A Place for Women in Islam: With the Men or By Ourselves by Ayesha Ali

***Note:  Sister Ayesha was recently a guest on my show October 3rd, you can listen to our discussion in the archive***

Originally posted here

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

To abandon all that he has fashioned,
And hold in the palm of my hand,
The simple proof that he loves me,
That is the goal of my search.

– Rabi’a Al-Adawiyya (717-801) Female Sufi Mystic Born in Iraq; Ninety-Nine Names of Love: Expressions of the Heart, edited by Priya Hemenway

I believe that Allah is Most Gracious and Most Merciful. I believe that when Allah say’s in the Quran that “oppression is worse than slaughter” that it is not a conditional statement. I believe that Allah speaks to my heart and loves me. I believe that Allah loves me. I believe that Allah loves me.

Allah does not want 50% of his believers in basements, beside bathrooms, behind walls, in balconies, in separate buildings, or praying in hallways. Allah does not support apartheid whether it is based on race like the Jim Crow laws of southern states in America and South Africa, or on sex as in most masjids I’ve been to, prayed at, and supported. To support injustice and mistreatment of women in Islam under the guise that Allah tells us so is no different than white slave masters telling their slaves that like Joseph (Yusef), they should be good and faithful slaves and they will get their reward by and by.

I am not angry at Islam, I am not angry with Muslims though I am sad that I actively supported my own oppression and spent many years sitting in basements and behind walls while telling myself that women are “honored” in Islam. I want to pray with Muslims, I want to be able to see the prayer leader, I want to bring my whole self, my whole mind unencumbered by fear of hearing “I seek refuge…” when I speak my mind and heart.

This longing in my heart is not only about treatment in prayer halls, but the treatment of women in masjids is a startling example of the diminution of our voices and the discounting of our equality of spirit and mind that like white supremacy is so pervasive that for many women the ability to question it is limited by our lack of both language and a structure to address injustice. I have watched women fall into depression, including myself, and watched sisters focus their frustration in unfocused anger against their own sisters for lack of a language to express the deep alienation they feel with their communities.

Meanwhile, we stand mute as we watch brothers marry and abandon wife after wife. We are often aware of abuse of women and children through neglect, abandonment and sometimes physical abuse. We stand mute as we allow racism and classism to run rampant and allow our children to be devoured by these evils. Too often women even lead the fight against “uppity sisters.”

Meanwhile, we cover our physical and spiritual scars with wan smiles and Alhumdullilah’s, and no one seems to care as long as we keep “birthing babies,” wearing scarves and jilbabs, and serving food.

It is only when we change our dress, as in my case, or choose not to ever wear the scarf that causes people to ask “What’s wrong with you?” I am an African-American Muslim woman. I now join the phalanxes of black women who are given tribute in Maya Angelou’s poem, “Still I Rise,” and while the particulars of the poem speak to my history, the universal message of the poem speaks to all women and certainly Muslim women.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

I am a woman, I am a person, I am a creation of Allah and I reject the notion that I can only be Muslim if I am willing to give up my dignity and my voice. Allah gave a message to Prophet Muhammad that called all women and all human beings to rise! Rise!

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