I believe that the concept of emancipation doesn’t begin and end with gaining freedom from physical bondage. There is another deeper layer to this word; a person is truly emancipated when she can think, believe, speak and act without any influence or constraint. I cling to Islam to shape my emancipation—my liberation from my gender and my transcendence into a state of complete submission to God.
I learned early on that the female form my spirit was born into came equipped with a historical record and a social identity that were not my own. Far too many of the moves and decisions I have made in this body were in line with what society expects of a female but contrary to my personal judgment and desires. From the violence that I have experienced to the politics of gendered identity, I see that submission for me must transcend this body.
The violence that I have endured as a female wasn’t given a voice because it remained muffled in shame. I was too young when I learned what virginity was for it had been taken from me without my understanding or consent. I never had the luxury of offering it in ceremonial display at a time and with a person of my choosing. Over the years, I learned to never stand on the bus or subway for fear of a well-dressed, seemingly dignified man’s unwanted touch. I remember being dragged across the gravely pavement by my hair while my neighbors stood on their porches and stared. I bitterly loathed both these experiences and the role gender had played in permitting them.
While my experiences today are thankfully not as traumatizing as those of the past, I continue to find myself subjected to smaller forms of oppression. When I walk into my community mosque, I resent that I must demonstrate my authenticity as a Muslim—I must not make eye contact with anyone, give proper greetings to the matriarchs, and sprinkle my sentences with the words like Insha’Allah and Mash ‘Allah. I must enter the “sisters only area,” complete with signs reminding me that the rowdy behavior of my children reflects my poor parenting skills. The garments that cover this body are checked to make sure that I am abiding by the strictest rules of modesty. I sit and listen to the Imam over a loud speaker; to be in his presence is to crack the wall of sexual exaggeration that gender segregation has created through programming men and women to believe that we have nothing to offer each other apart from sex. And when I leave, I am resentful. I am angry. I have missed my time with my Creator. I pledge to not return because I do not feel the presence of the Most Merciful within these four walls and their confining rules that single out my gender. I am not emancipated.
As I age, I find that I am increasingly weary of the customs that surround a woman’s external appearance and its modesty and respectability. My physical form conveys one thing while my reasoning and spirit feel another. Until I can reconcile the two, I will not find emancipation in buildings that define women only as wombs, vaginas, and breasts. I will not have the peace of mind that allows a person to wholly submit to God so long as my faith is interpreted by a historical construct that reinforces the value of male. This value has labeled women fitnah—a source of discord and chaos. Men in nearly every major world religion will quickly attribute a personal spiritual shortcoming in from their faiths to women, never questioning that this fitnah is their own doing..
When I seek the presence of God, I look to the golden sun as it sets creating a light no human being can mimic. I watch the wind tickle my daughter’s wispy hair. I see the sparkle of innocent life glisten in my son’s eyes as he looks to the promise of his day. I am reminded of the presence of the Creator of the East and West and a paradise that knows no gender or race. I seek to lie at the feet of my Creator and bask in the glory of the One Who neither not male nor female.
(Photo: Wayne MacPhail)
Katherine Wilson is a gender studies major at Rhode Island College. She is an active advocate against domestic and sexual violence.