Lobna Yassine is hoping Muslim women will one day be free to define their own identity. Until then, there’s this…
I was recently at a women’s only rock pool in Sydney, lying down and allowing the sun to drench my body with its warmth, when I witnessed what I would describe as ‘snatching’.
An older Caucasian woman approached a younger Muslim woman who was wearing the headscarf and began to question her about ‘you and your people’.
The young Muslim woman responded politely, and I overheard her (over) explaining why she chooses to wear the headscarf, which led her to explain why terrorism existed, why countries went to war, why young Muslim men are becoming ‘radicalized’ and so on.
How did a conversation about the headscarf turn into a discussion about the world’s problems? Is the headscarf inextricably linked to terrorism, radicalization and war?
It did not end there. Once the older woman had left the rock pool, it opened up an invitation for most of the women at the rock pool to discuss these ‘problems’ amongst themselves.
I could hear women all around me chat amongst themselves (both Muslim and non-Muslim) about why women wear the headscarf, and then on to why people become radicalized.
I could feel my pulse racing, and my breathing become heavier. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath.
I asked myself why I was so angry about what was occurring around me. I realised that what was upsetting me was the feeling that somebody had snatched something from me, and was tearing it apart, looking through my things, knowing the intimate private details of my life and imposing their own meanings on what I fiercely love and am attached to.
I felt like people were snatching my story, or ‘our stories’, reproducing them, and then throwing them away. Wearing the hijab is my choice, and a very personal choice. But here it was, open slather, open for the world to see, and to interpret and judge for themselves. And the worst part about it was that I had no control over it.
I couldn’t walk around in a huff and a puff and yell at the Muslim women and demand that they respond to questions of their dress code “next time, tell them it’s none of their fucking business!”
I couldn’t tell the non-Muslim woman that I would NOT give them the privilege of understanding my private world, nor that I needed or wanted their validation anyway.
The fact that it was even open for discussion, shit me. I wanted to question THEM about how they linked my body, or the covering of my body, to radicalization and terrorism. I wanted to ask them questions about their personal lives, and simply expect them to give me answers. I wanted to be in a position where I felt that I had the right to access their personal beliefs about any issue I wanted.
I wanted to be the snatcher, the prosecutor and the judge. I badly wanted the privileged of a white person. I wanted to cause destruction – all in the name of love.
How could loving something so fiercely lead me to want to destruct my own sense of ethics, destruct my own sense of self, destruct my soul? To a point where I would defend what I believed and then follow that with a destruction of what I just said I believed in.
By loving something so fiercely, I know I am capable of destroying it in an instant. Who knew that I could destroy what I loved just by the simple act of speaking? Speaking up, and speaking out?
I just had to lie there and sit with the fact that what I thought I owned, what I thought I was in control of, I was not.
Do I go through life, not speaking, so that others don’t feel uncomfortable? Am I supposed to place more value on their comfort, and their right to be comfortable, over my right to say what I need to say? Of what I want to say? Do I need to force people to listen?
There is an implicit message that say’s “I will allow you to speak, to a certain point. Once I become uncomfortable, you must stop. Once you begin to challenge the dominant narrative, you have crossed the line”.
Why are we constantly trying to make it okay for other people? Why are we privileging their needs over ours? Their discomfort with us, over our own discomfort of having to answer to them?
A few people have said to me that as a Muslim, I have to represent a certain way of being (polite to people who question me) and it’s my role to educate or to perform ‘da’wah’ (answer to, explain and defend) my religion.
But is this really appropriate given the current climate? Am I at risk of destroying something that I love, and something that I stand for, simply by speaking up and speaking out?
How do you act out resistance in those situations? By speaking back? By resisting invitations, that positions you in a certain way, to begin with?
Some say that all these things would destroy what I love. That my response or non-response would destroy the image of Islam, and that my actions would contradict Islamic values of modesty and humility.
So then the question becomes, how do you resist while not being destructive to your own values and principles?
Imamu Amiri Baraka said “I cant say who I am unless you agree I’m real”. This poet is referring to the power of knowledge and ‘truth’, and the production of truth to subjugate others.
How have Muslim women become subjugated? How do we resist being objects of knowledge? And how can we achieve, what Foucault refers to as, ‘the insurrection of subjugated knowledge?’
How do we become active participants in our own narratives? We haven’t had any control over how the story has begun, but can we take some control over how our stories are unfolding and developing now?
Can we begin to take control over how our story transforms, and ultimately how it ends?
I say this with a strong awareness and deep respect for people like Randa Abdul-Fattah, Mariam Veiszadeh, and Mehal Krayem. Such women have most probably said before most of the things I’ve said, and they’ve just become part of my own understanding and have contributed to my ability to put words to my experiences.
I genuinely believe that they have got the ball rolling in regard to producing alternative narratives for Muslim women. But they can’t hold this responsibility alone. The insurrection of subjugated knowledge is a big task, a task that requires a larger group of women who are sick and tired of having to explain/defend ‘politely’ ‘with respect to…’, ‘sorry this may make you uneasy…’ etc etc…
The purpose of resistance is to create more opportunities for freedom. Freedom to do what? To create and have more control over our own stories and narratives.
And ultimately, for us to have the power to define ourselves.
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