Sex and the Muslim Feminist


Rafia Zakaria in The New Republic:

Being Muslim and female was an identity that rhymed effortlessly with repression and oppression in the view of most liberal academics and students. I had heard it all so often and in so many other classes: the interdiction of the hapless women who were imprisoned by Islam, as an offhand way to highlight the relative fortune of the more successful Western feminist, the one that had moved from questions of basic equality to concerns with sexual pleasure. No texts by Muslim feminists were assigned reading for the course: not Leila Ahmed’s Women and Gender in Islam and not Amina Wadud’s Qu’ran and Woman. The course’s sole concession to diversity a single slim text—Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza—by the Chicana feminist Gloria Anzaldua.

That curriculum was chosen nearly a decade ago, but the exclusion of Muslim feminists has continued. In an interview published in the New York Times last week, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, whose latest memoir was published last month, namedtwenty-eight women and three men in her list of “best contemporary feminist writers.” She fails to mention a single Muslim feminist. In other instances, I’ve found my own writing on women and militancy attacked; not met with analysis and engagement, but with condescending suggestions that, because I am female and Muslim, I am somehow “excited” by the idea of a female Muslim warrior. While the tone and tenor of these may vary, the message is the same: The Muslim feminist is either left out of the conversation or included only as an example of a deviant type, demanding liberals’ suspicion and vigilance.

I realized this even then. Contesting the premises of my professor and classmates would label me the prude, the insufficiently liberated. Speaking would court encirclement by pitying, knowing glances reserved for one understood to be plagued by yet un-confronted repressions. If I spoke, I would give them what they wanted: a Muslim woman to save, to school in the possibilities of sexual liberation. It would be impossible, in the rush and fervor of that savior encounter, to explain that my oppositions were not at all to sex or sexual pleasure, but to its construction as unproblematic, un-colonized by patriarchy, the entire measure of liberation.

More here.