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12 Things I Can’t Reconcile About Islam as a Muslim Woman

by in Identity on 31st August, 2022

A response to “12 Things I Can’t Reconcile About Islam as a Muslim Woman” is now available here.

I don’t mean to antagonise, I am strong in my faith and I have the belief that Allah is the all knowing, and that there is wisdom in all that He does. However, I know if these thoughts have crossed my mind, then perhaps they have crossed the minds of many others and I believe it is critical to have a dialogue about these thoughts rather than shunning them away and allowing them to fester. I am grateful for platforms like Amaliah – I’m choosing to publish this piece here as it is not my intention to defame Islam.

There is always a fear that when we seek to answer the difficult questions or spotlight difficult conversations, islamophobes will extrapolate what could be considered useful for their agenda. But, we need to be able to have honest conversations and not bury our thoughts in constant fear of our narratives being hijacked.

For truly I only write this to search for truth, while knowing that I will likely never find the complete truth, for humans are fallible and flawed and will never have the capability to understand Allah and His infinite wisdom and entirety, we can only ever try.

I understand that some of the points I’m addressing will be due to my lack of holistic understanding of Islam, but that others are a function of the patriarchy, have been tainted and are no longer in the truest form of Islam.

I want to put this disclaimer at the centre of my piece.

The intention behind this piece is first and foremost to raise awareness about extremely common questions and conflicts many have within Muslim communities, as opposed to wanting to create a space for reactionary comments, on both sides of the coin.

I’m a practicing Muslim, and I believe in concepts such as Hikmah, Qadr and Shariah. However, the points I’ve listed are simply things that I cannot seem to be at peace with because there isn’t enough material to help me understand and reconcile with outside platforms such as Islamqa and Seekers Hub. That’s the cold, hard truth of it. There aren’t even reliable lectures online by some of our most beloved religious speakers.  

I invite those of knowledge to respond, reason with etiquette and adhaab. Truly, Allah hu Alam.

1. Why can a man marry a non-Muslim, or rather why can’t women too?

I guess you’ll tell me that it is a man that establishes faith in the household.

But I know countless households where the mother is the establisher of the faith, the strength and the spiritual being that cultivates Islam into the household. In fact, I would go as far to say that this is most often the case, where we’ve seen a culture, or the patriarchy hijack the guiding lifestyle in the home.

We are also told how important the role of a mother is, even biologically speaking – a mother spends much of her time with the kids.

Why does the divine command not extend to women? Not all societies pass the lineage on through the father.

I know that there are guidelines around men marrying out of the Islamic faith, but never have I witnessed a real enforcer of this amongst the circles. Where is the spotlight on this issue?

I feel that a ruling like this only provides the patriarchy with the scope to widen their own circle of options, and at times, unavoidably a level of leniency with regards to their religious obligations.

2. Why can’t I divorce my husband?

I guess you’ll tell me about Khulah.

Why do I not have the same authority as a man in my relationship when it comes to authorising a divorce? I understand the differences in authority when it comes  

What if he’s abusive and refuses me my divorce? Am I not capable of making a rational decision about whether staying in a relationship is good for me or not, just because I’m a woman?

Here’s where culture gets conflated with Islam, “the concept of khula exists in the Shari’ah, whereby a woman can choose to divorce her husband and end the marriage by returning the mahr. It happened at the time of the Prophet (saw), and it is acknowledged in fiqh. Today, it is almost impossible for many women to get khula, even if they’re being abused, have been beaten black and blue, or are left starving. Why? Because in many communities, khula has been labeled as something bad.

Women who seek divorce are hit with this hadith: ‘a woman who seeks divorce for no reason will never smell the scent of paradise’. This hadith has its place in the Shari’ah, and it’s an appropriate warning just as divorce, in general, is disliked, but khula is also permissible; it exists in the Shari’ah for a reason.

Many women don’t even know that khula exists as an option for us. If we do know what it is and try to pursue it, we would be rebuffed and told, “sister, have patience”, “sister, it’s better for you to stay”, “oh sister, think of the children”, “sister, you’re just being selfish, you’re just being immature”.

As a result, women are trapped in horrific marriages, unhappy, unhealthy, toxic, abusive marriages. If we then try to get a divorce through the secular course, well now we’ve “rejected Islam”, now we’re “following our whims and desires”, we’re “going against the Shari’ah”. But we weren’t given our rights to begin with. And that has such a deep and lasting spiritual, emotional and psychological impact.”

– The Salafi Feminist in conversation with Amaliah

There are a couple of other things that I find really difficult to stomach.

If I call for the divorce, I must return the mehr, while I get to keep it if my husband decides to divorce me, as if the act is some kind of petty exchange. I may need the mehr in both circumstances. What if my husband was a genuinely inadequate partner? I have as much reason to divorce him and keep my mehr for the same reasons as I would if he had called the divorce himself – I’m still divorced, I’m not suddenly financially stable because I’m the one that called for it?

Lastly, I find it really difficult to understand why it is the WOMAN that must marry and consummate the marriage with another married partner if she has divorced a man that she would like to re-marry.

I realise that the clause is meant to act as a deterrent, but the extremity of the situation looks like it only really applies to the woman in this instance.

She must undergo an ‘Idah’ period after divorcing her husband. Then re-marry and consummate that marriage, with the intention of staying with that husband, only to divorce him and undergo another Idah period before she can re-marry a man she now rightly believes to be her partner on this Earth.

It feels like a lot of it is on the woman.

3. Why do women only get half the inheritance?

I know that some reasoning ascribed to this issue is drawn from the law that women receive inheritance/wealth from their husbands, but this assumes that their status will be that of a married woman. What if a woman doesn’t get married/doesn’t receive the inheritance from her husband? Why is she refused an equal share of the inheritance between siblings? There have been ways to try and remedy this, for example, fathers “gifting” inheritance before they pass away to make up for the gap.

Again, men appear to have the clause weigh in their favour while women are encouraged to ‘just trust God for their provision’ as a form of compensation. There is no conflict when it comes to trusting God, it’s something we should wholeheartedly embody in our lives, but I can’t understand why earthly provisions are catered for men in the way of shariah but not for women if just trusting God is the main case – why is the camel not tied for the women who will never have their Mehr, especially if that mehr is a box of celebrations?

That leads on nicely to this last point.

The most common explanation for the inheritance law is that women do not have the same financial duties as men.

Okay cool.

What about the men of the 21st century who aren’t currently stepping up? I feel confident enough to say, based on the most common reasons for divorce and issues within marriages that have surfaced in conversation in Islamic faith circles ACROSS THE WORLD, that this a wide bearing issue and no longer a few minority cases in the Muslim community.

Moreover, what about the fact that a large majority of women have to work because their partner cannot keep both their heads above the water at no fault of the husband, but because the financial situation across the world is difficult to contend with.

Even if she wasn’t physically out, working for the money, if she’s chosen to make her husband’s life easy by facilitating a nice home life for him, meals cooked etc. is that not contributing to his ability to earn for an entire family?

I don’t think that’s far reaching, I think it’s a perfect example of how interconnected these factors are and how biased it can be to afford the woman as little as she’s currently entitled to according to our current interpretation of the shariah.

Imagine having some immediate Uncles, who’ve not uttered a word to you or your loved ones in their lives, getting in touch for the first time to claim their inheritance. Where were the uncles financially or otherwise up until this point.

4. Traveling by myself as a Muslim woman

This is perhaps one of the most difficult clauses to reconcile with, because of the lifestyles we lead here in the 21st century, and let’s be honest, these days it has nothing to do with living in the West.

Completely innocent, and even fruitful ventures await women all around the world, from all parts of the world, and we’re told we’re not allowed without the company of a mahram we may not even be afforded, while men are free to travel for months on end for whatever pursuits they desire.

In a world that has been catered to provide the necessary safety for both men and women to travel, I find it difficult to understand why perfectly capable women have to stay in their home country for their entire lives just because they don’t have a mahram. While their married friends, sisters-in-law, parents even, can travel and enjoy the world the way Allah has encouraged us to.

I feel like we should put more of our effort into educating women AND MEN about what a compromising situation looks like, as opposed to barring them from travel in a world that no longer has people stranded in the desert for 3 months

So, so many women are capable of establishing themselves whilst traveling. So many need to do it – for practical reasons, for spiritual reasons…

Why can the travel for the purpose of knowledge and spiritual growth be allowed for men while it is impermissible for women?

5. Why can I not beautify myself…for myself?

My former point gives rise to a separate but related issue, that has me questioning why so much is predicated on the existence of ‘the husband’…

Why can I only do my eyebrows… if I have the permission of my husband (some have this opinion)? I can appreciate why beautifying yourself for your husband is permissible, but why do I have to look and feel out of my realm of comfort and confidence if I am without a husband. It occurs to me that while women are often encou4raged ‘not to be a fitna for men’, the permisablities on beautifying are in fact based solely on the male gaze. If I’m allowed to ‘do my eyebrows for my husband’, but I don’t cover my face (as is not required), and other men can see my face AND MY EYEBROWS, but it’s not a problem because I have the permission of my husband, what then…? It feels as though at times, men have been given a divine right of authority that women rarely are given.

6. Why can’t I pray and fast during my period?

I can understand and appreciate the mercy and Hikmah (wisdom) in this, and I am grateful for the times that I have been allowed to revel in the pain and tiredness that going through a period can cause, and not having to think about praying.

But, the wide-reaching repercussions of being exempt from certain times of worship, for example, hajj, umrah, and not attending virtuous nights in the mosque, leads me to can’t help but feel I am being denied by Allah, by virtue of having a womb… I understand that if my intention was to pray I will still be rewarded, perhaps I need to take time to understand such mercy of Allah.

A couple of other issues I have understanding are these. One of the reasons prayer is prescribed to us is so that we may attain Taqwa (God-consciousness). If I am denied prayer, am I not being denied a main tenet of the Islamic faith, and a prescription for the health and wellbeing of my Imaan? There’s also the issue around the ‘purity’. I get really uncomfortable with the talk around the woman being ‘in a state of impurity’ because she’s passing ‘bad blood’. I understand that it’s a cleansing process – one that brings in fertility and purity into being and that impure blood must be passed as a part of that. But if it’s being passed, if it’s leaving me, isn’t it part of the purity process?… am I not in the state of purity?  I think of the many women who arduously made their trip to hajj and umrah and were denied being able to do tawaf because they bled, just because their bodies carried out a natural function prescribed by Allah (swt).

If the principles of my understanding are wrong here, I’m on a journey to a deeper understanding, but the language around this issue is entirely destructive and it needs to be changed. The terms ‘impure’ and ‘unworthy’ bring conflict into the hearts of many women who may feel and act no differently in their worship and tawheed of Allah (swt) during their menses as they do when they’re in their supposed state of purity.

Lastly, if women pass bad blood while men keep theirs, where does that leave everyone on the spectrum of ‘biological purity’?

7. Why I can’t attend a burial?

Apparently, I can’t contain my emotions and will only know how to howl.

8. Why is a women’s testimony not enough on her own?

“And get two witnesses of your own men, and if there are not two men then a man and two women such as you choose for witnesses – so that if one of them errs, the other can remind her … “Al-Qur’an 2:182

This reads as if women aren’t capable of providing truthful testimonies, or at least aren’t as capable as men are. I’ve seen numerous articles on this subject, and among the most surfaced arguments are women’s apparent ‘lack of emotional control whilst pregnant or menstruating’. It’s an undeniable truth that women are susceptible to chemical and hormonal imbalances, but the whole point of the religion’s teachings is to hold ourselves accountable and act accordingly despite these apparent afflictions, which for the record – men are also susceptible to. I find this hard to reconcile with.

9. Why are the only Prophets mentioned men?

Perhaps you will tell me that there are some Prophets that we don’t know about.

I have often attempted to rationalise the reasons for this myself, which is not what I should do in the first case scenario I know, but since we’re talking about my reconciling with some of these supposed truths, I’ll start with what I feel my gut feeling tells me about this situation…

I think of Maryam (RA) and Asiya (RA) who are both mentioned in the Qur’an as the utmost examples of righteousness and I think of how the Allah (SWT) defends Aisha (Ra) against Slander in the Qur’an.

When I hear that there are no female Prophets, I jump to rationalise with notions that these women are prime exceptions to the rule that women aren’t capable of carrying the message of Tawheed to communities. It could be because of ‘their capacity to be swayed by emotion’, maybe because of their biological commitments (pregnancy, periods etc.), maybe because they will have had to face an age-old problem of the patriarchal society (an all too difficult task to conquer as a woman who’s also preaching Tawheed)…and I remember that there are male Prophets mentioned in the Qur’an who faltered.

Yunus (as) is mentioned in the Qur’an for turning his back on his people, who refused his message. He (as) turned his back on his duty, and the story of his time in the whale unfolds. Men like women, are fallible. His example shows that men are weak in the same capacity as women – human fallibility.  

Asiya held tight to the rope of Allah and Tawheed (oneness of God) against extreme torture, no less at the hands of the biggest tyrant in the history of man, Firawn (Pharaoh). Women are strong in the same capacity as men- no?

If so, why is prophethood held exclusively for men?

10. Why can’t I lead prayer?

Perhaps you will say that I have been brainwashed by modern-day notions of feminism, and the idea that equality is only achieved when we can do that of which a man does. I understand and appreciate the distinctions between men and women, and I believe we are equal in our distinctions in the eyes of Allah, but acts of Ibadah have been prescribed for all of humanity (and importantly out of practicality). Or perhaps women can lead prayer in the eyes of Allah, but patriarchal structures within Muslim communities and society have eroded this belief.

11. Why do I have to cover my hair while men are not obliged?

This is the greatest one.

There is absolutely no doubt that the hijab (it’s physical form of a head covering) plays a role in taking beauty away from women in a public sphere, and while I try and reconcile it into being a poetical and romanticised idea that only my mahram may see my “assets”, I can’t help but feel part of the hijab is predicated on the darting weakness of the male gaze. Yes, I can tell myself that the hijab is for Allah and no one else, but it is very difficult to not feel as though it is also tied to the male gaze. I feel very much that a man’s beauty lies in his hair as much as a woman’s, no more, no less.

12. Hoor Al-Ayn – Need I say more?

I know for sure I’m not alone in this conflict.

I feel objectified as a woman, that we, of all species, are objects for the pleasure of men. I feel unworthy compared to the Hoor Al-Ayn despite the hadith that mentions our status over them in Jannah, and I’m conflicted with the explanation that’s given in response to questions about what women will receive in the afterlife, “it’s so precious that Allah doesn’t even mention it”. If this explanation wasn’t as consistent with so many other ‘female reward systems’, I might not be as alarmed as I am.

Maybe I have totally got the wrong end of the stick on some of these, granted some of this is because of culture being conflated with Islam, but they are for sure popularised notions and it is often very difficult to navigate information and get access to those of sound knowledge. And if I have got the wrong end of the stick, why must I dig so hard to try and find the just answer…

A response to “12 Things I Can’t Reconcile About Islam as a Muslim Woman” is now available here.

Amaliah Anonymous

Amaliah Anonymous

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