“There is nothing to flatter pride in a situation in which one is to unbelievers a pathological case, holding to absurd dogmas without the excuse of social pressure, and in which one arouses amongst the orthodox the slightly disdainful protective goodwill of those who have arrived for those who were still on the journey.”
This week’s chapter was a collection of pieces submitted by AQSAzine, a “grassroots collective by and for young women and trans people who self-identify as Muslim.” Framed by an introduction and “open letter” conclusion authored by the collective as a group, individually-created art and poetry showcases some of the diverse work being done by the people who are involved at AQSAzine. The zine’s website also encourages submissions to themed issues, the most recent of which was “Ancestors and Descendants.”
AQSAZINE: MUSLIMS SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES by the AQSAzine Collective (pp. 67-74).
From the introduction:
p. 67 – “…a Toronto-based grassroots art collective by and for young women and trans people who self-identify as Muslim.” This phrase just got me thinking about all of the forms of community we can build, and what decisions we have to make along the way about how to invite folks in (or keep folks out) and how to arrange ourselves once we have an “in” to arrange. What does it mean to be “grassroots”? How do we work as a “collective”? I wonder what conversations went in to settling on the phrase “young women and trans people who self-identify as Muslim”? I firmly believe in the right to self-identify oneself using the language and ways of living one chooses*, but I also wonder what the difference is between simply being Muslim and self-identifying as one. Is it just a question of terminology, or is there a material difference indicated by the chosen terms?
p. 68 – “[Islam] can manifest itself in ways that are spiritual, political, cultural, and/or familial.” I like this breakdown of religious affiliation into four dimensions, each of which may have different meanings for an individual (one’s familial religious manifestation might be different than one’s spiritual one, for example). I wonder if there are Christians who think of themselves this way? Perhaps it is a question of cultural privilege … the U.S. being a predominantly Christian nation, we don’t have to say “I am a secular Christian” in the say way you hear about folks identifying as secular Jews. We are sort of all, by default “secular Christians” in that our society assumes Christianity unless explicitly told otherwise. At least, that’s how it was in my own hometown.
p. 68 – “We refuse under any circumstances to pigeonhole ourselves and believe that is the true nature of our diversity.” It’s interesting to think about how to foster a sense of collectivity within a group of people whom you encourage to diverse expressions of identity. I actually think, if it can be achieved, that it’s supremely healthy (for family systems as well as grassroots political or cultural organizations), but it can be terribly difficult to sustain with any level of success. Often those who do succeed cannot name what led to such success other than that particular mix of persons in that particular time and place.
From “An Open Letter”:
p. 75 – “We are the outcast, the not-Muslim-enough non-hijab-wearing, short-haired, short-skirted, supposedly-sexually-active sister at the back of the mosque feeling the burning eyes on the back of our heads as we enter a room filled with our ummah. We are also the niqab-wearing, hijab-wearing, supposedly-oppressed/oppressive sister in your class ignored or pushed aside for not being seen as “feminist” enough. This was the passage that brought to mind the quotation from Simone Weil’s observation concerning responses to her Christian seeking. I was lucky enough, in my opinion, to be introduced to modern, political feminism through a religious (predominantly Christian, but other world faiths as well) framework. Thus I grew into adult feminism assuming that social justice and human rights causes were compatible with religious practice … in fact, I would argue that they are central to ethical religious practice. But I have certainly met my share of folks who either a) believed that religion en masse or Christianity specifically was inherently hostile to gender equality OR b) that feminism was inherently un-Christian or un [insert faith of choice here]. I once heard a conservative Catholic scholar argue that feminists were idolatrous in that they had created an alternative secular religion (Feminism)…completely ignoring all of the devout and kick-ass Catholic feminists who exist in the world, a number of whom were sitting in his very audience.
I am not sure that I have any solution to offer for this this you-are-a-pathological-case vs. slightly-disdainful-protective-goodwill double-bind that women who walk between and betwixt (and who insist on seeing overlapping communities in all their complexity) experience. Ideally, I suppose, it is a question of encouraging folks to not feel threatened by internal difference and to learn how to converse and appreciate across those differences. But that is often difficult to do when judgyness runs high … and judgyness (the flip-side of feeling threatened) often runs rampant when questions of gender, sexuality, and religion are implicated.
With that, I’m going to close this week’s edition of the live-blogging series. Check back in next week for “Pride from Behind,” by Shabiki Crane.
*Actually, this is less of a human rights question than pure laziness on my part. I really don’t want the responsibility of assigning everyone identities and making sure they stick with them … recognizing up-front everyone’s right and responsibility to self-identify and name their terms just saves so much frickin’ energy!