The awesomely brilliant Nahida over at the Fatal Feminist has a wonderful repeating feature where she highlights key female figures from Islamic history. The ones we never hear about.
I’m not exactly sure when it happened — perhaps the political and cultural shift excluding women was so gradual that no one noticed or was even aware to raise the alarm. Perhaps Western Orientalists had a role to play — producing modern works that placed women within the secluded, oppressed and exotic realm of the harem (though ironically, Western scholarship often records the powerful Muslim women of antiquity).
Regardless, it’s the actions and genius of men that are used as examples during Friday sermons. Role models, thought leaders and figures of legend are all men. Bed-time stories, children’s novels, and movies rely on male historical players.
The erasure of women can at times be absolute. Certainly when there is an influential women — a wife of the Prophet, or a modern Egyptian intellectual — their power only extends to a mere percentage of the power and influence held by a contemporary male figure.
Which is why I particularilly love Nahida’s feature. We need to discuss and expose the women of our history. In her most recent edition, she highlights women warriors and reinforces the importance of reclaiming our history, saying:
After the Prophet’s death, with the various wars over political power that followed, men returned to their earlier lifestyles of atrocious patriarchal practices, abandoning the respectful ethics that Islam had instilled in them. How is it, that with so many women contributing to society and arguing viciously with leaders and writing law and fighting beside men in wars, that we have now come to this–silence, seclusion, and violations of our rightful freedoms? Once our beloved Prophet passed, men strayed almost immediately from Islamic lifestyles as they consumed themselves in patriarchy, especially with warfare, and opposed ji’had for women despite the precedent set by the Prophet.
As easy as it is to become discouraged, we need only to look at our own history for inspiration and assurance (or as much of it as we can find what with men erasing and rewriting it) for our revivalism. Our Prophet was a feminist, as were the women who came before us, and feminism is ji’had–our struggle–against corrupted, sexist men and their patriarchal projections on religious texts supposedly in the name of God. This is our personal struggle, and our struggle as a community, to retrieve with argument and education the egalitarian ways in which we were meant to live and the rights we deserve as Muslim women by the word of the Qur’an.
You can read the entire thing here.
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