These two things are not often associated. The first image that probably came to your mind when you read ‘Muslim Women’ was probably an oppressed, suppressed woman. That’s what most of society thinks of us anyway.
Muslim women are painted as imprisoned and oppressed individuals by every form of media. We are damsels in distress, waiting for the day that our prince charming finally comes and saves us. Muslim women have no control over their actions, bodies, or minds. We are forced to do things, such as wearing the hijab, practicing Islam, etc, or so we are told.
Growing up, I always learned about the power and capabilities of women. I was always surrounded by powerful women.
The image of the oppressed Muslim woman was foreign to me growing up. I grew up with a mother that was the breadwinner. She constantly worked hard and was constantly breaking stereotypes that people have of Muslim women. As did all the other Muslim women I knew. I have met so many amazing and powerful female Muslim leaders, teachers, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, activists, and
so much more. Every one of my female Muslim friends is powerful, elegant, and passionate. They inspire me and motivate me.
Even from an Islamic point of view, women are powerful. I grew up learning about how “paradise lies beneath the feet of the mother” (Prophet Muhammed PBUH). And about how Kadijah, the Prophet’s first wife, was a powerful businesswoman and how she proposed to the Prophet while he was working under her. And how women basically had no rights until Prophet Muhammed guided the people of Arabia to respect and honor women.
The concept of the oppressed Muslim woman was pushed by others
One time, I took a psychology CollegeNow course at a local community college in Brooklyn, NY. New Yorkers often pride themselves on being liberal and open-minded, given how diverse the city is. But, there are a few people (usually the older ones) that tend to be close-minded and bigoted. That was the case for the professor who taught this course.
On the first day, he taught us about Freud’s Sex and Aggression theory. There were three Muslim students out of the twenty-something students in that class, including me. First, he asked one girl why she wore the *hijab. Seeing that she was clearly uncomfortable, I raised my hand to answer the question. “I mainly wear it for modesty, and because it is a form of worship.” It was clear from his mocking smirk that he did not actually care about my response. Next, he began talking about genetics and how it plays a part in our hair color and texture. He then turned to me and asked me to describe my hair to him, in front of everyone.
*A hijab is the scarf that Muslim women wear
Then, he tried to convince me that I subconsciously hate my hijab and how I, and I quote, “want to rip it off my hijab and clothes and walk barefoot in the [imaginary] wet grass.” Despite me repeatedly telling him that I did not want to do that and that I was happy that I wore the hijab, he kept asserting that I did not know what I was saying and that deep down I really did want to “rip off my hijab and clothes and walk barefoot in the [imaginary] wet grass.”
Now, I am not telling you this story to point out his Islamophobia, which, although it was disgusting, is not surprising. Growing up, outside forces and individuals have constantly tried to force me to believe that I was oppressed in some way, which cannot be further from the truth.
To me, the concept of female power is not foreign. Women are powerful, and they are capable of so much. As a Muslim woman, feminism is already embedded in my beliefs.
People often mistakenly believe that feminists are only fighting for one thing and that being Muslim directly contradicts that thing. But I disagree.
To me, feminism is fighting for every woman, regardless of religion, race, nationality, or sexuality. It is to make sure that no one is treated differently on the basis of gender or sex. To some women, that means being able to wear whatever they want, whether that be to cover their bodies or not, and to not be catcalled or harassed for it. For some women, it means to be treated the same as their male counterparts in their workplace, social circles, or even within their family. For some women, it means to not be harassed (verbally, physically, or sexually) or objectified/sexualized by others. To some women, it means to not be viewed as “emotional” or “irrational.” To some women, it means to be taken seriously in their jobs, or in their classrooms, or even when speaking out about something they faced.
Being a feminist has a million definitions. And none of them are invalid.
“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”Cheris Kramarae
Feminism means to not belittle women or treat them like they are second-class citizens in society. It means to respect and honor the role of every woman. It means making sure that women have access to the same resources as anyone else.
Although the world views me as oppressed, I view myself as empowered. Being a Muslim woman compels me to be a feminist.
I am empowered by the women who are fighting every day and that are constantly raising the bar. Or by the love and support that women give each other. I am empowered by the women who are constantly working hard to achieve their goals. I am sure that I will always face criticism and hate for being a Muslim woman who wears the hijab. It just proves to me every day that this fight is one that is worth fighting. I will fight so that one-day Muslim women are not questioned for their individual and personal choices. I will fight so that all women are not questioned for the choices they make about themselves, their bodies, and their lives.