Exploring American-Muslim Feminism

When media consumers see the negative portrayal of Islam and the violence against women in the news, they most likely won’t associate the words “independent” or “empowered” with Muslim women.  Feminist? Certainly not.

As a society, we know very little about the psychology of American-Muslim women. The way they experience the workplace, the challenges they face as mothers and grandmothers, the complexities of their romantic lives, their spiritual and religious practices; these and so many other aspects of their lives are largely unknown to a wider audience.

Being ignored and poorly understood may explain why so many American-Muslim women today still feel profoundly unhappy about their place in society.

In many societies, especially in the west, women are taught from early childhood that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness and are compelled to follow the male standards of beauty and abstract notions of what is attractive. They partially realize that such pursuit is futile and often humiliating.

I feel liberated to not have to live up to such expectations of what is desirable and what is not. My views are very different from the cruel methods that societies subject women to, in that their worth is always judged by their physical appearance. There are numerous examples of discrimination at the workplace. Women are either accepted or rejected because of their attractiveness and sex appeal.

In this day and age, you are the image that you create and reveal to your peers: a very public testament of faith even if you’re not wearing it for religious purposes. I, like many Muslim women who wear a headscarf in public, are constantly carrying a burden of representation and identity. However, art and representation are a two way street: The eye of the beholder ultimately frames the purpose more than the artist/creator him or herself ever can show.

These analogies infuriated me, but for a long time, I persisted in trying to balance my feminism with my image. Different feminist movements reflect the cultural contexts in which they arise, and Muslim feminists have adapted their own ways of working within an Islamic framework, allowing women to counter gender oppression and expectations.

Margot Badran of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding asserts that  “Islamic feminism, which derives its understanding and mandate from the Qur’an, seeks rights and justice for women, and for men, in the totality of their existence. Islamic feminism is both highly contested and firmly embraced.”

Many Muslim women identify as feminists and are actively fighting for their rights. Within this group, one finds women who interpret this term in a number of different ways, and there are as many debates as one would find within mainstream American feminism.

Individually and collectively, as American-Muslim women, we share stories in love, indigenous rights, racism and many more to tribute to the collective power of storytelling, inspiring and empowering women of all backgrounds to claim ownership of their bodies, desires and dreams.

As these diverse women demonstrate, the term “Muslim feminism,” challenges paradigms and encompasses a wide spectrum of views that not one woman, not even a Muslim woman, can define.

As Muslim women become more integrated in society, I see it as a revival movement. The example of the Prophet was very inclusive and one of the best ways to learn about American-Muslim women is to meet and talk to one. By doing that, it will reveal to you the ways in which multiple forms of identity frame the American-Muslim experience, in some moments reinforcing ethnic boundaries, and at other times, resisting them.

One of the best parts of being an author is I am often touched and encouraged by how readers relate to my work, and how they share so much of themselves with me in return. It can be hard to understand new standards that deviate from the ‘norm,’ which causes people to sometimes become superficial.

There are so many brilliantly talented, beautiful, deeply thoughtful and intelligent American-Muslim women who are shaping our society today and doing everything possible to make it a richer and better place. Get to know that American-Muslim women – get to know ME!

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