i understand that people want to cast ali as an outright islamophobe, but this seems unfair to me. in the fox article (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/04/09/brandeis-university-withdraws-planned-honorary-degree-for-islam-critic-ayaan/), we learn that “Ali was raised in a strict Muslim family, but after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced the faith in her 30s.”
by reducing her to an extremist, an islamophobe, are we discounting her own experiences, and the experiences faced by many other muslim women? i am, admittedly, not muslim, although i am very interested in islam, and not in a cynical kind of way either (except where it comes to women’s rights, and even then, i don’t think it’s fair to relegate legitimate questions about women’s rights to the realm of cynicism or islamophobia). what has been the response of other muslims to ali’s work? to ‘submission’? how do they deny her expositions, or justify them, or explain them, or insist that she’s generalizing or exaggerating? where is their rebuttal? do they deny that these occurrences are common, or do they simply insist that these acts of violence occur due to some misinterpretation of the true spiritual/metaphysical core of islam, and therefore true islam is absolved of all responsibility, as a muslim friend once insinuated to me?
but how can even this be true, when esoteric islam itself lays claim to exclusive knowledge about the “innate” and “symbolic” nature of all things, including the sexes and God’s intentions for their relationship to one another? i do believe that viewing the world symbolically can allow us to sometimes see things more clearly, allowing us to experience the world in an impersonal and yet somehow truer, more beautiful way (and whether you want to call this an experience with the divine is up to you), but it seems to me that reducing people in particular to symbols with innate “divine” qualities has the potential to be more dehumanizing than empowering. if i am merely a symbol, it becomes easier to deny my individuality, easier to treat me like an object, easier to violate my rights. of course in religion and spirituality we are meant to minimize (egotistical) individuality in the first place, to access our “true” selves, but this is not justification for treating people like second-class citizens. some might argue that women are actually put on a pedestal in islam, revered as symbols of beauty and purity. could this not also become a form of dehumanization that could be used to justify violence? this has been my interpretation of how some muslims might justify violence against women- laying claim to the “innate” nature of women, and therefore their role in the world.
how can islam expect that violence against women will not sometimes result from this claim to “innate” qualities? how does it ensure that, in granting its followers access to so much alleged divinely-intuited knowledge and therefore power, these followers will not abuse or misinterpret that power, thinking that it is truly God’s will? is it realistic to expect that it is not incredibly dangerous for someone to genuinely believe he can intuit God’s will? is it realistic to expect that he will be able to humbly execute God’s will, if in the first place he has the audacity to believe he can access it? isn’t this the antithesis of humility? some people might argue that islam’s problem with women is a political one, not a spiritual one. but from where else could this political problem possibly arise?
so again, i ask, what is the general response of muslims to ‘submission’, and to ali’s personal experiences as an oppressed muslim woman? what is their response to the experiences of all oppressed muslim women, even if they do categorize it as a political problem? if muslims do in fact believe ali is critiquing a bastardization of their religion, and she is mistakenly not acknowledging this, then why not say that? why not suggest this while standing by her claims that it is wrong and dangerous to use religion to justify violence against women? why not point out that doing so does, in fact, breed islamophobia, shrouding an otherwise beautiful religion in unnecessary controversy?
i want to emphasize that i am trying to write this in a spirit of respect and genuine curiosity, as my interest in islam is very real, albeit mired in questions for which i can’t find satisfactory answers (see above). if my writing seems frustrated, it is a reflection of the actual frustration i have experienced in trying to reconcile aspects of islam that resonate truth with aspects that don’t. i identify myself as a spiritual person, and it is very tiring/annoying to constantly hear people demean spirituality, when (most of the time) what they’re really trying to do is critique aspects of ‘organized religion,’ as if all organized religion is the same, as if all denominations and all religious/spiritual people have the same values and beliefs, like we’re this homogeneous group of uniformly oblivious people who sit around judging our heathen world, refusing to reflect on the ways we ourselves fall short. it is extremely frustrating to observe any religion living up to any of these stereotypes, reinforcing them. if islam is the religion of peace it claims to be, it seems like there should be more of a public effort from islamic scholars to address widespread claims of systemic gendered violence. to refuse to seriously address the reality of this problem only serves to perpetuate the perception that the religion of islam is oppressive to women, and i believe this perception is deserved so long as it remains ignored or dismissed as islamophobia. as for brandeis university, i say ali is too good for a degree conferred by a bunch of spineless cowards.
edit: i also want to be clear that i’m aware there are many different sects within islam, and i don’t mean to lump them all together. for the purposes of writing this, it seemed easiest to do so, however lazy. i also recognize that not every muslim woman is oppressed, nor is every muslim man an oppressor. what i mostly wanted to address is frustration with what seems like a tendency to dismiss discussions of women’s treatment under islam as islamophobic, especially when islamophobia a very real, pervasive thing, rooted in fear, xenophobia, racism, and general ignorance. a legitimate, warranted discourse about women’s rights does not entail any of those things.