I’m not sure why but I always seem to find myself in difficult positions on social media. It must be the downside of being a bit wishy washy and not holding solidified views in a world of labels and boxes.
The latest drama has been the re-surfacing of a 2010 blog post by Yasmin Mogahed, in which she takes a pop at Dr. Amina Wadud’s decision to lead a mixed Friday prayer in 2005.
I’m no student of knowledge, but I’ve heard Dr. Wadud’s justifications, as well as other scholars who cite the Hadith of Um Waraqah who led the men of her household in prayer, as proof of precedence. Although I believe in many feminist principles, and have the conservative shaykh Al Albaani’s classification of the Hadith as “hasan” (good) as security that this isn’t just an equality-loving woman’s dream come true, I’m still not entirely convinced.
However, despite this, as well as the fact that I personally view Dr. Wadud’s stance on a lot of things as “out there,” I’ve found myself in the odd position of being her cheerleader.
Yasmin Mogahed’s lengthy criticism is based entirely on an assumption of Dr. Wadud’s intentions. Rather than citing any of Dr. Wadud’s research, Yasmin Mogahed used a technique we Muslim women are, unfortunately, all too familiar with: she based her whole argument on a misconception.
For example, when people want to discredit the hijab or niqab (as the political party UKIP are currently doing in the U.K.), they point to the assumed reason behind us wearing it: that we have been forced to wear it by our menfolk, because obvs!
It is not until courageous women, like Sahar al-Faifi, stand up and explain the true intention behind it that people realise why we are covering ourselves.
Similarly, Yasmin ignored Dr. Wadud’s insistence that this was based on 11 years of “research and soul-searching” and, instead, attributed her decision to lead the mixed prayer as wanting to ‘be like a man’ because- obvs!
This is the point where any woman with feminist or, for those who are a bit afraid of the “F” word, progressive ideas rolls their eyes. To simplify any woman’s actions to wanting to “be like a man” is a very common insult. It is used to shut down any woman who seeks to question the current status quo and, frankly, it’s been devastatingly overused. For more on my thoughts regarding the relationship of Muslim women and feminism please read here.
This issue aside, I have enjoyed seeing a sister “make it.” Yasmin Mogahed has faced tremendous hate from all sides and come a long way from her initial YouTube video days. But it does show how far we still have to go when on one of her latest lecture videos, on behalf of the well-respected AlMaghrib Institute, the majority of comments seem to be about her nail varnish. Muslims pride themselves on being somewhat superior to the notion of objectifying women to just their physical appearance. But how does #nailpolishgate differ from the Daily Mail’s preoccupation with U.K. Prime Minister, Theresa May and Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon’s legs?
And this is the reason why her criticism of Dr. Wadud is so poisonous. Why is a sister in the public eye, who is more than aware of the struggle, making the same mistake every other critic makes?
Why use her actions as an excuse to go on an anti-feminist tirade when really this is a fiqhi issue for students of Fiqh to address?
To simplify any woman’s actions to wanting to ‘be like a man’ is a very common insult. It is used to shut down any woman who seeks to question the current status quo and, frankly, it’s been devastatingly overused.
Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, an Egyptian shaykh, was very critical of Dr. Wadud’s decision to lead the prayer. The difference between his criticism and that of Yasmin Mogahed was that he addressed varying dimensions of Dr. Wadud’s reasons rather than a blind, wrongful assumption of them.
Muslim women are JUST finding their seats at the table. We are all painfully aware of how hard it is to get Muslim women on a speakers panel, on a conference line up, on a poster! It is not that long ago our faces were considered too much fitna and that flowers or silhouettes were a more “modest” representation of our identity. But things are changing.
2017 has seen the rise and rise of more Muslim women in every field of public life and the momentum is exciting to watch.
It is interesting to note that Yasmin wrote this years ago. The speed at which it has been shared and re-shared in recent days implicates the fear of many Muslim men and, unfortunately, women who have internalised misogyny, at this shift in the power balance.
The issue becomes even more interesting when you compare the treatment on social media of Dr. Amina Wadud in comparison to Dr. Taj Hargey, the anti-niqab imam, who was interviewed alongside niqab-wearing molecular geneticist, Sahar Al-Faifi this week. This man’s venomous attack on Muslim women who choose to cover their face seems much more troubling than a woman who wants to unite people in prayer. And yet, where is the public outcry against him? Where are the shared and re-shared statuses declaring him an innovator or enemy of Islam?
In order to bolster the notion that Dr. Wadud is untrustworthy, people have started sharing her ill-advised tweet supposedly declaring Prophet Ibrahim as a “deadbeat dad.” I was as shocked as anyone seeing this but, unfortunately, this comes down to two things in my eyes: our “clickbait,” fast information culture and Dr. Wadud’s unwillingness to explain herself properly. It would have been more effective if she had included a link to her research/full blog post on this subject in the tweet. It is unclear why Dr. Wadud has chosen to defend her initial tweet rather than expanding on its meaning.
However it is at points like this where we need to stop and think if the right approach is to tear a woman down without mentioning their true intentions — particularly if we are talking about a student of knowledge.
There are many speakers out there that need to be pulled down as Dr. Wadud has been these past few days, but they won’t be. Speakers who have declared a woman’s need to orgasm as unimportant, shaykhs who have suggested women get aroused by smear tests, speakers who have made light of domestic abuse or those who have wrongfully given rulings on a number of issues. But they won’t be. Because they are students of knowledge? Because they are men? You decide.
But what has saddened me more than anything else is seeing prominent female Muslim women fall out and argue publicly over this issue. During the course of this social media storm Amina Wadud has been incredibly vocal in shutting down anyone who opposes her and, unfortunately, even some tentative allies. Similarly, many Muslim women in the public eye have taken to social media to express their anger at Yasmin Mogahed’s words.
We have so many obstacles to overcome and causing unnecessary bad feeling does not help us at all. The issue here is not whether you agree or disagree with something that took place 12 years ago. Students of knowledge can and should be called out when they slip up, but could we all just take a step back and think about why we seem much more comfortable doing this to a female student of knowledge?
We have so many fights ahead and the battles will seem less daunting if we are united.