Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lipstick jihad

Dina Zaman writes so she can find answers. A lot of times, she doesn’t. When she has free time, she reads literary fiction or very trashy magazines. Her pet causes are Tony Leung, children’s rights advocacy and HIV/AIDS issues.

MARCH 10 — Reading “Let These Women Pray” made me wonder: has ‘Islamic feminism’ come to this?
I am not unsympathetic to these women’s demands for a bigger and more comfortable place to pray.
A Malaysian acquaintance, who is very familiar with the mosque mentioned in the article, conceded that the room was small and stuffy.
And neither do I agree to gender prejudices; to me, feminism is inclusive. Men and women are different physiologically and physically but it does not mean we have to separate ourselves.
We may have differences in many aspects, but they can actually make the world better, and it is time that we stop pitting ourselves against each other.
However, this is not a perfect world, and the reality is such that even among our Western counterparts, the gender war continues.
Still, while I sympathise with the American Muslim women’s desires for a better praying quarters — same sizes as the men’s, et al — I do not think that praying among men, or leading a mixed congregation to prayer, will actually make things better for Muslim women, or anyone for the matter.
I’m a pragmatist.  I would rather fight for issues which are important to Muslims and mankind, such as the issues of divorce, domestic violence, children’s rights, to name a few.
To fight for space in a mosque?
I have prayed in a storeroom. I have prayed in a room which had a wooden effigy of Jesus Christ nailed to the wall.
I have prayed in former churches turned into mosques.
I have prayed in big and grand mosques, and I have prayed in small, rickety ones.
I have prayed in crowded mosques as well as near-empty ones.
I can pray anywhere.
And truth be told, I would rather pray in a space which is not populated by people, because I do not like crowds. So this gender bias in mosques is something I cannot understand.
If there is such a term as Islamic feminism, I would like to ask again, have we come to this?
Twice I have been invited to participate in a conference in Pakistan, to talk about… Muslim women’s rights and Islamic feminism.
I didn’t go both times because twice my hotels were bombed. But I remember pulling my hair out drafting the papers and presentations because the term ‘Islamic feminism’ seemed to be an oxymoron. Labels are not healthy.
What on earth is a Muslim feminist, I wondered. Is she:
(a) A Muslim woman in fatigues and a butch haircut with a machine gun;
(b) A woman clad all in black from head to toe toting a machine gun and strapped with bombs;
(c) A hijab-ed woman lecturing at a forum, all hail and brimstone;
(d) A Queen Rania type, all couture and with enough smarts to wipe out a nation;
(e) A very tiny Malay girl in a floral scarf who seems demure but has enough fire to whack MCPs in Parliament;
(f) A blonde-streaked female politician who attends boutique openings;
(g) A very fat woman in tribal clothes who’d sit on the heads of errant men. Perhaps not. Some men like rotund women sitting on them.
To be a woman these days, Muslim or not, is a challenge. For the modern, emancipated woman, she has to be a corporate raider/ wife/ girlfriend/ mother/ fashionista/ porn star/the dependable rock, everything.
It is not enough to be just a woman. For many single mothers, they have to act as ‘husbands’, ‘breadwinners’, ‘disciplinarians’.
We are circus acts who have to juggle many roles and are expected to entertain too. And we have very little support, because even our own families have expectations of us.
Hence, to fight to pray among men, should be the least of our worries.
We women need to put aside our prejudices towards our own gender, (no we are not kind even to ourselves), and work on what matters the most: family and children’s rights.
Fair pay and treatment at work. Dealing with domestic violence and sexual harassment. Communicating with our communities, our men and families. Righting the wrongs. The gender bias when executing punishments.
If I am allowed a wish list for International Women’s Day, I would like young people to have good role models, who engage with them.
I would like both men and women to work towards a common goal, instead of screaming gender bias at each other.
I would like more writers to write about issues which affect communities such as paedophilia for example, and get their readers to take action, instead of being armchair politicians.
I would like all men and women and their children to be treated fairly, especially those who come from marginalized communities, are poor, are migrants.
This may be an odd wishlist for IWD, but to be a woman, is to embrace all.
Here’s to Lipstick jihad!

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