Dear Muslim men,
I still remember the day my mother was told her life was in danger. Her right to exist on this earth was suddenly being questioned because she decided she was exhausted. Exhausted for all her sisters, mothers and daughters who are unfortunate enough to have been born with another X chromosome rather than a Y.
What were her demands? Merely a space to pray in the mosque. Despite knowing she was potentially putting herself on the line, she stood her ground to claim what has been snatched from us. This did not happen in a faraway land, but here in the UK, and the heinous crime my mother committed that warranted such a savage response was requesting her God-given rights.
She should have been smart enough to know not to ask for something that may threaten the towering, carefully constructed, religiously disguised pedestal that has cradled the male ego for centuries. The outrageous desire to pray in a mosque that has only welcomed men since its creation represented values far too Islamic for these chauvinists.
We attended a mosque meeting advertised as being ‘open to the public’, and were abusively shouted down as soon as my mother attempted to make a contribution. No one had yet informed us that ‘the public’ does not include females.
Following police involvement, we were begrudgingly afforded a small place to pray, and saw the intimidation tactics become even more pathetic: tutting, head-shaking and sneering comments followed us round every corner. We felt unsafe.
And this isn’t an isolated incident. When certain Muslim Labour councillors were accused of systematically and calculatedly blocking Muslim women from becoming MPs, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised at another result of relentless animosity, the opening of a woman-led mosque in Bradford, either.
There’s no religious illegitimacy here. Making room for Muslim women isn’t un-Islamic. And I haven’t been pushed away from my religion by sexist men in the Muslim community.
Instead, I have drawn closer to my faith. I recognise the irony of the fact that the first university in the world was established by a Muslim woman, yet today many are denied an education. That the Prophet Mohammed fought on horseback alongside a woman, and yet now, many are told to stay in their houses and denied the right to drive. That in Mecca, at God’s house, I walk hand-in-hand with my husband while worshipping, but UK mosques deny me entry. That the majority of the 5,000 annual British converts to Islam are women, because they see the Quran affirming gender equality, and have realised a deeper liberation – even as a culturally asphyxiated brand of so-called Islam run by chauvinists oppresses us.
Quite simply, in being your intellectual, spiritual and social equals, we recognise the immensity of the paradox that some of you continue to propagate. Despite your fervent attempts to use mistranslations and misinterpretations of scripture and tradition to satisfy your desires, we don’t believe you. We do not need strengthening, we need recognition of the different forms our strength comes in.
This is an injustice at one end of the same spectrum that groups like Isis operate on. And for those of you who do not actively enforce this injustice, by remaining complicit in the shackling of even one woman, you are shackling all of us. How can a society progress if half of it is chained?
We’re desperate to pull back the paralysing grip of the lethal combination of male ego and cultural deadweight, to untangle this mess and to live how our faith truly tells us to live, relieved of our exhaustion.
Ultimately, we need you to help us reclaim Islam.
Until all of society learns to respect the half of society that bears and births them, humans will remain crippled, our social ills cannot be healed. We are hurting. Exhausted. But I have hope.
Because, as Al Ghosaibi says, ‘when a wound is tired of crying, it starts to sing’.