Who Defines Liberation?

Liberation has always been a hot topic. Liberation isn’t an ideal, but a journey; it means to break the inevitable chains of societal norms and to rise above whatever causes one pain or hardship. For Muslim women living in Western society, it is particularly hard to decide where to turn when the question of liberation arises. Not because there is some fault with Islam and its teachings regarding women’s rights, but because of its portrayal in the media and by “experts” who fail to consult legitimate scholarly sources in their discussions about Islam. So an audience of young, impressionable Muslim girls begins to find fault with their religion and even question its authenticity.

Questioning Islam is not wrong. The Qur’an says, “(This is) a Scripture that We have revealed unto thee, full of blessing, that they may ponder its revelations, and that people of understanding may reflect” [38:29]. Allah encourages His believers to constantly engage their minds and practice active thought. Nobody can lay claim to perfect faith in Allah and Islam, but ideally a Muslim faced with a problem or a conflict of identity will turn to the religion for answers. The issue, however, arises when Muslim feminists begin to feel that female liberation is a concept separate from Islam. Not only does it lead to a search for solace and solutions outside of religion, but it ultimately alienates one from Islam.

It is frustrating to think this results from others’ insistence on defining liberation for Muslim women. Liberation is not a static ideal; rather, it is specific to every individual. For those of us who wear the headscarf, it is enraging to be told that we can be “saved” from it, that we will feel better if we remove it, that beauty was meant to be beholden.

What the general population doesn’t hear enough of is that the headscarf brings security and comfort to its wearer, and encourages one to prune their intelligence, kindness, and sense of humor. That is our liberation.

It is mind-boggling to be told that abstinence is unhealthy and conducive to insecurity.

What young Muslim women don’t hear enough of is that the choice to conquer desire is empowering, that sex is celebrated within the confines of a loving, committed marriage. That is our liberation.

It is hurtful to be encouraged to shed all signs of a Muslim identity in favor of a more comfortable lifestyle.

What many don’t understand is that it is through the lenses of Islam that we live comfortable lifestyles, shielded by our belief in Allah, comforted by His words, and driven by His pleasure. That is our liberation.

Please don’t define what liberation “should” mean to us. We can define it – and realize it – for ourselves.