When you’ve been unmosqued for a while and hang out in online spaces where you get introduced to amazing work by women scholars, you wonder,
“why have I never encountered this in the mosque or the MSA?”
Then you learn about the pervasive social phenomenon of #allmalepanels that infects most societies and fields through trailblazing Muslim women calling it out in our communities. How have you not seen this before? It’s so pervasive you’ve been trained not to notice. Once you’ve seen it though, you realize how profound a barrier this is to having a holistic approach to faith in the Muslim community. So you train yourself to notice and call it out.
You find your fairly liberal local mosque has this issue too so you complain when you see their annual Ramadan fundraiser having an #allmalepanel, while knowing the amount of behind-the-scenes work women put into these events. A friend puts you in touch with the mosque director who is genuinely concerned about the oversight and assures you they’d like to fix it. A good chunk of the mosque board is women and a woman organizes its religious programming so you think,
“Yes, this won’t be hard to fix!”
You learn the mosque needs help finding and connecting with women speakers because it’s short-staffed so you volunteer and provide them with a short-list of relevant speakers based on this excellent resource by Zahra Billoo.
Then they don’t know if there’s room in the schedule for outside speakers because a new imam has taken over the reins recently and new programming will be developed. So you wait.
A few months later you see an ad for an event with outside speakers so you ping them and remind them that this event would have been the perfect opportunity to invite one of the women speakers from the list you’d supplied. So then you’re told they’re looking for speakers with a traditional seminary background rather than a Western academic background. You point out that the list you sent included some folks with a seminary background but also request a list of qualifications needed so you can find more. It’s the holidays so you’re told you’ll hear back later. Again, you wait.
Four months later and you haven’t heard back. Then you see an ad for an event at the same mosque with an outside speaker with a Western academic background (and yes some seminary training which many women academics also have). Guess what? He’s a man.
So what are you supposed to think?
You’re upset but give it another shot in the interests of the community and remosqueing yourself. You ping them and learn that they’ve finally picked a couple of scholars from the list and now need help fundraising to bring scholars to the mosque for events and that the funding can be restricted to just women scholars.
In the meantime, they’ve helpfully organized a sisters only event with a male speaker which upsets you further and makes you want to stop playing nice.
You decide to be bold and message them offering to fundraise if they’ll announce a specific affirmative action initiative with measurable targets and suggesting they let you either find a woman speaker for their annual Ramadan fundraiser which has an #allmalepanel (notice it’s been a year since the issue was first raised) or let you speak at the fundraiser about why we need to stop #allmalepanels.
You also lose your levelheadedness a little and decide to publicly post some criticism about the sisters only event which, to your delight, gets lots of support.
Oops! Achievement unlocked: you’ve now successfully scared them away from working with you. They’re promising to bring women speakers but don’t need you to fundraise anymore. The Ramadan fundraiser getting women speakers is a no go though because it’s apparently organized and emceed by a woman so no need to have a speaker.
Somehow you don’t believe you’ll see progress. You feel guilty for doubting a fellow Muslim’s word. You also acknowledge that in the past year, other groups have hosted an event or two at this mosque with women speakers, and a class is offered by the mosque featuring a male and a female teacher. Finally, it seems a talk on gender and Islam will be given by a female scholar in the future. Yet you still don’t believe in progress happening. Why? You realize from your interactions with the mosque that they don’t actually get why you want women speakers at events. Namira Islam speaking about combating racism in mosques puts it well: “You treat ethnic and racial diversity as an extracurricular instead of core curriculum.” The same applies to combating sexism.
[tweetthis]They don’t get that it’s important to have women speak on a range of topics apart from “gender issues”.[/tweetthis] They don’t get that correcting the fact that only ~2% of the 200+ archived lectures on their YouTube channel are by women needs to be a priority. They don’t get that having a woman chair an event with an #allmalepanel is tokenism…not fixing the problem. You helpfully send them this brilliant tweet to explain why:
They don’t get that it hurts to walk into a mosque knowing that they don’t understand why having women scholars in positions of authority is important. They also don’t get how many people feel this way but are too shy to speak up. They don’t get that it hurts to feel you can’t speak passionately about this or offer public criticism or bold fixes because you might be seen as a troublemaker and booted out of volunteering to help fix this.
Just at the right time, you stumble across this by fellow feminist Juliane Hammer:
“I go back and forth in my inner debate about meeting “the community” where it is (and working from there to be effective in our activism and involvement with that community) and insisting on much more radical commitments”
It gets you thinking if the sort of affirmative action you’ve been advocating is even enough since the mosque only invites a few outside speakers a year for lectures, the rest are by the imam. So even if a few women speakers are invited, there will always be more lectures by men. Are more radical changes needed to have any semblance of a holistic Islam that adequately takes into account women’s experiences? Like having a resident female scholar in addition to the imam? You know some mosques are doing this already but you know this will not happen anytime soon in your mosque where it seems like an uphill battle to get even get a few women speakers onto authoritative platforms.
So…you decide to stop trying to remosque yourself because what you’re looking for not only requires an immense amount of emotional labor on your part, you’ve already been barred from the process by showing the emotional toll this effort takes by speaking out publicly and proposing bold solutions.
You sincerely hope that what you were promised by the mosque will happen and you’ll be remosqued one day. Meanwhile, you’ll put your energy into third spaces where you can participate fully and be bold, radical and cause some FITNA. InshAllah.
Zahra Khan is an aerospace engineer and Muslim feminist living in Cambridge, MA in the US. She recently started the group Feminist Islamic Troublemakers of North America (https://www.facebook.com/groups/herecomesthefitna/).
Photo Credit: The Women’s Mosque of America