At the intersection of gender, religion, and race

While Muslims should stand in solidarity against anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, Muslims who are marginalized within the Muslim community should not feel like we need to be silent in the face of injustice in our own communities. On certain issues, we definitely need a united front; however, this union will be weak until we fix the things that divide us from within.
Since 9/11, many Muslim women in the USA are in a similar predicament as what African American and Chicana women found themselves in decades ago during the Black Power and Chicano Power Movements. African American and Chicana women stood along side African American and Chicano men to fight against oppression and injustices against them by the power structure and the people in positions of power. In both movements, women’s issues were relegated to the sidelines; they were only visible in the periphery of decision-making. Both African American women and Chicanas decided that they had to stand up for themselves and call it like they saw it—they were being oppressed and marginalized in mainstream society because of their race and ethnicity and also within their racial group because of gender.

Many African American women and Chicanas encountered great resistance and even violence from men. They were accused of being traitors to their race because of their fight to be valued and respected as women with rights. Sound familiar? Stuck between a rock and a hard place, African American women and Chicanas also found that they were marginalized within the Women’s Rights/Power Movement. White women in the Women’s Movement were not prepared to address the particular issues of concern to African American and Chicanas. And later, Womanism became the preferred term for women of color who considered themselves feminist/womanist. Muslim women, who are able to distinguish between the religion of Islam and what Muslims do, find that feminists try to coerce them into rejecting Islam as the culprit of women’s rights abuses rather than the abusive behavior of some men who profess to adhere to the religion of Islam.

My point is not to give a history lesson. My point is that Muslim women and other marginalized groups within Muslim communities (i.e., Ahmadiyah, African Americans, other non-Arab groups, converts, Shi’a, LGBT, etc.) will have to continue taking unpopular steps to ensure that we fight for justice within our communities and in our country. Just like the American Muslim women who contributed essays to the new book, I Speak for Myself: American Women on being Muslim, we must give voice to our experiences without seeing it as airing dirty laundry, thus adhering to a false idea of loyalty. What kind of victory will it be when we win some civil rights cases on behalf of religious rights in the US but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) Muslims are still not even recognized as Muslims in many of our communities? Or if women are still not even allowed in a few mosques?

Religious rights in the US are just as important as women’s rights in the Muslim community, which are just as important as human rights in all realms of life. So, how is it that some Muslims can fight for our religious rights so fervently but not also be willing to fight for and respect human rights for all? Questioning ourselves, interrogating our motives, examining our hearts, and reviewing our practices within the community are some things we should all engage in. It’s time to clean house. Are you in?
Jameelah X. Medina is a contributor to the new book I Speak For Myself.

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