In essence, this is a deeply personal and poetic reflection on my own experience of how intergenerational trauma is often compounded by the practice of literalist interpretations of religion, particularly in my case, Islam. I am continuing a ten year journey in rediscovering my true cultural and spiritual heritage that had been partly denied me.  In writing this piece, I hoped to gain clarity on my path to heal and becoming a healer through a more fluid engagement with my own faith, while learning and benefiting from other faith traditions. Through a full engagement with  Sufism, an integral part of Islam’s sacred tradition, also known as the science of purification (Ihsan), I hope to continue on my journey of spiritual renewal and healing and to aid the world in healing from the fear and numbness that plagues us as moderns.

Safa N. Plenty is an educator and mental health counselor, who will be pursuing a Ph.D at Claremont Lincoln School of Theology with a focus in spiritual formation and peacebuilding.  She holds a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University and an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies with a minor in Africana Studies. For the past two years, she has worked as a K-12 educational contractor and assistant counselor at a local community college. Her research interest include Sufism, Attachment to God, indigenous cosmology, particularly Native American and Somatic psychology. She is also interested in religious mysticism, mindfulness practice in Buddhism and the role of feminism and religion in cultivating a peacebuilding capacity among young Muslim women. She is currently working to develop a faith based healthy relationships program for Mothers and daughters. She enjoys writing poetry, research, and contemplative practice in art.


Pride: Honoring the Immigrants and the Helpers by Laury Silvers

578543_102588929933471_2064577910_nIt is World Pride in Toronto this year. The city is filled with people from everywhere celebrating the gorgeous spectrum of humanity and the right of all human beings to live with dignity.  In honor of World Pride and happy coincidence of the beginning of Ramadan, I would like to share one of the earliest sermons I gave at Toronto Unity Mosque reflecting on the struggles of our LGBTQ refugee congregants. I share this to honor those refugees, as well as our other congregants whose journey is no less significant, and also to honor my friends and co-founders of the Toronto Unity Mosque, El-Farouk Khaki and Troy Jackson, as well as Adnan Hussein who was with us from the early days.

Continue reading “Pride: Honoring the Immigrants and the Helpers by Laury Silvers”

Dr. Debbie Downer Discourses on the Lives of Early Pious and Sufi Women by Laury Silvers

Silvers, Bio Pic FRBlogI’ve been called a downer because I take what seems like a jaundiced perspective on the early history of pious and Sufi women. There is a tendency in some scholarship, and nearly all contemporary popular treatments of these women’s lives, to over-focus on the positive. They fasten to aspects of their lives that we (post) moderns regard as “positive” or even “liberating,” while ignoring what we find less attractive or troubling. For them, these treatments tell a story of a lost tradition of feminine and egalitarian spirituality representing a golden period that we only need to reclaim to overcome the present state of sexist affairs in our religion. I know these kinds of stories work for women, or they would not keep retelling them. But they don’t work for me. Continue reading “Dr. Debbie Downer Discourses on the Lives of Early Pious and Sufi Women by Laury Silvers”

A Not So Ideal Deal: Perspectives On Sexism In “Islamic Marriage” by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. Marriage in IslamOne topic that emerges from the discussions I have with other Muslims and people in general relates to marriage. Starting with, I don’t agree with marriage. Not because I think married life is negative but because, under the prevailing patriarchal logic, marriage is not conducive to full relationships. Patriarchy has also polluted Islam and, therefore, the way in which gender relations are understood as part of a Muslim’s life including the concept of marriage.

Since I converted to Islam, I have received 11 marriage proposals. I have refused them all. Many people have seen in my attitude a sign of pride and rebellion. They are wrong. I do not rebel against married life, but against the terms in which it is presented to me and the role I am supposed to have because I am a woman in it. Manly-man-male ideas about women, prejudices related to the fact that I am not “pure Muslim, but converted,” “not Arab,” and stereotypes about Hispanic-Latina women, have all played a major role in the deep indignation and disgust with which I have rejected each prospect. Continue reading “A Not So Ideal Deal: Perspectives On Sexism In “Islamic Marriage” by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

Muslim Feminism: On Finding Meaning in the Struggle by Jennifer Zobair

painted hands, Jennifer Zobair
Photo Credit: Brian Ziska

I threw Catholics under the bus at a book reading.

I didn’t mean to and, as a former Catholic, I felt awful about it. I was promoting my novel, Painted Hands, about dynamic, successful Muslim women in Boston. During the Q&A, someone asked why I’d converted to Islam. Pressed for time, I explained that I’d tried hard to be a Catholic feminist, referenced the fact that there was no Original Sin imputed to Eve in Islam, and admitted I’d struggled with the Trinity and welcomed a religion where Jesus was revered but not divine.

Afterwards, I fretted about the comparisons. “That was bad, wasn’t it?” I asked my husband. “Maybe,” he said gently, “stop at the fact that there are feminist interpretations of Islam. Maybe don’t say anything about other religions.”

When you’ve left one religion for another, the implication is that you did find something better.  Continue reading “Muslim Feminism: On Finding Meaning in the Struggle by Jennifer Zobair”

Religion is Good Counsel by Kecia Ali

dissertation, Advising, feminism and religion

Last week I received an email out of the blue about a book I published seven years ago.

The greeting was polite. The body of the email managed to be simultaneously critical and vague. The writer began by noting that human beings are accountable “for what we say and do” and that the prophet Muhammad taught that those who start something good are rewarded for the good they do themselves and for those who follow in their footsteps; those who do something sinful are liable for their own sin and the sins of those who follow their guidance. The implication was that my book could lead people astray and I would be responsible for their bad deeds.

She had several concerns. In her view “some points in the book” were offensive to religion; she singled out the chapter on homosexuality. Further, “some questions … were inappropriately directed toward Allah.” The tone of my writing makes it seem as though “I am “attacking [my] religion or [am] not proud of it” – which, she believes, does not reflect my actual feelings.  Even if my inner sentiments are correct, she believes I am mistaken in my judgment about certain basic religious doctrines: though I “look to these issues as [an] American Muslim and [consider] how Islam could apply in U.S.A … in all religions there are basics that cannot be changed.” In her view, my book crossed the line. Finally, she felt that I was not clear “about how Islam respects women.” She signed her email “sincerely.” I believed her. Continue reading “Religion is Good Counsel by Kecia Ali”

Storytelling to Restore the Sacred in Our Lives by Najeeba Syeed Miller

I was recently offering a workshop to a group of Muslim educators from all types of ethnic, racial and community backgrounds. One of my points in the training on conflict resolution was the importance of story telling,the many ways that stories are formed, told and uttered in different cultural contexts. Sometimes, the content of the story is less important that the WAY we tell the story. We talked about how to listen to the form of the story being told, its inherent design logic, and what we learn about a person and her community from the way she chooses to tell her story especially in times of conflict. For it is in conflict times that we resort to what is most familiar and sacred to us all.

For years, I have had the honor of being a peacemaker, a mediator who listens to people’s stories. I jokingly told a colleague that I could tell what they were thinking even as they were telling their story just by the way they sat, how their hands moved, whether they looked away at certain points or by what they also did not say. It is important to hear a story being told as a fully embodied experience. The words, the way they are arranged, the flow of the narrative, its resonance with body language give you a more complete vision and experience of the story and insights into the storyteller. Continue reading “Storytelling to Restore the Sacred in Our Lives by Najeeba Syeed Miller”

The Crying of an Ant: Finding a Theory of Change by Najeeba Syeed Miller

Qur’an 27:18: Till, when they came upon a valley [full] of ants, an ant exclaimed: “O you ants! Get into your dwellings, lest Solomon and his hosts crush you without [even] being aware [of you]!” – 27:19: Thereupon [Solomon] smiled joyously at her words, and said: “O my Sustainer! Inspire me so that I may forever be grateful for those blessings of Thine with which Thou hast graced me and my parents, and that I may do what is right [in a manner] that will please Thee; and include me, by Thy grace, among Thy righteous servants!” –

This story of the ants and Prophet Sulaiman (Solomon) is often taught to young Muslim children. The story goes on with Prophet Sulaiman hearing the cries of the chief of ants and stopping his army so that the ants may peacefully go along on with their work. Some commentaries include a further conversation between the chief of ants and the Prophet Sulaiman. I am studying this story with my five year old son and as we delved into it and the lessons one might learn as a child, I thought too about the morals I might derive from the story as an adult. Continue reading “The Crying of an Ant: Finding a Theory of Change by Najeeba Syeed Miller”

Beyond “Liberal” Female Piety or “Women Read the Qur’an Too” by Amy Levin

I’m a teacher’s assistant for an undergraduate course at New York University called, “What is Islam?” The other day in class, my professor asked the students whether or not the Qur’an is considered a “book”. Fraught with anxiety over inheriting such a problematic scholarly tradition of defining and delineating what “religion” is, I kept quiet. While my professor was aiming more for something sounding like, “a book is read, while the Qur’an is recited,” I kept thinking about the physicality and sacrality of the Qur’an (among other authoritative religious texts) and the way it is handled, revered, preserved, loved, an constantly under interpretation. It was about a week later when news broke out that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan were guilty of burning several copies of the Qur’an on their military base, followed by an unfortunate slew of casualties including at least 30 Afghan deaths and five US soldiers. Continue reading “Beyond “Liberal” Female Piety or “Women Read the Qur’an Too” by Amy Levin”

Hidden Spirituality: The Life of a Muslim Family By Najeeba Syeed-Miller

The following is a guest post written by Najeeba Syeed-Miller, J.D., Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology. She has extensive experience in mediating conflicts among communities of ethnic and religious diversity, and has won awards for her peacemaking and public interest work.  Najeeba also writes her own blog, “Najeeba’s world,” and can be followed on Twitter @najeebasyeed. 

This article was originally posted at Muslim Voices.

Recently, I was asked to write an entry for a book that will be coming out about spiritual development. Initially, I did as many would do think about my introduction to religion as a topic I was taught in an academic setting.

However, as I reflected more deeply, I realized that much of what I know of my faith comes from my mother and the way that she embodied her religion. Here is an excerpt of how she affected me growing up: Continue reading “Hidden Spirituality: The Life of a Muslim Family By Najeeba Syeed-Miller”

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