Islam, Feminism & Identity Politics: A Crisis of Selfhood
Updated: May 21, 2019
The following is a transcript of a talk delivered at George Mason University on March 27, 2019.
We’re here to talk about feminism, however, we cannot effectively talk about feminism and whether or not it is compatible with Islam without first and foremost recognizing that feminism is but an offshoot of the bigger challenge facing Muslims. That is, secular liberalism.
One cannot effectively discuss feminism and the question of its compatibility with Islam without first recognizing that feminism is a component of the bigger, more pernicious challenge facing Muslims: secular liberalism.
Most second generation Muslim Americans of immigrant descent are experiencing a crisis of selfhood (due to multiple factors, namely the systematic deployment of liberal philosophy over the last 2-3 generations), which is inextricably tied to feminism, it’s history, it’s goals, and it’s trajectory.They are adopting identity politics as they move evermore quickly toward the far left, and as this type of politics offers them relief from the cognitive dissonance caused by “Islamophobia,” the price for adopting identity politics is a reformation of their religion, and thus, their salvation.
We cannot talk about feminism without talking about the greater political agenda to which it is tied: the pursuit of ultimate freedom and individualism. For this reason, I will spend time painting a picture of how we got here.
Transcript of Talk:
Is it issues of misogyny in their lives?
Is it brothers who are frustrated with Muslim sisters?
Is it sisters who have no idea where they stand on the issue?
Why are we here?
So, I want you to kind of ask yourself that question on a personal level, but, then as a
community, I want us to think about why this issue of feminism has become such a controversial and important topic.
Because it is.
It's being spoken about and debated all across universities and campuses.
So, if we take a look at some of the Pew polls that have come out recently and if we take a look at some of the studies conducted by the Yaqeen Institute, we see that there is something very jarring happening in our community, especially among second generation Muslim Americans.
In 2007, a Pew poll - uh, they published an article - it was entitled, "US Muslims Concerned about Their Place in Society, but Continue to Believe in the American Dream."
And, the article includes statistics from polls taken by Muslim Americans and I'm going to be sharing some of that data later on in this talk.
But, in the same year the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research also published a study about the impacts of Islamophobia on Muslim Americans.
The study was conducted with 30 American Muslims 19 of them were girls, 11 were boys 15 of the girls reported wearing hijab regularly and all participants were native born citizens. 24 of them were children of immigrants. The ages of the interviews ranged from 16 to 20 and all of them live in the United States.
Of the 30 participants, 21 either attended or are currently attending public or private schools that did not identify as Islamic schools.
And, 26 of these 30 participants describe themselves as regular *Mosque* goers.
So, I just wanted to give you some of that information so you know who we're talking about here.
This graph here on the right depicts the results of one of the questions that the Yaqeen Institute asked these participants, which is "What makes today's second generation Muslim Americans doubt Islam?"
And, it came down to three categories. And, one of them - as you may have already predicted – encompasses the issue of feminism itself.
And so, the three categories were:
· Morality and Social Norms
· Philosophical and Scientific Concerns
· Personal Trauma.
But, why am I sharing this?
If we're going to talk about feminism, and its relationship to Islam, we can't do so without first recognizing that feminism is an offshoot of the bigger challenge facing Muslims.
In other words, reason for being here today is not an isolated matter. Whatever your personal reasons are for questioning this topic, it's not an accident that you're grappling with this issue.
Because it's not merely feminism or women's rights issues which we're concerned with.
Rather, we're here because a series of events have transpired over time and space which have led to our current conditions. And our current doubts, our concerns, and our questions about the state of women- and men - in Islam.
So, by asking you what brings you here today, what I'm asking you to do is to
reflect on the conditions of second generation Muslim Americans - and I identify as one such person.
These findings, both from Pew and Yaqeen, are pointing to the current state of affairs among US-born Muslims particularly those of us of immigrant descent. And, since 2007, Pew polls have proven that American Muslims have steadily been shifting to the far left politically.
I would argue and agree actually with Muslims today who argue that it is due to our reactionary behavior to the socio-political events that have transpired over the last two decades.
The antagonism that we have been facing from the alt-right and the foreign and domestic policies instituted by the Bush administration in the early 2000s, has caused Muslims to take a reactionary approach.
Indeed, one that I believe is rooted in emotion rather than on principled, well-thought out plans for ourselves and our community. And, now, of course with Trump in office, it's become increasingly obvious why Muslims are leaning into the left.
There is this false dichotomy that we are either republicans or democrats. And, the tangible costs of swaying too far to the left are now plain to see. We're going to talk about that today.
I also think the Yaqeen study suggests something equally important when we're trying to determine the causes for our acceleration to the far left.
Faith itself is under attack.
And that's what this graphic shows. I know it's a little bit hard to see, but there is an entire section over here dedicated to philosophical doubts, and they're connected to the other two categories as well.
So, essentially what I want you to do is to understand is that there is undoubtedly a relationship between doubts in Islam, feminism, and our population's alliance with the far left.
Those three things are inextricably connected. This relationship that I just mentioned is also intertwined with secular liberal philosophy, which finds its roots in the Enlightenment's ideas.
During the Enlightenment, there was more emphasis on scientific methods, secularization of learning individual liberty, reason, progress and the separation of church and state.
And, we see how these concepts of reason and individualism and skepticism
are very much a part of feminism itself because feminism is very much part and parcel of secular liberalism.
Let's go ahead and define feminism.
I find when I'm having these conversations with fellow Muslims is we have competing definitions of what feminism actually is.
The truth is, it doesn't matter which definition you're subscribing to all versions of feminism boil down to two things.
The first one is there's this patriarchy of the bad guys, the men. And, this patriarchy thesis claims that there's a social structure that's designed and perpetuated by men since the beginning of time to subjugate and oppress women.
And, there are feminists who even with the Muslim community who would even go so far to say that God Himself is a part of this design.
The second important thing to recognize about the definition of feminism again, irrespective of which definition you subscribe to is that feminism is designed to be a countermovement to the patriarchy.
And, that, feminism itself therefore cannot exist without the patriarchy thesis.
So, if you identify as a feminist or you subscribe to its tenets, you necessarily believe in this concept of a patriarchy that has existed since the beginning of time that is designed to subjugate and oppress women.
Within the Muslim community, we can break this up into three categories or three camps.
The first one, I call the "De-Muslimized Muslims." And these are the ones who say Islam needs feminism because Islam is patriarchal and misogynistic. And oftentimes these are the ex-Muslims in our community.
(For those of you who don't know much about my background, I was a part of this for a very long time. I was an atheist for about ten years. And, I struggled with these questions very much. And, I was a part of this camp over here. That saw not just Islam, but all religion as patriarchal.)
The second camp we'll call them the "Reformist Muslims" and these are the folks who say Islam needs feminism not because Islam itself is wrong, but because it has been interpreted mainly by male scholars.
And, at best, this has caused a male skew and, at worst, it has made Islam anti-woman. And if we want to think of specifics we can think about Musawahand then there's also Sisters in Islamthat also is a part of this camp.
The third camp are the "Ambivalent Muslims."
And, these are oftentimes the college students that I run into at these kinds of talks where they're somewhere between here and here the second and the third groups.
The third camp says that Islam does not need feminism. Islam is perfect. However, because of how Muslims conduct themselves, and because we share the same causes as feminists, Muslims, and not Islam, need feminism.
But, there's a problem with all three of these.
There's a serious lapse in logic with all three camps and their thinking. And, this comes from the rhetorical fallacy that false premises can lead to true conclusions.
So, in other words, just because we would agree with feminists that women deserve certain rights that doesn't necessarily mean that therefore we are also feminists and that we subscribe to everything that they believe in.
But, we're doing this. This is happening constantly.
The other rhetorical fallacy, which we, as Muslims, get so irritated about is the cherry picking that happens especially on the news. We have people like Robert Spencer and Brigette Gabriel
who vehemently argue that Islam is evil and they're infamous for cherry-picking verses from
the Quran and hadith to suit their own claims.
So, when we do this, when we start pulling apart certain verses out of context and not looking at Islam holistically you're going to necessarily lead to inaccurate thinking and false conclusions.
But, we know about these guys. Right, we're not worried about them because we know that they're kind of on the lunatic end.
The people that are actually more concerning to me who do this are Muslims. Muslims themselves are doing this. Second generation Muslims are doing this.
Let's talk about how.
We, many of us, second generation Muslims have not effectively learned the Islamic tradition in a holistic fashion. For a variety of reasons, which I'll talk about a little bit later on.
But, as a result of not knowing the Quran and not studying the hadith, we fall prey to the same rhetorical error. We cherry-pick verses from the Quran; we question those verses out of context, and we begin the slippery slope toward doubt and sometimes even towards apostasy.
And I don't know about you, but this was definitely true for me. I unfortunately went down that path for a decade. Alhamdulilah, there was a way back, but for many Muslims, unfortunately it just continues from then on and they never find their way back.
So, this is basically leading to a crisis of faith. If we're going to talk about feminism, we have to talk about a crisis of faith.
They are very inextricably connected to one another. And, it also is indicative of the diseases of the heart, which Ibn Taymiyyah wrote about.
So, let's talk about the phrase "Islamic Feminism" and the phrase "Muslim Feminist."
We're finding ourselves now fighting for our rights as women vis-a-vis feminist ideology instead of through Islam itself. And, the first misconception we should note, as sister Zara Faris has painstakingly demonstrated in her work, is that just because some individuals and groups today choose to call themselves "Muslims feminists," this isn't proof that Islam and feminism are compatible. You can link two words together. It doesn't mean it's a thing.
As we will see in a few minutes, what's ironic is that many of these feminists affirm, through their work, that Islam and feminism are not compatible unless Islam changes to align with feminist ideas. And, the way that we've gotten to this point where we seem to believe that Islam and/or Muslims need feminism, I think is rooted in those, uh, misconceptions.
So, the first misconception is male bias; that Islam is itself male-biased. Let's explore that for a second.
Well, firstly Islam doesn't claim to be an equality catch-all. It's actually a very sophisticated system of checks and balances that ensures justice for every person irrespective of their gender. The Quran recognizes no two people, regardless of their gender, are given the some provisions, blessings, and tests. And, in the same way we are given a different experience in the hereafter.
People are treated [fairness] with and promised justice.
But, on the other hand, feminism, in its superficial, materialistic thinking, it dehumanizes women by assessing their worth in materialistic terms.
Sister Zara Faris writes that, "One of the primary claims of feminists who engage in the interpretation of Islamic texts is that male voices have drowned out the will of God." According to such feminists, "Islamic scholarship has been a male-dominated or patriarchal enterprise that has deliberately or incidentally subordinated and deprived women of their due rights."
One contemporary academic even says: "When Muslim women stand before the Quran to hear the divine discourse they also hear the voices of male interpreters. And that to hear the Quran without the mediation of men some Muslim feminists choose to suppress the male voices in order to recover what they perceive to be an originally liberating and egalitarian divine message."
Well, that's a problem, because how do you go about muting that male voice in the Quran?
How exactly would we do that? If we're arguing that the Quran is just littered with the male voice and no female voice. And then in doing so, what would that result look like?
[Sr. Zara Faris further explains]: "The Quran does not speak of its own accord when it is not read or recited. If male voices are themselves biased, why would we think then that female voices wouldn't be biased?" So, what would the difference there be? "Are female voices or interpretations considered by such feminists to be superior to men's?"
And, therefore, does that mean there is something different in terms of intellectual endeavor based on gender? If it is argued that male readings remain incomplete due to the absence of a female reading of the Quran are female readings similarly not going to be incomplete?
The other problem is that we fail to recognize according to the Quran women have countless rights over men. And I'm not going to do the cherry-picking thing that we constantly are accusing our antagonizers of doing, but, if we understand our deen in a holistic fashion, it is a very sophisticated system of checks and balances that gives a woman rights over her husband
the least of which not being his time, his money, and even his body.
The other misconception in this thinking is the one about the patriarchy.
Here is a very interesting article from the Yaqeen Institute and I encourage you to look this up if you want to explore this concept a little bit more. It goes through the five major verses in the Quran that oftentimes people pull out and say, "Look! This is misogynistic. This is sexist." And it breaks it down in order to help us understand why that is not the case.
But, as far as the patriarchy thesis goes - the idea that a patriarchy exists - it relies on what's called "identity politics." And I am going to talk about that a little bit later on. For now, just keep in the backs of your minds the patriarchy thesis cannot exist without the idea that there is some common enemy out there.
It also rejects the lineage of the prophets sent down by God. Were these men sent down by our Creator to oppress us and to harm us? Would that not necessarily mean that our Creator is also oppressive and put us on this earth in order to make us suffer?
The patriarchy thesis undermines Islamic theology itself. If the patriarchy is defined as this deeply entrenched conspiratorial force that is inflicting injustice and suffering on women since the beginning of time, why is there no word for this force in Arabic? More importantly, why isn't it addressed in the Quran and by the Prophet (SAW)?
Instances of injustice against women are addressed and rectified by Islam, and yet, the notion of an all-powerful men's club that exists to conflict with - rather than to be in harmony with - women, does not.
Finally, when feminism uses "intersectionality" as a theory, as an ideology to diagnose social ills, it fails to recognize the sophisticated interconnectedness and checks and balances that is afforded to us by the shariah.
What about this question?: “Do Muslim women need feminism in order to ensure justice?”
So, the sisters who say Islam itself is perfect Muslims are the problem therefore, we need to pull together with our feminist counterparts and work with them to bring justice.
Well, we have long since recognized the West's narrative about Muslim women needing saving.
This is colonial. And, what's unfortunate is that now we seem to have taken on the baton, or the mic, and we, as Muslim women, are saying, “We are oppressed. We need your theories. We need your help.”
As Muslims, our divine revelation solved this injustice for us 1400 years ago. If we're suffering and struggling with it today, it's not because we are lacking in solutions. It's due to our not holding one another accountable under Islamic jurisdiction for the rights ordained to us by our Creator.
And, it's our lack of knowledge and our distance from our deen that is causing this lack of accountability within our community.
And then, of course, the big question... “Are Islam and feminism compatible?”
Feminist groups like Sisters in Islam and Musawah openly advocate the cherry-picking of the prophetic tradition (the hadith), keeping what they like and discarding what they don't like.
In one of Musawah's publications, Ayesha Chaudhry justifies rejecting the hadith that they do not like and she openly says: "The Prophet was a patriarchal man who belonged and was comfortable in 7th century Arabia."
She also asks readers to take advantage of the pliable nature of the hadith.
So, automatically, by making that argument are you not saying that Islam and feminism are incompatible if you're asking us to refine, reform, and change the prophetic tradition?
Amina Wadud who, I'm sure many of you know, is a founding member of Sisters in Islam, and she has publicly said that, "Personally, I've come to places where how the Quranic text says what it says is just plain inadequate or unacceptable, however much interpretation is enacted upon it. There is the possibility of refuting the text, of talking back, of even saying, 'no'."
She went so far not too long ago as to call the prophet Ibrahim (AS) a "deadbeat dad."
And then there is Kecia Ali, an American scholar of Islam and a feminist, who says that contemporary believers - you and I- are permitted to adopt hadith when it agrees with contemporary Western ethics, but to reject it when it contradicts Western ethics.
So, by constantly demanding that Islam needs to change and to reform and to adapt to secular liberal theories, such as feminism, aren't these feminists openly admitting the incompatibility between Islam and feminism?
But, what exactly do self-identifying Muslim feminists and their allies want Islam to change into?
Folks like Asma Barlas and Ziba Mir-Husseini explain that what they have been trying to do
is to reconcile Islam with modernist conceptions of justice, feminist theories, western conceptions of human rights, and contemporary western ethics.
So, what does that mean?
They're openly admitting that they're not acting as Muslim interpreters of the text but rather, as secular liberal academic interpolators asking us to reject the Quran and hadith and instead to adapt to secular liberal ideology.
Sister Zara Faris explains that, "rather than reviving classical Islamic understanding and inspiring creative liberators in the Muslim world we see such feminists unfortunately trying to strip away the Islamic mechanics and safeguards for justice. Rather than helping Muslims come out of their postmodern backwardness, they seem to be trying to complete the colonial project by pushing for the full imitation of western ideologies."
That's not compatibility.
Just to wrap up that question about whether or not Islam and feminism are compatible, I want us to keep in mind that feminism is part of the secular liberal constellation, because it seeks that liberation from traditional structures and hierarchies which it believes are bad per se, such as religion. As an ideology, it [feminism] necessarily is meant to replace religion itself.
They [ideologies] are belief systems that people seek meaning in that have no reference back to revelation and a higher power and in this way, historically, feminism finds its roots in secular liberal ideology.
So, it's no surprise then that today, young Muslims subject the Quran and the hadith to the same kind of imbalanced scrutiny that their antagonizers are doing.
Historically, there have been specific ideologies that in no subtle way have affected the minds of Muslims that have encouraged us to see Islam and its practices as outmoded and backwards, and this continues today, and it's only getting worse.
Whether we realize it or not, we've been conditioned by our secular education and society to subject Islam and religion to this kind of analysis that hinges on secular ideology.
So, what does this mean? It means when we're trying to measure justice, we're using the wrong tools. We're using the wrong frame, the wrong lens.
You cannot understand Islam and the metaphysical from this angle, from the angle of secular liberalism.
But, that's precisely the point. That is exactly what secular liberalism wants. And, that is what it's meant to achieve, in that, it forces you, ultimately, try as you may, your conclusions will constantly come up short and you will constantly see Islam and its practices as barbaric, outmoded, and misogynistic.
So, don't use the wrong framework when you're analyzing Islam.
Let's now take a look at the history of feminism and how we got here.
And, I'm sure many of you know this but the reason I'm doing this is because I've been criticized in other talks for not distinguishing between second and third wave feminism. So, we'll quickly go through that.
The history of feminism cannot be discussed without talking about western civilization's history because this is where feminism finds its origins. And it's important to note that that history has nothing to do with the Islamic world. We've adopted it after the colonial era and certainly after many of us and our families started moving to the West.
Feminism was a reaction to the oppression that women in the West faced. And it finds its roots again in secular liberalism.
During first wave feminism, which happened around the mid-18thcentury, the focus was really on securing the female vote, as I'm sure you know. Here are just some important dates. I won't go through all of them.
And, whether or not you know it, the vast majority of women at this time were actually not advocating for this. It was a small group of women who believed in this cause and who were, whose voices were amplified at the time and were able to make this happen historically.
Second wave feminism, which is really the problem here, occurred in the 1950s and it really kind of trickled in through the 1980s. This where we were looking at issues about the wage gap between men and women, the free love movement was taking place, and it was really about the sexual revolution taking place in America. This is when promiscuity becomes normal.
This is the time when the Supreme Court establishes the right of married couple to use contraception; Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique; the Pill becomes available;
and abortion also becomes legal.
In 1973, the landmark Supreme Court [case], Roe versus Wade, made that possible.
And so, this is where the language of "My body, my choice" comes from. From this movement.
Gender also becomes known as a social construct. And scholars like Judith Butler and others
were really pushing for this notion.
And today, this is a widely accepted notion, but, it has been debunked by scientists, doctors, and biologists on all ends of the spectrum.
Debra Soh is one example of the figures who is out there advocating and trying to get a voice for those scholars and scientists out there who are proving that gender is not a social construct.
The 1960s and second wave feminism was also around the time that we saw motherhood being redefined. And, we were taught that maternal instinct is a myth. There's no such thing as maternal instinct. That, really, you give birth you can leave your kids with anybody it's just about childcare you have to get back to work your career is what you should focus on Kids don't need mothers, they just need childcare.
Breastfeeding goes by the wayside around this time and what's interesting is now we're seeing the repercussions of that and there is a movement to go back towards breastfeeding.
There are those who argue that the real reason for second wave feminism was to have more taxable citizens out in the work force.
If women are encouraged to stay away from motherhood and marriage, and instead to work then we've got more folks out in the work force working for the productivity of America and for capitalism.
And, it also means that children could be more influenced by the state. They could enter schools at a much younger age.
Now we have "Universal Preschool" (UPK). And they could be indoctrinated much earlier on. So, it's not you raising your children. It's the state raising your children. It's society raising your children.
By the time we get to third wave feminism, which happens in the 1990s, critical theory has already infiltrated much of the language around feminism and we see this notion of intersectionality rearing its head.
Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term, back in 1989, says: “Intersectionality is the idea that women experience layers of oppression caused for example by gender, race and class.”
What's remarkable about this is the Quran recognizes this not only as a diagnostic for society but as a way to mitigate the effects of the inequality that can sometimes occur due to this kind of intersectional identity.
But of course feminism rejects that and doesn't see the solution that the shariah offers us.
Third wave feminists also were concerned with the sexual liberation movement continuing. They supported the idea that women should embrace their sexuality as a way to take back their power.
Rashida Tlaib, not too long ago, actually advocated for - or encouraged Muslim women not to sleep with their husbands as a way to sort of send a message a feminist message.
So, we're adopting this kind of language and these notions as well.
This is also the time that the LGBTQ- and transgender-positive movements were also beginning to take shape.
And, it was an interesting time, I remember this, because we started to develop an obsession with words and semantics.
"Taking back" certain words, like "slut" and "whore". The Vagina Monologues - I don't know if
those are still taking place on campus, but when I was in college they took place every fall.
By the time we are here, we're really obsessed with the idea of a patriarchy.
If first wave feminism was concerned with voting rights and second wave feminism was concerned with the wage gap and the free love movement, the sexual revolution, then third wave feminism was really concerned with tearing down the so-called patriarchy.
How many of you knew that we're in the fourth wave of feminism right now?
No one knew that?
Yeah. I was surprised, too. But, apparently we are.
And, this has been going on since the mid-2000s, around 2008.
And, the obsession with this wave of feminism is about the legitimization and the legalization of same-sex marriage. It's all about the question of sexuality.
In June of 2015, the US Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage. And it was legalized in all 50 states. But, the first US state to legalize [same-sex] marriage was Vermont in 2000, and here in Virginia, it's been legal since 2014.
According to the University of Essex Feminist Society, fourth wave feminism is concerned with queer theory, sex-positivity, trans-positivity, anti-misandry, body-positivity, and, it's being digitally-driven. That means social media.
So, you don't necessarily need the same kinds of publications that we've needed in the previous three waves of feminism. We are actually driving this force ourselves.
One of the ironies of fourth wave feminist thinking is that they advocate for the rejection of identity labels. So, don't label me. I'm an individual. Judge me on my own accord. But, yet, they make claims to certain rights by identifying with certain identity labels. So, how does that work?
So, now let's consider our experience as Muslims in America. What does all this have to do with us? This American history?
In our postsecondary careers, where you are now as college students, we're finding ourselves grappling with what we're being taught by our university and college professors.
Postmodernism, skepticism, rationalism, feminism – all these “-isms” are working together to tear down the foundations of belief.
We cannot write about religion from the point of view of a believer. If you want to study Islamic Studies in the universities, you have to write from an academic perspective. Not from the perspective of a believer.
And I've seen this happen repeatedly with my friends who go on to achieve their master's and their PhDs, where they're inculcated with these kinds of ideologies and slowly, but surely, they're speaking the language, they're walking the walk, they're talking the talk of these academic scholars - many of them like the feminists that I've already discussed - and they've completely lost touch with the holistic nature of the Quran and the hadith.
So, there's no question that secularism and atheism rule the universities with very few exceptions.
Some of us are not only battling this question of feminism, but we're literally doubting our faith. Our deen.
You're not going to be able to get around your cognitive dissonance so long as your studies and your exploration, your investigation of Islam, is measured using the yardstick of secular ideology. It's just not going to happen, because it's designed specifically to make you see Islam as backwards.
You're weighing Islam by the wrong measuring tool and it's coming up short every single time.
So, here we are now:
· As of April 2018, the Muslim American population is much younger than the US adult population overall.
· 42% of American Muslims are US-born Muslims. US-born Muslims are more likely to express negative feelings about life in America.
· They're also more likely to say media coverage of Muslims is unfair. But in comparison to whom? Not in comparison to non-Muslims. But in comparison to immigrant-born Muslims – our parents, our grandparents, our aunts, our uncles.
· When asked about anti-Muslim discrimination, US-born Muslims are more likely than immigrant Muslims to say that there's a lot of it in America, as well as to say they personally have experienced it in one or more forms.
But, that's not really the problem. The problem is that we are more likely to see that discrimination as being a part of the discrimination against Blacks, Hispanics, gays and lesbians.
Many US Muslims say that for them personally, being Muslim is about more than core religious beliefs.
This is really important. 70% say that working for justice and equality in society is an essential part of their Muslim identity.
It sounds nice, right? But, what does it actually mean? What are they doing?
They're forfeiting Islam for secular ideologies like feminism social justice, intersectionality, all these other “-isms” that we're taught in school, and we're using those as weapons or tools against oppression and injustice.
Which, by the way, is the same path that Christians and Jews in America went down. Way before we're going through it.
And, slowly but surely, that replaced their religion. So those are the implications of that statistic.
Today, we take for role models Muslims whose voices have been elevated through the funding of the progressive, militant left. We repeatedly see the same faces. We hear the same sound bites. Until we start adopting them.
"Rewrite the narrative."
"Be unapologetically Muslim."
"The hijab liberates me."
"Islam empowers me."
These are all phrases and words that come from secular liberalism. And we're adopting them not even realizing the history that they're tied to.
And then, we're going around calling ourselves radical feminists.
Do you know what that even means? Do you know what the implications of that are? And the contradiction that exists between that and Islam?
We're saying things like, "I'm a social justice warrior."
"My hijab doesn't define me."
"I am an individual."
Ok, great sounding things, but do you know what you're actually subscribing to when you're saying that?
We've also begun marching, protesting and advocating for things that are inherently anti-Islam and which have very clearly, through divine revelation, been defined for us as either halal or haram, beneficial or harmful.
Here's a sister in a rainbow-colored hijab with a sign that says: "Some Muslims are gay. Get over it."
American Muslims, like the US public as a whole, have become much more accepting of homosexuality in recent years.
In the first Pew research center survey of Muslims back in 2007, far more Muslims said that homosexuality should be discouraged. About 61%. And those who said it should be accepted were about 27%.
By 2011, just a few short years later, Muslims were roughly split, 50/50.
And now, today, in 2019, Muslims say homosexuality should be accepted by society by 52%.
So, since 2017 the numbers have changed very drastically very quickly. And when you compare that to the long history of Islamic civilization, it's very jarring to think about how quickly our mindsets have shifted in such a short period of time.
Let's go back to that Yaqeen study that I mentioned at the beginning.
Sheikh Omar Suleiman argues that “widespread portrayals of Islam as irrational, incompatible with modern civilization and inherently violent are what have put western Muslims in a defensive position.”
And this defensive position is understandable. I can understand why we feel the need to defend ourselves. Let's get into those specifics.
There are at least four forces working against us constantly, that make us feel like we want to go to the far left.
There's the alt-right, which sees Islam and Muslims as fundamentally evil. They've antagonized our community with their renditions of Muslims as terrorists, and you know, Islam as barbaric.
There are neo-conservatives like Daniel Pipes, who argue that Muslims want to infiltrate and undermine Western civilization. These are the "creeping Sharia" fear-mongers.
And, believe it or not, Muslims themselves. Muslim extremists, like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, who claim that Muslims who want to live peacefully in the West are occupying the grey zone of hypocrisy between imaanand pure disbelief, so they give us this false dichotomy. Either you're with us, or you're against us. You're either going to choose true Islam, which is what we're doing and what we stand for, or you're going to leave the fold of Islam.
But, this last group is the group I want to point your attention to, because I'm pretty sure you're familiar with the first three. It's this last group that we are very eagerly allowing ourselves to walk towards. And, therefore, this is the group that I find to be the most pernicious.
It's the progressive left, that has this very warm embrace and that says to us, "We accept all people. We love Muslims. We love Islam. Everybody is welcome."
Why wouldn't we want that? Especially after three groups are aggressively antagonizing us.
Of course we want that, right?
And so, it's very seductive. But here's the thing we're not seeing - is the fine print that comes with joining that group.
The fine print says: “You need to reform your Islam. If you are going to join our club, you need to reform your Islam. There's a few things in your religion that just don't quite sit well with us so let's just, you know, work on those. You can wear your hijab. You can call yourself Muslim, but you need to stand side by side with your LGBTQ brothers and sisters because they're doing it for you. Don't be a hypocrite.”
So, on the one hand, we know how these forces simultaneously push Muslims toward the far left including the left itself but, on the other hand, I wouldn't feel completely honest if I didn't acknowledge the forces inside our community that are also making us feel like we want to go in that direction.
There's no doubt that in many of our sub-communities, Muslims are entangling cultural practices with Islam itself and calling things that are not haram, haram. Calling things that are halal, haram. You know what I'm talking about. The cultural mixing with religion that doesn't make sense.
But we also have to remember that these people are human. They're fallible. Just like all of us.
And they themselves are struggling through diseases of the heart. That doesn't make their behavior commendable or excusable and Islam exists to check them on that. We just have to go back to our scripture and hold them accountable based on what our scripture tells us.
Then, of course, there's also Islamic leadership and Islamic schools that have not been as quick and responsive to these first three categories, and therefore they haven't helped us to develop sort of an armor to shield ourselves from those things.
So, unfortunately, our community has fallen short in supporting second generation Muslims.
So then, it's no surprise that the far left, with all of its inclusive language and its moral relativism and its warm embrace, it appeals to us. We’re like the neglected and abused children who are longing for acceptance and visibility and compassion
There's also an inferiority complex, I think that we're grappling with, mainly those of us who
come from immigrant families, where we're reluctant to embrace and to be confident in our deen.
So, now that brings me to feminism and identity politics.
What I've tried to do up until this point in the talk is to illustrate how multiple factors have led us to embrace feminist ideology. And when sister Kamilah reached out to me to specify what this talk is going to lean into - because it's such a big topic; feminism is such a big topic - I wanted to focus on identity politics. And that's because I believe that what feminism is coming to mean more and more for second generation Muslims is we're banding together based on immutable characteristics, like our gender.
So, what is identity politics? Let's define it first.
It's the tendency of people who share a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social or cultural
identity to form exclusive political alliances rather than engaging in traditional broad-based politics or promoting their particular interests without regard for interests of a larger political groups.
So, in other words, people band together not based on their shared values you know, here's an issue we both agree that this is where we stand on this issue we're not aligning based on that.
Instead, we're aligning based on traits of identity.
You're a girl. I'm a girl. Girl power.
You're a dude. I'm a dude. Guy power.
But, so what? What's wrong with that? Especially when it comes to victimized groups that have long since been subjected to oppression. Why shouldn't they band together? Why shouldn't black folks band together?
Well, there's at least three problems with this when we take it to its extreme, which is exactly what identity politics does.
The first one, I mentioned it at the beginning and I told you I was going to come back to it, is this idea of common enemy identity politics. Social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt says that we are prejudged based on immutable characteristics the groups we're born into
So, if you're white, you're on the evil side of history. If you're black, you're on the oppressed side. If you're a male, you're on the bad side. If you're a female, go to this end. And we're shuffled that way - based on things that we have no control over. Things that we're born into.
Students - you guys - are literally taught to see people as good or bad and this means that there is always going to be grievance. It's an eternal grievance and there can never be peace.
I can't change the fact that I'm Arab. She can't change the fact that she's Black. He can't change the fact that he's a male.
And so, identity politics is not looking for solutions. It's all about diagnosing problems and it thrives on the problem of the "good guy, bad guy" narrative, which is very different from our civil rights leaders.
Martin Luther King did not advocate for identity politics. He described segregation and injustice as forces that are tearing us apart and he appealed to universal principles and our common humanity as ways to heal prejudice and to unite the nation. He appealed to common religious principles, the creed of our founding fathers, and a common language of love to drive out justice. Not only for blacks to band together and to to reject whites inherently because they are white.
The second problem with identity politics which feminism is a branch of is the victimhood culture.
This is a theory that was coined by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning to describe the militant left's domination of college campuses today.
So, the victimhood culture basically says this: You want to make a claim to identity (*and moral righteousness*), you have to make a claim to victimhood. And then if you want to maintain that identity (*and moral righteousness*), you have to outdo other groups based on who is more victimized.
So, it's almost like a contest. It's almost like a game. I'm more of a victim than you are, because look at how many strikes I have against me.
Very strange. That has never happened in history before.
And so, it [feminism] relies on being a victim to gain status by aggressively pursuing those who
have been marginalized as part of the victim class.
Campbell and Manning argue that accusations of microaggressions focus on unintentional slights, unlike the civil rights movement, which focused on concrete injustices. They argue that the purpose of calling attention to microaggressions is less to elevate the status of the offended victim and more so to lower the offender's moral status.
So, what does this mean?
It means that when we are on our college campus - and I don't know if GMU has this, but I know many universities do - they've got posters all over the place encouraging you to anonymously report microaggressions committed by professors, committed by fellow students, committed by whomever.
And that is something that is unprecedented; that anything you say will be used against you.
Not can. It will be used against you.
And so, this is where we are. We're very proud to be victims. And those who are part of the bad guy group - the white dudes - they're just jealous. They're just jealous because they can't make any claims to moral superiority.
As many political commentators and scholars have said, when your victimhood becomes your empowerment, recovery is the enemy. Working on individual change becomes counterproductive even dangerous to your identity.
So in other words, to solve this issue, you will lose your visibility, which you don't want. It’s a catch-22. If you want to continue to claim visibility, as we - many of us Muslims have - hashtag Islamophobia - we need people to continue to victimize us so that we can make claims to victimhood.
The third and last problem that I'll talk about there are many others, but I wanted to just talk about these three, is the fact that identity politics forces us to censor freedom of speech.
Now, freedom of speech should have its limits. But it should always be about respectful and honest dialogue.
If we believe that our ideas are good and true as Muslims, if we believe and have conviction in what the Quran says and we are confident about it, then we have nothing to fear. We shouldn't even be afraid of what the other arguments are. We want to welcome them. We want to have that respectful dialogue.
But, what the militant left does is it shuts down dialogue. You're not even allowed to debate these things. You're automatically name-called. You're automatically identified as the oppressive group. And therefore, you're a racist You're a misogynist. You're a whatever-ist. And there's no discussion about it. We've ended that debate.
Censorship is just a way to avoid debate. It's like, what are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of ideas?
What Jonathan Haidt tries to explain to us is now is that we're in what's called the "Moral Revolution." The three main groups that have visibility are African Americans, women, and the LGBTQ folks.
The other three after that are Latinos, Native Americans, and those with disabilities.
But, since 2014, look who's come up. It's us. Muslims.
But when we came onto the scene, we didn't carve out a space that said: “We're Muslims, we're being attacked, this is what our deen actually says, this is where we are, principled in our positions.” No, what we did was, we came onto the scene became a part of the Moral Revolution and said, “Ok, we'll stand with the LGBTQ movement. We'll stand with the BLM movement. We'll stand with whatever movement is out there that's claiming victimhood.”
But, what's wrong with that? Why is that a problem?
It's a problem, because once again, false premises can lead to true conclusions.
Yes, of course we believe that African Americans have been subjected to some of the worst crimes in humanity and they deserve to fight for their rights. The Black Lives Matter movement started off precisely that way and then was usurped by individuals who are managing to push this in the direction of LGBTQ++. And that necessarily, necessarily, goes against our deen.
We have to say that. We have to acknowledge that. We have to have the moral courage to say:
“I see you as a human being. I see you as somebody who deserves respect and dignity. And who should never be subjected to violence. But, I do not agree that gender is fluid. I do not agree that same-sex marriage should be normalized and should be legalized.”
We have to have that conviction to say that. But, we don't. Why? You fight for me. I fight for you.
And so it's hard to find rallies and marches where Muslims are not standing shoulder to shoulder with people who are advocating for the very things that we ourselves should not be advocating for. So we're negotiating and we're sacrificing our principles in that way.
How is that being authentically Muslim? I thought we were supposed to be authentically Muslim. Unapologetically Muslim.
This sign here, on the left says, “I march for Muslim lives, black lives, women's rights, LGBTQ lives, Latin lives.”
It's so beautiful, right? But, what is your paradigm? What is motivating you? What is guiding you? What's your moral compass to fight for those human beings?
And so, there we are with everybody else getting sucked into their battles - battles that have nothing to do with us and battles that actually undermine the things that we need for our community and for our children and their children.
But, it's ok. Because we got a hug. And that's really what we're after. That's really all that matters, right?