A post just for you because “you are”

I was watching Oprah last night and Tom Shadyac was on the show talking about his new documentary “I am” (anyone watched it yet?) – more on it here.  Shadyac is the director of hit comedy films like Liar, Liar and the Nutty Professor. He lived in a mansion and had an army of servants. In 2007 Shadyac had a mountain bike accident and suffered from post-concussion syndrome.  While recovering from his accident, he realised that something was “wrong with this world.” Reflecting on his life, he decided that to be happy he’d have to learn to give up excess. He gave away most (but not all) of his money to charity and left his mansion to move into a trailer park. A form of asceticism brought him absolute happiness.

Shadyac focuses on three themes in “I am”: 1) the entire human race is connected; 2) we are biologically hard-wired to cooperate; 3) and if you don’t follow your heart, it can destroy you.

While watching Oprah, I kept thinking how humans have always got it wrong. Oprah also asked Shadyac that and he replied quickly by saying that we are a “young species” and haven’t figured out the Universe yet unlike the older species with whom we share the planet. Since the beginning of times, through monarchies and religions, we have highlighted our differences rather than focus on how we are connected. We have tried to destroy the enemy rather than notice that we are hard-wired to cooperate. And we have followed our heads. By “we” I am referring to men.

I also thought how satisfaction through asceticism has always been a male prerogative. Holy men, saints and prophets, all men, giving up the worldly comforts and migrated, contemplated in caves and forests, and searched for God on mountains and in valleys while women stayed home and *manned* the domestic vessel. Women have also been ascetics  – there are nuns and women-saints (Mother Teresa and Rabia Al Adawi come to mind) but men have been husbands (too polygamous) and fathers *and* prophets/saints, whereas women have had to give up men and children to reach out to God. Why does that happen?

When I finished my first Masters I had everyone tell me that I must get married soon. I did. Had a child before I began studying again for a teaching qualification and then another Masters. When I applied for the second Masters many well-meaning souls were disturbed by my choice to go back to school – I had a home, a child (another on the way), a caring husband, why did I need to study further? I was threatening the peace of my family! I survived that with the support of my husband and father. And now when I’m studying for my third degree I have even more people shake their heads. I am constantly told that I will not be taken seriously by Muslims because I am a woman (and sans hijab!) who is studying Islam which is not my “domain.” My choice of research topic is also seen as problematic – why Muslim feminists? What have they ever done for Islam? Feminists are not even proper Muslims – you can be either Muslim or feminist!

If Shadyac is right that if we don’t follow our hearts, it can destroy us then imagine how many women are destroyed every day. I’m not saying that men have it easy. Most men don’t have the luxury to follow their hearts either, but I think women are in a worse situation. We grow up being told that only the vilest of women don’t want to have babies. We are trained in cooking and taught how to sew. We sit with our legs crossed and mouths shut. Women don’t question. Women are not to be heard. Women must guard their bodies at all times. Women shouldn’t be seen running or making noise. Women can’t refuse sex so they must always be on *duty* hence can’t meditate or contemplate. We have all our possible roles already outlined for us.

And what positive role models do we have? All the possible role models offered to a young Muslim woman are role models because they are attached to some man we revere. Our role models are women who were married to sahabas or the Prophet and hence are important. Other than Rabia Al Adawi, who I think is unknown to many Muslims outside the Sufi circle, I can’t recall the name of any female role model who was not attached to a man as a wife or mother that we look up to. Is there anyone I am missing?

I chose to study Muslim feminists because I see a positive future for Islam in you. I wanted to give recognition to Muslim feminists operating on a daily basis in the Muslim society. I wanted to celebrate the voice of Muslim women who call themselves feminist. I honestly see Muslim feminists trying to change the status quo. I see you trying to follow your hearts and bringing spiritual happiness and content in your lives. I see Muslim feminists trying to connect with all Muslim women even if they disagree with them. I see you cooperating. You are fulfilling all the three points that Shadyac raises in his documentary. And so last night I thought about each one of you.

You are!

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11 thoughts on “A post just for you because “you are”

  1. Safiyah says:

    Very good post! Thank you for the inspiration =)

  2. almostclever says:

    I am struggling at the moment with some difficult aspects of my personal life, and you just made me realize that what I am doing, what I am standing for – is just so worth it. Worth it for my own truth, and sanity. Thank you for this hun, this message comes to me at the perfect time – funny how that works out 🙂

  3. almostclever says:

    P.S. We HAVE to be role models for each other, I believe – because of our complete lack of strong women in the “public domain” or mainstream.

    • Metis says:

      Oh sweets! I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m happy to learn that this post cheered you up a bit. Shoot me an email if you want to *talk*. I’m always happy to *listen* 🙂

  4. Anon says:

    This is such an inspiring post and that too at a perfect time. I have no career whatsoever, I was married to my husband promising that I would be alllowed to work (however small or insignificant work I do, but with dignity). Now I don’t see hat dream coming true in the near future of mine, unless of course I fight. I’m pretty sure even After that I will be controlled and judged and suspected(?) . Recently I have started hating everything and everyone- my husband , his friends and family , my parents too and myself. I feel I have truly wasted my life. I don’t hold any masters degree in medical or engineering. I have always been inclined to do something like baking, or hairstylist. But recently that too makes me feel dumb. We are made of the places where we lived, the people around us! I feel they too have contributed towards my bitterness. Many times I have been judged and misunderstood for being the person I am not. I really wish I could change that all. If only I stood up for myself at the right time,I would have never felt this resentment towards others. Those were trivial things but made a significant impact on me. Is it just me? I always ask myself that question. I’m very calm and indifferent on the exterior but on the inside, it’s like a volcano bubbling up.
    “men apologize for their weaknesses , but women have to be sorry for their strength” . You were right that men too have to give up their dreams and cannot follow their hearts many times. But women in their place have to work harder and sometimes bear awful consequences, unfortunately.

    • Metis says:

      Darling I’m so sorry to read this. I just sent you an email and hope it is helpful. Basically do what your heart desires before it destroys you! I wish you the best of luck. You are young and in many cases tolerance comes with age so don’t worry if you feel resentment now. One day you’ll miss being angry 🙂 I’m angry that I don’t get angry anymore. Haha!

    • serenity says:

      Dear Anon,

      ~hugs~ No, the hug is not out of pity. It is out of respect for you. Your post is so sincere, full of honesty that most of us (heck, including me) wouldn’t admit — to themselves or others. But you give me strength to say that I, too, feel like this:

      “I’m very calm and indifferent on the exterior but on the inside, it’s like a volcano bubbling up.”

      so, no, you’re not alone, and, no, you’re not the only one feeling the things you’re feeling right now. I wish you best of luck– no, not exactly patience, because patience isn’t always good, but it’s just that we women have been programmed to see it as good in order to save our families while our husbands lack all of it, and no one minds or sees it as a problem. But I wish you the best in your situation! stay strong 🙂

  5. sarah k says:

    I think that when women make the shift from individual to partner in marriage and then mother it is so easy to loose yourself. Women are generally giving – for example they sacrifice much more for a child than a husband. Even physically a man loses nothing but a woman’s body from the moment of conception (as well as her emotions) is geared towards providing for the child’s needs. It is so hard to fight against this or cope well if you have no previous experience. For many of us it takes time to re-find our balance. Being a mother of 3 little ones I have to say that we always dream of what could have been. The illusions of our fantasy lives (sans baby or early marriage) are often appealing. For those commentators posting their struggles I want to say that balance does come back and that eventually the individual resurfaces often stronger and more mature. Hang on in there!

    As for women being attached to men as role models – that is where Islamic values are significant. If the Holy Prophet (saw) said that marrying for a man was completing half the religion then it is equally so for women. I personally dont think it impinges on our ability to be feminist. Marriage can enhance our feminist credentials as we can demonstrate that we are whole even as part of a couple.

  6. Lat says:

    Love this post very much! and also Shaydac’s 3 themes! Thank you for sharing this cuz it made my day! 😀

  7. serenity says:

    Thank you for this post! Very inspirational and totally needed!

    By the way, there’s another female saint known in Islamic history… but she’s no role model for any woman who would have at least a little bit respect for herself. I read about her in Rkia Cornell’s “Early Sufi Women” (an edited and translated article the original of which Ustaadha Cornell got from Saudi Arabia — surprise, surprise). I quote the following:

    ‘Amra of Farghana

    ‘Amra was the unique one of her age in ethical conduct (khuluq), spiritual states (hal), and clairvoyance (firasa).
    In Merv [a city in northern Khursan], Abu Mansur Muhammad ibn Ahmad b Abdan related that ‘Aisha, the wife of Ahmad ibn Muhammad as-sari used to say:

    ‘Amra al-Farghaniyya said: “The legacy of silence is wisdom and contemplation. One who accustoms himself to retreat in the pursuit of knowledge inherits intimacy with God without loneliness.”
    ‘Amra said: “One who dedicates himself to the service of the actualized Sufis (ahraar) and chivalrous youths (fityan) inherits glory and dignity in the eyes of mankind. It also leads him to divine guidance, and makes him attain the rank of the friends of God”‘ (page 190).

    It was Rkia Cornell’s husband, Vincent Cornell, who pointed out to me that particular quote, where ‘Amra said that the one who dedicates himself to the service of the actualized Sufis inherits glory and all.

    Okay, okay, I may have been a wee bit harsh in saying that no self-respecting woman would see her as a role model. It’s highly possible, after all, that she was misunderstood or misquoted, considering the fact that the person who is narrating her quote to us is a male.

    And, of course, it’s also possible that I totally miss the point in her comment. But to figure that out myself, I will have to read more about her for over a year to admit that I was wrong in stating that women shouldn’t see her as a role model.

    Another thing: in the article I have quoted and mentioned above, we also read about this other female saint, named Fatima of Nishapur. I quote below:

    Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Miqsam reported with certification (ijazatan) from Abu Muhammad al-Husayn ibn Ali b. Khalaf from Ibn Malul (a very aged Shaykh who met Dhu an-Nun al Misri), who related:
    I asked [Dhu an-Nun], “Who is the most excellent person you have ever seen? To which he replied, “I have never seen anyone more excellent than a woman I saw in Mecca who is called Fatima of Nishapur. She used to discourse wonderfully on matters pertaining to the meaning of the Qur’an.”
    I asked Dhu an-Nun about her and he said: “she is a saint from among the friends of God, the Glorious and Mighty. she is also my teacher (ustadhi)” (p. 144).

    Note the last word (“ustadhi”): it’s masculine, which means that a female saint, a female who attained the utmost level of excellent learning and faith, was no longer a “female” but became a male instead. After all, women are inherently incapable of reaching such a level, no?

    Wrong. And it is Islamic/Muslim feminists who allow us to see this; it is they, whether men or women, who dedicate their precious time to enlightening us about a side of Islam that most Muslims, and most non-Muslims, are deprived of — or have intentionally deprived themselves of, possibly — knowing.

    k, I’ll stop here before I go on ranting 😀

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