How is the experience of talking about gender dynamics different in private spaces, between family members & friends, from public spaces in front of acquaintances and community members? Guest blogger Fahmida Azad writes a personal reflection having shared her story at the Curtain Call : The Gender Performance Townhall event.
For most Muslims, the most sacred and intimate of experiences are when one stands in front of God. In complete submission. On our prayer rugs. In that sacred space, men are taught from youth to stand with their legs wide apart (wide enough so that a baby lamb can pass through between them), they are taught to stand with broad shoulders, they are taught to take up as much space as possible. They are taught to use their voices so that their voices are heard. They are taught that leading prayer is their God-given right and standing in front of women is just how it’s done. A little boy is praised by entire communities if he learns to call the adhan- a right that can not be practiced by grown adult women in most Muslim communities. From the time that one is taught how to stand before God, little boys inherently know that they have privileges that their mothers don’t, and they are conditioned to feel and be more important. Is it surprising, then, if these boys grow into men who inherently think they are above the women in their lives?
The threat of engaging in difficult conversations is often rooted in the fear of being judged for our questions, experiences, and most importantly- our identity. The threat is wondering: "If I have these experiences, and these questions - does that take away from the relationship I have with Islam and other Muslims? Does that make me less of a Muslim?". At least it is for me. More often than not, there are those who feel entitled to call out who is or is not Muslim enough. There are also those who dismiss certain experiences because it threatens the idea of a perfect religion being practiced by perfect followers. For instance, instead of addressing the fact that gender based violence is an issue within our community, people may feel defensive and claim that domestic violence is not a Muslim issue, that not all Muslim men are perpetrators of abuse. Not all women (certainly) feel disempowered with gendered rules. That is true. However, ignoring the fact that these problems do exist in our community is truly harmful.
Sharing my personal experiences at the Townhall dialogue was a challenge, but overcoming my mental barriers for talking about this in front of mostly Muslims felt liberating. This was largely due to the fact that everyone listened. There was no back and forth questioning or probing into the story I was sharing. I feel uncomfortable knowing that I am much more confident, vocal and unfiltered speaking about social issues outside of my faith community. This was a step towards getting over that discomfort.
In a strange way, though my mother was not present at the Townhall event, I felt a sense of closeness with her having shared a snippet of our much extended conversation in public. Perhaps a part of that is due to knowing , very personally and intimately, that she does not have access to a supportive faith community willing to address social ills, especially those that affect her.
As a collective community, there is a need to have spaces where we gain knowledge from our leaders. But there is also a need to have a space where we can share personal experiences and stories to address the issues that we live with on a day to day basis. There is a need to have spaces where we feel comfortable embracing a sense of humility to not have all the answers, to not be teachers, to not be above anyone and we simply come together with open hearts to listen to one another.