The past week has been an emotional roller coaster for me. Nothing in particular has happened in my personal life, but I’m hurting. I’m hurting for my Muslim sisters out there who are brave enough to poke their heads up above the crowd and, as a consequence, get spat in the face.
This in itself is a common hazard for any kind of activism. Women who are now lauded as modern day Boadicea’s, such as the inimitable Angela Davis for example, were vilified at the height of their activism. It comes as no surprise then that Linda Sarsour, following her emotional speech at the Washington Women’s March, has come under fire and become a target for internet trolls. Linda, a Palestinian-American Muslim community activist in a headscarf is pretty much a walking symbol of everything unpopular in the media right now.
Her speech was a historic moment for Muslims, in that it demonstrated how much Muslim women have to contribute to society at large, and completely obliterated the tired, old stereotype of the oppressed hijabi.
I can see why this moment would be a sore point for alt-Right Americans or Zionists. However, it is perplexing to note the amount of criticism and hate Linda has incurred from within the Muslim community. I have seen startling comments on social media who compare Linda’s actions to being as “dangerous as Islamophobes.” The most disheartening reactions, however, have been from Muslim women themselves.
After witnessing their sister in Islam take to the stage and highlight some of the injustices they face day in, day out as women and as Muslims, I have seen fellow Muslim women call her “stupid,” “disgusting,” “jahil” (meaning ignorant), and even condemn her as a bad wife and mother for not staying in her home. This is despite the fact that her children marched alongside her on the day. This kind of reaction screams internalised misogyny and echoes the rhetoric of facets within the Muslim community who do truly want to oppress women.
My question for these women is: What are you doing about the world’s injustices?
How are you ensuring that the world is a better place for the next generation?
Unfortunately, the Muslim women spewing this hate don’t realise that they are manifesting the same kind of subconsciously-competitive claptrap we tolerate from angry FEMEN-types that preach the “my way or the highway” version of “empowerment.”
Another example of a Muslim sister facing a huge amount of hate for her efforts is Scottish Law student, Madinah Javed. Madinah recently took part in an inter-faith event at St. Mary’s Episcopal cathedral in Glasgow where she was invited to do a Qur’an recitation from Surah Maryam (Chapter Mary).
The cathedral and its congregation are accustomed to holding inter-faith events and the decision to recite a part of the Qur’an, that narrates a story so pivotal to both Abrahamic faiths, seemed only natural. The subsequent online backlash from evangelicals has caused a media stir, resulting in the cathedral having to delete its own Facebook page.
Madinah explained that these exact verses have been recited at the cathedral previously on different occasions and that, for this event, she was specifically invited to share the Muslim version of the story of Mary and Jesus. It is strange, therefore, that this particular reading has caused such a furor. The cathedral’s provost, the Very Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth said: “Such readings have happened a number of times in the past in this and in other churches and have led to deepening friendships locally, to greater awareness of the things we hold in common and to dialogue about the ways in which we differ.”
Madinah herself has received an outpouring of support from a number of different avenues including members of the congregation that attended, Christians from across the globe, as well as members of other faiths entirely. One of the attendees wrote to Madinah: “What a fabulous Epiphany mass we had last night….Where else but in St Mary’s would a 20th century choral anthem be followed by a recitation from the Qur’an, which was then followed by a great Lutheran chorale?! You’ve got to love it!”
Another supporter tweeted: “How good it is, how wonderful/ To live together in unity.”
And a woman, of the Jewish faith, also expressed her support for Madinah on Facebook stating that, “when our synagogue does interfaith services with a neighbouring Baptist Church we all give a little. They understand that we don’t believe Jesus is the messiah, but we understand that they do…we respect each other’s difference on a subject and that touches the heart of our beliefs.”
So, if the cathedral requested these verses to be recited, and has done so on many previous occasions, it begs the question as to why this particular event has been met with such controversy? From discussing with Madinah herself, the only difference we can fathom is that, this time, the Muslim reciter was a woman. A woman being unapologetically Muslim in a public space.
It is clear from both of these examples that the image of a strong Muslim woman speaking up is a terrifying spectacle to those who wish to promote hatred and bigotry. If Muslim women can overturn their own stereotype, which is one of the most entrenched in Western minds, this will open up dialogue, understanding, and, most importantly build bridges where Islamophobes do not want them.
It is vital, therefore, that Muslim women become each other’s fiercest cheerleaders and champions in our activism. We need to be smart in our decision to criticise: is this really the right time? Will calling them out actually benefit them right now? As one Muslim woman wrote on a Facebook status: “Attacking Linda Sarsour right at this present moment, is about as clever and enlightened as telling me my fringe shouldn’t show when I am attacked for wearing hijab.”
It is telling that the number of supportive messages Madinah has received from Muslim women is minimal. Linda Sarsour herself wrote in a Facebook post last year that: “There is nothing that breaks my heart more than when we tear each other down. Our daughters and future daughters are watching us.”
If anything, the Women’s marches prove that it is possible to unite women of completely different backgrounds, races, religions, political leanings etc. Now, more than ever, is the time for Muslim women to forego petty differences and revive the practice of sisterhood not just to advise but to support, empower, and uplift each other as well.