From the Archives: Slavery and God/dess by amina wadud

Moderator’s note: This marvelous FAR site has been running for 10 years and has had more than 3,600 posts in that time. There are so many treasures that have been posted in this decade. They tend to get lost in the archives. We are beginning this column so that we can revisit some of these gems. Today’s blogpost was originally posted January 28, 2014. You can visit it here to see the original comments.

Well the Golden Globe awards have been handed out.  I don’t have a television, so I didn’t actually watch, but a quick google search gives the results.  Highest honors go to a movie about blacks as slaves and whites as criminals.  That’s appropriate. 

But this is feminism and religion, so let me get to the point.  It’s about a chance discussion on social media about the “merciful god” and historical institutions like slavery (holocaust, or oppressions like misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia and others…).

My view of the divine, the cosmos and of the world is shaped by my slave ancestry.  Recent area studies about Islam in America estimate that one third of the Africans forced to the Americas were Muslim.   My first African relative on US soil identified as Moor (another term used for “Muslim”).  But Islam did not survive slavery.

Continue reading “From the Archives: Slavery and God/dess by amina wadud”

Don’t Treat Religious Women Like Second Class Feminists by Gina Messina, Jennifer Zobair, and Amy Levin

ff-editors-001It seems like every few weeks another young, female celebrity proudly and publicly declares she is not a feminist: Shailene Woodley. Katy Perry. Kelly Clarkson. Kendall Jenner. These women often justify their refusal to claim feminism by explaining they do not hate men—speaking to the most intractable and yawn-worthy of the mischaracterizations of feminism—or by insisting they do not personally face inequality.

Nevermind that compelling movie roles for women dry up decades before those for men, or that recently 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal was deemed “too old” to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man. (Thank you, Amy Schumer, for the Last F**kable Day Skit!). Even if we accept these young stars’ claims that they don’t face any discrimination, feminists wonder where the concern is for other, less privileged women.

This question is both frustrating and justifiable. On the one hand, who cares what a reality television star thinks of feminism? On the other, these women tremendous power to influence young women. For them to dismissively say, “I have rights, so who needs feminism,” both dishonors the sacrifices of our foremothers and ignores the reality that women’s rights are still in play.

They are still in play for women seeking equal pay for equal work, for those who want paid maternity leave, and for those who seek access to reproductive health. They are still in play for women of color and for LGBT women.

And they are still in play for women of faith.

Gender continues to be a serious issue in patriarchal religious traditions, and women continue to be denied particular roles because of their genitalia and/or gender expression. However, while mainstream feminists practically beg young celebrities to adopt the “feminist” label, women of faith are mocked for actually claiming a feminist identity and working within our traditions to combat sexism. While mainstream feminism seems desperate to have in its fold a 19-year-old reality television star who is famous in no small part because her older sister’s sex tape went viral, mainstream feminism rejects empowered women of faith.

So why have we become second-class feminists?

We understand the appearance of a disconnect between our faith and our feminism. We acknowledge that our religious traditions suffer from sexist interpretations. We understand why some feminists leave our faiths, and we have been tempted to do the same. But even if every Jewish, Christian and Muslim feminist abandoned her tradition, there would still be many women who stay, women for whom that decision has religious jurisprudential consequences. They will still be subject to Halakhah, Canon law and fatwas. They will still face exclusion from leadership roles. They will still endure pressure from community members who accept women’s lesser status based on the teachings of unenlightened rabbis, priests, and imams.

We acknowledge and concern ourselves with these real world impacts of our faiths. But we also recognize our faiths’ foundational messages for what they are and the ways they’ve been misconstrued. In other words, we refuse to let our traditions be defined by sexist interpretations.

This refusal takes many forms. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim feminist scholars are working within the framework of existing translations of the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an, producing new translations of those texts, and, in some cases, questioning the authenticity and divinity of verses that appear irredeemably sexist. At the same time, female activists are committing radical acts of worship that address longstanding sexism. Anat Hoffman was arrested and strip searched for her activism seeking legal recognition for Jewish women to pray out loud with traditionally male religious garb at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Kate Kelly was excommunicated after founding the movement Ordain Women and calling for women to take on leadership roles within the Mormon Church. Amina Wadud endured international condemnations and threats of violence when she became the first woman to lead a mixed-gender Muslim prayer in the U.S.

These are dedicated, tenacious women who refuse to abdicate their religions to sexist interpretations. This is what courage looks like. This is what feminism looks like.

And yet, while mainstream feminists pine for young stars to pay lip service to feminism, women of faith who are actually doing brave and difficult work are routinely told they cannot be “true” feminists.

We recognize that many people think it is only a feminist act to leave patriarchal traditions. We contend that it can also be a feminist act to stay, and we look forward to the day when doing so puts neither our faith nor our feminism in question.

final-cover-faithfully-feministThis piece was co-authored by Jennifer Zobair, Gina-Messina-Dysert, and Amy Levin, the co-editors of Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay.

Gender Jihad and Epistemic Justice by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


In previous articles I have developed my personal perspective on Islamic feminism as a third narrative pathway that responds to the two traditional hegemonic discourses that exist on Muslim women, which I call “idealization of inequality” and “demonization of Islam

The search for gender justice within the framework of Islam has been called Gender Jihad is focused on installing a legal and social equality for Muslim women and groups or identities in the otherness, in line with the equality of divine origin established in the Qur’an. I think this socio-political equality begins with unpacking the epistemic violence prevailing in religious narratives that affects the representations and validation of women and persons in the otherness as equals, ie, like people, like men, the discursive and biopolitics referent of what is “Humankind”.

Islamic feminism is a narrative that provides answers to the epistemic violence represented by the speeches of idealization and demonization. As Gayatri Spiviak said, such epistemic violence is an orchestrated, widespread and heterogeneous project to constitute the colonial subject, as other. Women in religion are colonized subjects. Epistemic violence leads to epistemic injustice that results in unfair practices such as, for example, considering that the testimony of some people is less credible because they belong to certain gender, based on a distorted image of the other, which dehumanizes the individuals who are giving testimony.

The Gender Jihad posed by Islamic Feminisms seeks to establish a declaratory place that is an authentic expression of the agencies women and people in the otherness in relation to a hegemony with a strong colonial bias, represented for the narratives of idealization and demonization. Gender Jihad is the building of an episteme, understanding the right of Muslim women to enunciate and interpret a reality that challenges them, for and by themselves since, as Amina Wadud says “defining religion is to have power over it.”

This discursive possibility is possible thanks to the Tawhidic paradigm developed by Amina Wadud in the early 90s and  in her book “Qur’an and Woman,” a methodology that can decolonize fields of  knowledge, bodies and representational policies of the mainstream narrative about Muslim women and Others.

The merit of her paradigm, among many, is to systematize existing concepts in the Muslim cosmogony, in a way that provides a frame for gender analysis from Islamic theology and promoting the empowerment of women through it. Recognizing, on the one hand, the inherent equality of women as human beings, it gives theological support to a legal equality that for centuries have been at the discretion of Muslim scholars. On the other, it enables women, through rescuing Ijtihad, in our enunciation and narrative capacity as religious subjects. If humans are equal before God, then Women and Others are, by divine right, equally able to read, decipher, interpret and convey their perspective on religious matters.

There cannot be any political transformation, without having an equal right to speak, equal freedom to express thoughts, equal entitlement of movement of the body and ideas, equal agency to occupy material and symbolic spaces, without restrictions.

There can be no Gender Jihad without appropriating the  readings and discourses on gender, religion and jihad.

Gender Jihad begins with the recovery of the right to say and represent, therefore, is a struggle that could have as a prior aim the acquiring of epistemic justice.

This is relevant because “Who can speak” will mark simultaneously “on what terms that person talk.” What concepts and meanings can be used within the framework of the construction of a particular view of reality? What terms become the lens for discerning reality: development, democracy, gender equality, civil society, religion, social agency, etc. Only and exclusively from the enunciation (the power to speak) and from the ability to define the context in which speaking occurs, can one have a voice, that is, be a subject.

This framework for a new reality, based on the epistemic justice, will allow Muslim women to define their own place and have a voice to counteract epistemic injustice. Wadud offers a system of hermeneutic model that enables a “who can speak” and “on what terms” from an interpretation of the Quran from a gender perspective, which recognizes Muslim women agency to define and interpret religion, to build a speech based in empowerment and to rise as “political individuals of faith,” establishing a mapping for the construction of a reality in which they position themselves as people, beyond stereotypes and myths.

Image: Women Fighting Demons – Caitlin Conolly

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is a social communicator, writer, mentor in digital activism and community educator in gender and capacity development. She has led initiatives for grass roots female leaders’s empowerment in Latin America and Africa. She is an intersectional feminist interested in the crossroads between Religion, Power and Sexuality. Her academic work adresses Feminist Hermeneutics in Islam, Muslim Women Representations, Queer Identities and Movement Building. Vanessa is the founder of Mezquita de Mujeres (A Mosque for Women), a social media and educational project based in ICT that aims to explore the links between feminism, knowledge and activism and highlights the voices and perspectives of women from the global south as change makers in their communities.

Invisible Giants: On Women, Mosques, and Radical Activism by Juliane Hammer

hammerAt times, being ignored, erased, and made invisible, is more hurtful than open debate and disagreement. Such silencing and marginalization render the energy, activism, and work of so many people mute and, ultimately, they do not serve the communities and society we are attempting to change. In what follows I insist on uplifting and naming some of the radical Muslim activists and advocates for gender justice I saw ignored in a recent Muslim community event.

On Labor Day weekend, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) met for its annual convention in Chicago. On Friday evening, in a well-attended panel, ISNA unveiled (pun intended) its latest statement and campaign on “the inclusion of women in masjids” (places of worship) and issued a call and invitation to sign the statement and implement its central demands in mosques and community centers across the United States and Canada. Panelists at the launch included Hind Makki, the creator of Side Entrance, a tumblr collecting pictures of the various (good, bad and in between) accommodations for women in mosques, and member of the ISNA task force on the issue; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, professor of Islamic studies and former president of ISNA; Imam Mohamed Magid, also a former president of ISNA; Dr. Sarah Syeed, chair of the ISNA task force and Dr. Ihsan Bagy, another member of the task force. Continue reading “Invisible Giants: On Women, Mosques, and Radical Activism by Juliane Hammer”

Feminism and Faith by Judith Plaskow, Rosemary Radford Ruether, and amina wadud

Foreword Image.001 (1)“Feminism saved my faith” is the concluding phrase of one of the writers in Faithfully Feminist, and though not everyone would say it that way, most of these women have found feminism and faith vibrantly interrelated. The contributors to this anthology articulate a range of reasons that feminists might choose to remain within a patriarchal religious tradition. They also remind us that women reconcile their faith and feminist identities in diverse ways. This volume testifies to the dynamism within the religious communities of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the United States, and to their internal diversity. This diversity allows for the contributors to engage in a process of their own development as feminists of faith that interacts with similar processes of development going on in their religious communities.

The overriding common bond for these women of faith is the shared conviction that the conflict between religion and feminism is real— even when it is generated by other people’s expectations that those two identities are separate and irreconcilable. Once each woman arrived at a place where she no longer felt an imperative to abide by an either/or dichotomy, she was able to define the terms of her religion and feminism for herself and to own both identities as significant.

Multiply the individual accounts in this volume by tens of thousands, and the effect of these women’s decisions and the concerted actions for change that have flowed from them has been enormous. For example, feminism has profoundly altered American Judaism in the last forty-plus years. Women are ordained in all branches of liberal Judaism and, in all but name, in modern Orthodoxy. New denominational prayer books written in English use inclusive language and incorporate writings by women. Feminists have written Torah commentaries, designed rituals for important turning points in women’s lives, and created new scholarship on women that contributes to a fuller history of the Jewish people.

Likewise, Christianity has been significantly impacted by the work of feminist theology. While some branches continue to refuse leadership roles to women, many others have acknowledged that every person embodies the spirit of Christ and have embraced the ordination of women. In 2006 the Episcopalian Church ordained its first woman bishop, the highest office in the church. Inclusive language has found its way into the prayers and rituals of many churches and feminist commentaries have shifted thinking on scriptural interpretations. Dialogue within and across branches of Christianity are expanding borders, and movements like Woman Church and online feminist spaces have created opportunities for women to claim agency and participate in roles that have been traditionally withheld.

In the long road to Islamic feminism, women have sometimes lacked agency to define either Islam or feminism. Traditional definitions of these words which operate as a constraint on work within Islam towards justice, equality and dignity; feminism was connected to Western imperialism and invasion into Muslim-majority nation states, and centuries of patriarchal control and interpretation stifled women’s efforts to claim Islam for themselves. This is changing, aided by campaigns such as the 2009 launching of the Musawah movement for equality and justice in Muslim family law. A new freedom is emerging that allows Muslim women the dignity and honor of defining Islam and feminism for themselves—no matter how little they might know of global discourses and historical traditions. All that was necessary was to, identify as a believer and expect a life of justice within that belief. Islam has also witnessed women-led prayers and a move toward inclusive prayer spaces.

The profound changes feminists have inspired and worked for do not mean that all problems have been solved and that women’s subordination is a thing of the past; there is plenty of work for a new generation. The difficulties with overcoming the glass ceiling and balancing work and life that women within the larger society face also bedevil women in all three religious communities. Panels, boards, and publications often exclude women’s voices completely or have only token female participation. Ordained women in Judaism are paid less than their male counterparts and rarely become senior rabbis in large or prestigious congregations. If women “choose” to serve smaller synagogues —the explanation often tendered to explain these gaps—that is partly because the expectations surrounding the rabbinate have not kept pace with its changing demographic, and women who want to combine rabbinic work with raising a family face considerable obstacles. Christian ordained women face similar obstacles within the priesthood and continue to be denied leadership roles in some branches, including Catholicism and Mormonism. Similarly, Muslim women are often excluded from panels at religious conferences and are underrepresented on the boards of religious institutions. The idea of women leading Muslim prayers remains controversial. And too often, discussions about women’s role in Islam still revolve around the issue of hijab, or covering.

The challenge for feminists today is passing on feminist insights and gains to the next generation. Is women’s history being incorporated into elementary and high school texts, or are students being taught the same parade of male names and faces? More particularly for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, when a girl or woman wants to mark some nontraditional ritual occasion, is it clear where to turn for resources? Do most Jews, Christians, and Muslims even know that it is possible to create new rituals that feel deeply meaningful and religiously authentic?

Finally, when teachers—and parents—talk about God, how is God imagined? Are children still growing up thinking about God as a distant male figure, or are they offered a range of images, and emboldened to create their own? Are children being encouraged to talk about and challenge passages in and interpretations of the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an that are misogynist or otherwise unethical? Are they developing critical tools that will allow them to engage with and transform difficult parts of tradition?

The next generation of feminists should consider a move beyond rhetoric and terminology towards substance and personal affirmation. Identifying as feminists of faith helps forge global alliances towards meaningful dialogue across difference—even the differences within. It is only when these deeper levels of change are addressed that the question, “Why stay?” will cease to be relevant.

FF_front-cover_FINALThis essay is the Foreword for Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay edited by Gina Messina-Dysert, Jennifer Zobair, and Amy Levin.  

For more on Faithfully Feministclick here.

Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #FaithfullyFeminist and #WhyIStay.

Related Articles:

9 Badass Feminists of Faith You Should Know

Mayim Bialik Endorses Faithfully Feminist

Why We Stay

Judith Plaskow is Professor Emerita of Religious Studies at Manhattan College and a Jewish feminist theologian. Co-founder and co-editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religionshe is co-editor of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions and author of Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective and The Coming of Lilith: Essays on Feminism, Judaism, and Sexual Ethics 1972-2003.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ph.D. is Professor of Feminist Theology at Claremont Graduate University and Claremont School of Theology.  She is also the Carpenter Emerita Professor of Feminist Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the GTU, as well as the Georgia Harkness Emerita Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Rosemary has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a scholar, teacher, and activist in the Roman Catholic Church, and is well known as a groundbreaking figure in Christian feminist theology.  Ruether is the author of multiple articles and books including Sexism and God-TalkGaia and GodWomen Healing Earth and The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Her most recent books include Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican: A Vision for Progressive Catholicism(2008), Many Forms of Madness: A Family’s Struggle with Mental Illness(2010), and Women and Redemption: A Theological History, 2nd ed.(2011).

amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives.  Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender, and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.

Good Things Come to an End by amina wadud

amina - featureIt has been a marvelous experience for me, these past few years, to be connected with this community Feminism and Religion. Still, sometimes even good things have to come to an end. I’ve decided to discontinue my regular blog contributions. The organizers have graciously allowed me the possibility to do a guest blog in the future; so I may yet contribute.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think folks who read this blog know fully just what goes on—seemingly seamlessly in the background. So before I go, let me expose how this has been for me, to give greater credibility to my first sentence: it has been a marvelous experience.

I was asked to start blogging with FAR while living in another country, another time zone, and inconsistent internet access. Truth be told, inconsistency characterizes my life-work since I travel extensively and cannot predict the regularity of the internet in some of the parts of the world where I might be located. Still I made the commitment to blog twice a month, every first and third week. Continue reading “Good Things Come to an End by amina wadud”

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”

Justice for Mike Brown? by amina wadud

amina - featureI was born the year the Supreme Court of the United States of America began to hear Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; a case that ought to be known to all as a matter of US history. Here is a precise, but telling history of how that case came into being. This historical account lacks hyperbole, perhaps because one feature of legal-eeze carries the technical title (and appropriately so) of being a brief.

In case blog readers don’t do background research or follow footnotes, I raise these salient points: The Declaration of Independence states “all men (sic) are created equal.” At the same time as it was written and signed into law, the legal enslavement of Africans was in full practice. This incongruence required further legal action to change that in the form of 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which made slavery illegal.

It should be no surprise that “equality” did not result from this and thus the 14th and 15th Amendments attempted to address inequities in more specific terminology. All of these Amendments were ratified the 19th century.

The last decade of the 19th century, Plessy v. Ferguson reached the Supreme Court. Plessy was an unsuccessful challenge, attempting to point out how manifest inequality– the “separate but equal” doctrine in practice across the United States– violated the constitutional notion of equality before the law. Judge Brown sums up the majority opinion which went against Plessy:

The object of the 14th Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social as distinguished from political, equality..if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane

It would take more than half a century before Brown v. Board of Education brought out the many subtle ways, over the century since the legal end of slavery, that the racial divide had been enforced. It started very early in life, in the form of separate educational systems that only perpetuated the impossibility of constitutional consistency and equality before the law.

We still have a long way to go. Continue reading “Justice for Mike Brown? by amina wadud”

The God of Love by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedI admit I had the fortune of loving my father, the late Reverend Teasley, and feeling loved by him.  I also date my fascination with the divine back to my father.  There are many ways this fascination could have taken shape, but for me it led to the experience of religious diversity as an element of the global community of human beings that has never abated.

Like others, you might ask: if I feel so akin to diversity, why am I a devotee to only one of them: Islam? Some question this by way of offense to Islam. Others are genuinely curious. This curiosity takes two forms.  Either they are interested in my personal location within Islam, as in why are you Muslim? Or they are interested in why stop my quest for diversity and get stuck where I am clearly busy detangling the manifestations of Islam from their patriarchal moorings?

My answer is quite simple. Islamic thought brought me peace of mind, especially about the greater workings of the universe and my tiny, tiny part within it.  Islamic thought gave me the language to understand (a/my) reality.  Quite a handy facility if you think about how long humans have pondered the great existential questions: Who am I; Why am I here; and What is the purpose of life? Continue reading “The God of Love by amina wadud”

Get your fatwa off our backs! by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedIt’s not so easy any more to control the parameters of Islam and the way it is practiced by those who wish to stuff their opinion down the throats of other Muslim citizens, be they minorities or majorities across the globe.

This past week the Selangor Islamic Religious Counsel in Malaysia, issued a fatwa against Sisters in Islam (SIS), accusing them of being “deviant” because they subscribe to religious liberalism and pluralism.  They called for a ban on all their publications and to silence their social media. They sought to shun their activities and personhood “in the name of Islam.’

The next day SIS held a press conference and went on full counter attack.  This is what it has come down to for many who stand for justice, equality, and human dignity for all, within an Islamic perspective.

Let me step back and explain about a fatwa.  Continue reading “Get your fatwa off our backs! by amina wadud”

The Season of Pilgrimage by amina wadud

amina - featureThis weekend those of us not performing the ritual pilgrimage, or Hajj, will enjoy the Festival of the Sacrifice of Eid al-Adha. Celebrated on the 10th day of the 12th lunar calendar month, it tends to creep up without warning, since we operate on the solar Gregorian calendar. The next day I jump a plane to Southeast Asia so my attention is already diverted.

The sacrifice here refers to Prophet Abraham’s botched contract with God over his first son. Muslims stick with the sheer biology that it was his first son, Ishma’il rather than Sarah’s first biological son, Isaac as recognized in Christianity and Judaism. It’s political, I won’t go there.

Instead I want to focus on this veneration of things masculine across all three Abrahamic faiths with the attention surrounding this particular patriarch. For example, I recall an Eid sermon which dwelt at length on Abraham circumcising himself in full adulthood without anesthesia. All I could think was, WHO should care about that? This particular manhood seems to excel over any reminder of his humanity, or of his devotion to monotheism in a community steeped in Idol worship. Continue reading “The Season of Pilgrimage by amina wadud”

LGBTQI Muslims and International Movements for Empowerment by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedI am currently in Cape Town South Africa at a Queer Muslim International Retreat.  Next month I will go to Jakarta Indonesia for a workshop focused on the same agenda: reform in Muslim communities towards the lives of dignity for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, Queer and Intersex Muslims.  It has been a long road and the end of the struggle is nowhere in sight. Still, there are important developments worth noting.

I am the fifth of eight children.  My brother, just older than me, is gay. Although we are both in our 60’s now, it was evident that his sexual orientation was not normative heterosexual from very early. My first nephew, son of my older sister is also gay. Now in his mid-40’s his was also not a question of lifestyle choice.  I love these two men and always have. That did not mean I was devoid of homophobic tendencies and subtle acts of discrimination against queer people. I wasn’t against them, but I did not see why I, who lived as a straight heterosexual woman, should have to pay any attention to the particularities of their life struggle.  It was their problem and I could ignore it. So I did.

I was never guilty of vicious acts – teasing, name calling or bullying; I just put it out of my mind. As a Muslim, I would come to encounter a much greater awareness how the convenience of sitting on the fence was inadvertently a tacit approval of gross homophobic violations and that all I believed about a Merciful and Compassionate Creator of Justice required me to support the struggles to establish that divine justice and cosmic harmony and beauty everywhere and for everyone. Continue reading “LGBTQI Muslims and International Movements for Empowerment by amina wadud”

Muslim Separatists and The Idea of an “Islamic” State by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedThe other day, someone on twitter said she would not allow ISIS (known as the Islamic State of the Levant) use the name of “her” religion.  In fact, scholars in Egypt had proposed that they be called “the Separatist movement” and take the word “Islam” out of it. This question raised here is: what exactly is “Islamic” about what they are doing and how they are doing it?

I have contended for at least 2 decades that people use the word “Islam” anyway they want to make any point they want.  More importantly, whoever has the power to assert their definition of the word “Islam” controls how it is used. I say the past 2 decades because I used to think I could somehow determine “pure” “Islam”—as opposed to cultural reflections, human imperfections, and intellectual genuflections.  I came instead to see that everyone has a definition of Islam and whose definitions held sway was less a matter of epistemology and more a matter of power.

So, I followed one of my intellectual mentors and agreed that for any discourse about Islam, a definition had to be established, agreed upon, and then consistently maintained. He suggested that a simple criteria referent be applied based on Islam’s two primary sacred sources: the text of the Qur’an and the normative practices of the Prophet Muhammad, called sunnah.  He juxtaposed these to “little traditions” in the multiple ways Muslims experience or live out their understandings of these two.

Part of the methodology of Islamic feminism and reformed Islamic thought has been to demonstrate a direct link to the two primary sources but with a different paradigm about key principles espoused there in- like justice, human dignity, and compassion.  From that point forward, I tend to provide my definition of Islam, give evidence to support that definition from the primary sources and then elaborate how it would work in application to whatever issue is at hand.  Continue reading “Muslim Separatists and The Idea of an “Islamic” State by amina wadud”

Good Muslim, Bad Muslim by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

No doubt about it, the news of late has been dismal, heart breaking, soul crunching. Pick a place or theme and see where you end up: Ebola in parts of Africa, Israel and Hamas; Ferguson, Missouri; Ukraine, U.S., and Russia; unaccompanied minors from the south crossing over into U.S. borders; the assault of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) on Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Shi’ahs and journalists. This list could (should) be augmented by many other conflicts and areas of strife which have been on-going for longer than the last several weeks.

I don’t know about you, but I draw my weary attention to the latest news each morning with knots in my stomach and a heavy weight on my shoulders. Meanwhile, even if I am not directing my attention to the news per se, the same events are all over social media and I confess I check into facebook and twitter each day even when I try to maintain a casual posture over usage and to keep upbeat attitude in how I engage (or ignore) the latest hash tag or hot button issues.

For weeks I have been thinking I should blog about an important lesson I have learned as best articulated in the book by Sharon Welch: A Feminist Ethic of Risk. In a world riddled with problems of proportions greater than can be solved by any one person, one group, one country or over one life time, how does one continue to be ethically engaged, avoid crippling despair and pointless cynicism, or just plain fall into apathy? Continue reading “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim 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”

“Papa Don’t Preach”: TED-like Talks at Malmo Nordic Women’s Forum May 2014

amina 2014 - croppedWhen I was a little girl, I used to be afraid. I was afraid of the dark. I was afraid of thunderstorms. I remember once cowering on the floor in the back seat of the car waiting for my dad to come take us home. My dad, who was a Methodist Minister, was too busy talking about God to really notice my reaction to being there in the back seat of the car during that terrible storm. Instead, he just kept busy, talking about God to other grown ups—talking in a way I did not understand, or found incredibly boring and long winded, sometimes even just a little frightening.

But Thunderstorms filled in a gap I did not know I had. A gap between my tiny self and the awesome Reality I have since come to know in a very different way. So when I would hear thunder, I thought of it as coming from God. I would begin this conversation with the Awesomeness of It asking moral questions: you know about good and bad. The thunder would seem to provide direct answers. Was that the voice of God?

Isn’t that how so many people think of God: an awesome and overwhelming omnipotent presence—with a voice that roars?

One dark night, during another storm, maybe my father heard me crying. He sat me on his lap and told me, in his quiet voice, how God had promised He would never again destroy the world by water. The sign of this promise, he said to me, was the Rainbow… the place where water, light and power combine to show color and beauty. That was my first experience of transcendence. From that time forward I would seek that loving nurturing experience of the Ultimate. Continue reading ““Papa Don’t Preach”: TED-like Talks at Malmo Nordic Women’s Forum May 2014″

My Brother’s Keeper by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

When my son was a teenager, living with his father in another state, he came to visit me in the suburbs of Virginia.  He is nearly 6 feet tall, chestnut brown skinned.  Like many suburbs there is no concept of the corner store.  But about a half mile from our house was a gas station, with the usual quick shop that was pretty much the same thing as the corner store in residential urban centers.  To get to this gas station by car was a short run.  There was a shortcut through the woods behind my house, so that anyone trying to reach the store by foot could cut off some of the distance required in a car. I suggested this out of the way path to him.  He told me in no short order.  “Mom, I’m a Black male.  I can’t be sneaking out of the woods at almost dark in this part of the world.”

I was embarrassed to think I had not considered how potentially perilous this might be, but starkly reminded what it is like to survive as a young Black male in the US, still today.

I remember reading an article that stated unequivocally that the income of the average college graduate Black male was about equal to the income of the average white high school graduate.  I made the point with both my sons: college education was not an option.  It was mandatory, to even begin to compete.  I guess they got the message because both went straight through college directly after high school (and one of them even returned later for a law degree).  My three daughters, on the other hand took a more circular path meanwhile. All of them went to college, but none of them either went directly from high school or route maintained a direct course through to the first degree.  Continue reading “My Brother’s Keeper by amina wadud”

Monkey See…by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

When I was a little girl the Washington D.C. Zoo did not have that extra security fence between gawking spectators and the cages of certain animals.  My mother used to climb up onto the cage and hand peanuts to the monkeys.  I don’t know, maybe that was the beginning of my lifelong love of monkeys.  When I moved to Malaysia as Assistant Professor at the International Islamic University I was driving down a main roadway and along the side of the road I saw a monkey scurrying along much like we see squirrels in the US.  A new phase in my life began.  How many ways to repeat my mother’s antics?  Could I possibly top that? This introduction might seem silly but I just have to share one of the most sublime experiences of my life and for that I need to give you a feeling for just how much I love monkeys.

When monkeys are in the wild they are not always amenable to such antics as we humans can do or imagine.  I think that’s probably part of survival, don’t you?  Anyway, in Malaysia, even though they were as plentiful as squirrels and just as accessible, like squirrels they are not at our beck and call either.  We were pretty much limited to the evenings at a local park when they would come down from the trees and let us feed them. Like children do with Canadian geese at Merritt Lake Park here in Oakland, or any where they roam.  Once we climbed up more than 1000 stair-steps to the top of the Batu Caves a Hindu temple and tourist spot, to see the sights and feed the monkeys.  That time one wily monkey snatched the whole bag of food from my daughter’s hand while she wasn’t looking and that was the end of it.  No way to go back to the car and run back with more!  Continue reading “Monkey See…by amina wadud”

Who’s Got the Money by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedAfter doing my usual pre-travel research (expected weather, electrical plug usage and currency exchange rates) I tried to amply prepare for a continuous trip between India and Switzerland on one ticket: not too many clothes in my suitcase, but enough for the climate disparity. At the time I checked in, that disparity was something like 90 to 60 degrees (F) respectively. I opted for cotton clothes with layers and sandals with or without socks. As it turned out, India got hotter (nearly 100F) and Switzerland got colder (45F) with biting rain and winds. So I spent a LOT of my down time in my hotel room.

I had stuff to read, casual and work related and managed to keep myself busy. On occasion, I would turn on the TV. All the stations in Fribourg were in French or German with one exception: the financial news channel. I could only take that news for so long. My last day in Fribourg, there was a break in the news and instead they played back-to-back episodes of some program about the “super rich”. It turned out to be more distressing than the news. You’d expect people with so much money to have one thing you might wistfully dream about. But nope, I really have no interest in private planes or huge yachts with custom fitted gold faucets, or Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Yes, I would like to live near the beach, but a small bungalow would do me just as well—no need for the 25,000 square feet vacation home they were showcasing. Continue reading “Who’s Got the Money by amina wadud”

Ask me No Questions by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

In some alternate universe I would have complete control of what becomes part of discourse about me and about my work.  In THIS universe, I just try to set some minimal standards even when it might sometimes not seem generous to the persons who send requests to interview me.  Must be some alignment of the stars that I’ve been inundated with requests of late, so I will share some of the “types” of request to ask you–my community at Feminism and Religion blog-sphere–what you make of these, or how better to respond? I seriously contend that all people deserve dignity even when this might clash with the dignity of another human being at times.

First, there are the curiosity seekers from the world of fast pace media sensationalism, perhaps in order to keep up with the latest, hippest media hype they rush in with their requests.  While they often include the deadline they are up against, they simultaneously ignore that I might be up against my own deadlines, or just LIVING my life.  I’m clear from way back…the kind of work I do is not well suited for the 30 second sound bites, one second for each of the 30+ years I’ve spent to develop coherent reconstruction of Islamic thought and practice, away from the dominant patriarchal paradigm developed during its classical period and maintained until today.  By the time I explain even that previous sentence my 30 seconds are up!

Next would be sincere but slightly naive students of modern Islamic thought, Islamic reform or Islamic feminism. At one end they define the parameters of their research problem or their term paper (also on deadline) and then they ask me for references, despite particular interests that may be slightly outside my area of expertise.  I usually think and sometimes reply: I am not a reference librarian.  At the other end are graduate students who have more detailed inquiry to make and thus send along complex questions each one, in my mind, deserving a mini-dissertation in order to do justice with.  I have to temper my desire to assist them with a realistic assessment of how long I can be at their disposal. It is not uncommon to answer one set of questions only to be sent another set. Continue reading “Ask me No Questions by amina wadud”

No Honor for A Career of Hate by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedA recent decision by Brandeis University (founded in 1948 as a nonsectarian Jewish community-sponsored, coeducational institution) to take back its offer to give Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary doctorate hit the media with the usual storm over such a controversial figure.

Most of the resistance to her, as a public figure, comes because of her own categorical statements against Islam. Not only does she choose to be an atheist, but she lambasts those who do not make her same choice. Her sweeping statements are meant to galvanize support against the Islam she has suffered from both as a child in a conservative family and as colleague of a brutally murdered film maker. She lost her bid for refugee status in Holland for lying about her past and was taken lovingly into the arms of certain institutions (like the conservative think tank, American Enterprise Institute  and tea party politicians, like Pamela Gellar). All manner of official trickery was put in her favor such that she enjoys something millions of her country men and women from Somalia would probably never hope to see: US citizenship and institutional support. Continue reading “No Honor for A Career of Hate by amina wadud”

God is Too Big by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

In my current casual reading, a novel, the answer to the question “and where is God for you?” was expressed this way:

“Definitely in the car with us as we talk and exchange things, and change each other in the process…People have things they want to give away, or they want things they don’t know where to look for, and they need containers to pool their information. This night is far too large for us to rattle around in on our own. It’s a perfect fit for God, but we need our container. We need one another for God to work through us: that’s something I experience every day. The concept of God is way too big for me to get my mind around, but despite that, maybe even because of it, the relationship keeps growing and changing.  Sometimes it grows so slowly it seems it’s stopped. Or gone in reverse. Then when I least expect it, it takes a big leap forward.”

I was struck by this first because of the concept of God being “way too big.”  I struggle with this and yet would have it no other way. I have gone out my way to kill off the childhood concepts of God, referred to in that book Your God is Too Small. It explains that for many people, their concept of God has not advanced far from the one they had as a child – from the Big Bad Punisher to the tooth fairy God of requisition. As a strict monotheist, I constantly fight to smash the idols of my own imagination or preoccupation. To get God out of any box.

Continue reading “God is Too Big by amina wadud”

My Afternoon with Amina Wadud: Some Pearls of Wisdom for a Warm Autumn in Santiago by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. Amina WadudAlbert 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.

Continue reading “My Afternoon with Amina Wadud: Some Pearls of Wisdom for a Warm Autumn in Santiago by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

Celebration: International Women’s Day 2014 by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedI’m trying to finish this blog from Chile before I travel by bus over the Andes Mountains in to Buenos Aires. This is me: ticking things off my bucket list. It makes me look forward to what I want to do and back to what I’ve done. Perhaps the right stars aligned in the heavens; the forces of the universe synchronized, or my day is done–but this year, International Women’s Day was one of the happiest days of my life. And I just want to celebrate!

(It didn’t matter that my US Facebook and Twitter friends spent this week chasing down the perpetrator of some misogynist jokes on the occasion of IWD. This could not move me from a
place of joy, my blessed repose and moment of extraordinary grace.) Continue reading “Celebration: International Women’s Day 2014 by amina wadud”

Freedom and Faith by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

 In September past I travelled to Zanzibar with a long time friend from Singapore. I intentionally planned to visit the places where other Africans, like my ancestors, were bought, sold, and held in waiting like fish in the fish market.  The slave trade in east Africa is linked to this historical island, which was like a Fed Ex hub: a central location to facilitate the transfer of slaves—stolen, captured in war, kidnapped, or bought elsewhere to be traded, from there to parts of Persia and Arabia.

I explained to my friend, EVERY African-American identifies intimately with slavery.  We talk as if it were only yesterday.  We say “we,” as though speaking of relatives in another city or town. We also say “they” about slave masters and traders, about the over seers who beat us, the men who raped our foremothers and sold off their children, the few who taught us to read in secret, or turned a blind eye at our efforts to escape. Yet, I know of NO WHITE person who identifies with their history as slave masters.

My intention was to perform some simple ritual interface at the markets and holding cells. I had not planned any details, I had only reflected on the value of sacred expiation and the reality of living blood still flowing because my ancestors gave their blood, sweat, and tears. Perhaps my blood would mingle with the spirit of the blood of my ancestors.  At least I hoped I could, through some selected prayers or liturgy, release anger, pain, and humiliation in exchange for a life of freedom. I owe my life to them and I wanted to consciously renew the bond and then, like Nelson Mandela’s walk to freedom, to LET it go. To honor my ancestors I must live fully and in freedom. Continue reading “Freedom and Faith by amina wadud”

Making Our Way – Updating the Guide for Women in Religion by Kecia Ali

dissertation, Advising, feminism and religion

Mary E. Hunt, Monique Moultrie, and I are updating the Guide for Women in Religion. The original version was edited by Mary with an impressive cast of contributors and first published ten years ago. Organized with entries from “A” (AAR) to “Z” (Zeitgeist), it was the successor to the 1992 Guide to the Perplexing, which billed itself as a “survival manual” and was team-written by a group that includes several now-legendary figures in the field, then junior folks trying to find their way in the sometimes hostile, often bewildering landscape of academic religious studies, particularly at the AAR and SBL.

With each iteration of the Guide, some important things have changed. (Others have not, but that’s another blog.)

One thing that has changed for the better:  There are now plenty of women in senior positions, women who have attained the rank of full professor (and retired as emerita), or direct major organizations, who are recognized as leaders in their scholarly fields. Women’s studies in religion has gained prominence as a serious subfield, and gender as a crucial category (or factor, or variable, or consideration, or analytic lens) appears in a great deal of scholarship and not a few job ads. Continue reading “Making Our Way – Updating the Guide for Women in Religion by Kecia Ali”

To Your Poor Health by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

This week I had started my blog in commemoration of Black History Month.  Alas it has sat in my computer unfinished as the deadline is well past for my bi-monthly post.  So here is why.

As I was listening to NPR one day, a man was describing the “types” of thinking developed as a consequence of the types of intellectual and physical exposure.  “Higher” thought (I hate that assessment of it, but it’s his word) he equated with things like knowledge of Shakespeare.  “Other” thought went with the days before (or current places and peoples without) access to some of our own human intellectual ventures (like Shakespeare’s plays).  What I, the abstract thinker (of course, I’m a theologian…) took away from this was that maybe I had ventured well into the realm of so-called higher thinking and as such had LOST touch with some basic thought for survival.

So I had a medical emergency. I have a hiatus hernia.  It was diagnosed just before I went to India, and medication prescribed.  I filled that prescription for over a year at my local pharmacy for about $10-$12 per 100 pills.  India is in a patents war with the US over medicine production, because they refuse to play into the over-costly game that is our US norm.  When my supply ran low I went to get a new prescription filled at my now local pharmacy.  They asked for over $300 for a 3-month supply!  Even if I only got one month it would be $169. I opted to do without altogether.  I figured my dietary adjustments, no citrus, no mint, no tomatoes no night time eating would be enough to suffice. Continue reading “To Your Poor Health by amina wadud”

Moving In by amina wadud

amina 2014 - cropped

After 52 days of homelessness—or more precisely as I heard it called “sofa surfing”—sleeping between the sofa and air mattress in my children’s homes, not eating their food unless invited, contributing to their upkeep, including cleaning bath tubs and dishes – I finally found a place that fits the basic requirement and income bracket for me, my daughter, her son and her former roommate (plus two cats).  It was promised on the 11th, but up until the 14th nothing even remotely resembling a kitchen was in place.  No appliances, no cabinets, not even a kitchen sink.  But my daughter had already twice extended her lease at her previous address and we were up against a new deadline. 

“We’re okay without a kitchen,” we said, so long as we can move in now.  It was promised on the 11th. I’m not going to fudge on the dates, because almost every day we were told about one thing or another that would take ‘one more’ day.  Two weeks later, I wake for morning prayer and meditation only to find water flooding beneath the refrigerator. And there is still a gaping hole where a dishwasher will one day be.  Continue reading “Moving In by amina wadud”

Slavery and God/dess by amina wadud

amina 2014 - croppedWell the Golden Globe awards have been handed out.  I don’t have a television, so I didn’t actually watch, but a quick google search gives the results.  Highest honors go to a movie about blacks as slaves and whites as criminals.  That’s appropriate. 

But this is feminism and religion, so let me get to the point.  It’s about a chance discussion on social media about the “merciful god” and historical institutions like slavery (holocaust, or oppressions like misogyny, homophobia, Islamaphobia and others…).

My view of the divine, the cosmos and of the world is shaped by my slave ancestry.  Recent area studies about Islam in America estimate that one third of the Africans forced to the Americas were Muslim.   My first African relative on US soil identified as Moor (another term used for “Muslim”).  But Islam did not survive slavery. Continue reading “Slavery and God/dess by amina wadud”

Vipassana 3 by amina wadud

Amina Wadud 2 I am Muslim, by choice, practice and vocationI really learned a lot from my Vipassana experience.  I embraced the challenge to meditate for 10 hours a day and to keep noble silence in between.  These were par for the course.  However, in this last blog, I will bring attention to some of the negative consequences of choosing my Vipassana in India at a small, out of the way place in the state of Rajastan.

You should know I make no bones about my American (of African descent) baby boomer status.  I am a child of the universe.  Yep, the 70’s marked my character and all of my life pursuits from then on.  I still wear blue jeans at 60 and over weight.  I still decorate my hair (in dreadlocks!) People who know me appreciate the hippy-gypsy personality.  I appreciate it.

So let me be honest, I went to find enlightenment in India.  That I also went to find it in Indonesia between 2008 and 2010 or Malaysia in 1989 is no less so than my efforts to find it also in my own America for the days in between traveling the world over.  I want to KNOW the meaning of life and to SEE the purpose of my existence.

Let me also make no bones about this: I hated India; some days actively so. Meanwhile, some days were experiences of sheer awe and wonder in being there.  Thus, most days were a kind of love-hate emotional roller coaster. India was the dirtiest place I have ever been (and that is approximately 55 countries).  Most importantly India has the worst gender dynamics I have ever experienced (and YES, I have been to Saudi Arabia; I’ve been to Afghanistan; I have lived in parts of the Middle East and Africa).  So my conclusions are based on extensive personal experience.

There are also many, many good things about India, hence my love-hate relationship.  In this blog it is my hate of India that feeds into my let down at Vipassana.  What I describe here is NOT an intentional part of the Vipassana experience as organized by its founder and his students.  Mr. Goenka never said anything even subtly misogynistic in our daily lessons—and trust me, I listen as intently as I observe other dimensions of gender inequality.

One of the features of the ten day retreat was gender separation.  No problem. I have lived and traveled extensively in Muslim circles where this is par for the course. Nothing new, nothing exceptional and nothing I could not abide with.  What I could not handle was the ways in which the conditions FOR the women, as separate from the men, also slipped into that under-stated gender disparity with no means to alleviate it.  None of these are gross or abusive, but they had an impact on my experience which is why I mention them.

Our dormitory did not have a hot water heater (and the temperatures were cool to cold, as opposed to hot summers when tepid water is more than comfortable, it is preferred.) The rooms were cold too.   To remedy this problem (supposedly) they gave us access to an empty room in the dormitory across from us that had a hardly-working hot water heater.  By “hardly” I mean of 11 days I bathed there, for only one of them was the water actually hot.  Hot enough that when we hauled it to our own bathrooms we had to add cold water to take a warm ladle-bath. Otherwise, we would haul tepid water daily, because it was slightly better than the cold water that ran from our own taps.  Every day we would line up to “test” if the water was more than tepid.  This meant that we had to communicate to the other women.  By far the most frequent occasion for breaking noble silence was in our indications about the water temperature in that spare room.

The women’s dining hall could only be accessed by walking off the pavement into the dirt, dog-do and cow dung around over-grown bushes to get to the back of the main building.  Once we arrived at the door, we had to climb stairs with no first step but rather two flat bricks precariously laid out.  Then we came through a door that was sometimes locked from the inside.  We were like beggars seeking permission to do what the men walked up freely to do in the same building through a broad lighted stairway and double doors.  On one occasion a few additional women joined our ranks but no effort was made to add to the number of eating utensils causing the need for someone(me) to walk up to the kitchen door (through the men’s section) and solicit, silently, for additional plates so everyone could eat.

The men entered the meditation hall through an outer room in which they left their shoes.  The women entered from the other side and were told to put our shoes on the porch.  From there, the dogs hauled off the shoes.  My sandals happened to be leather, so they were chewed on and bitten.  In the end, I left them in the trash in India.  I am NOT a shoe person. I wear only flat practical shoes.  I only own a few pair at time, which I keep for years.

Now, here’s the thing.  I’ve worked my entire adult life to distinguish between gender oppressions that are manifest because of patriarchal perspectives and practices and the fundamentals and values or principles of my faith system.  I also note that religions often use the double talk of “piety” to condition women’s acquiescence to their own oppressions.  As the days of Vipassana unfolded, I became more aware of my own anger regarding a life time of working to end gender inequities.  Meanwhile, I was continually bombarded with them at this center.  In the end, I felt that if I let my guard down, by fully buying into the discourse about love, compassion, peace and liberation I would also have to ignore these violations.  I didn’t wish anyone harm, but I was so leery that a request for benevolence would camouflage my need for resilience against gender oppressions that were being condoned under the guise of religious transcendence.

In the end resistance to manifest forms of oppression interfered with my ability to surrender to the demands for benevolence.  A simple sharing of both benevolent and adverse conditions by both women and men could have gone a long way to change what was so inequitable about a practice that demanded equanimity.

amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking  answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives.  Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.

%d bloggers like this: