By Adis Duderija, New Age Islam
August 16th, 2010
On a recent communal breaking of the fast event I witnessed several events that made me think about the real difficulties behind the changing of people’s behaviour in relation to gender justice in Islam.
Before I do the purpose of what I will write below is NOT meant to be an exercise in self-praise although it can come across as such. I am only too aware of my own shortcomings when it comes to gender justice issues in my own household. I am writing this to hopefully raise some awareness and levels of consciousness in Muslim men, including myself, in relation to just one instance of gender injustice.
Let me elaborate. Having arrived at the venue (a local Musalla) with some time to spare I greeted and thanked the organiser of the event and asked him if any help was needed with setting up of the tables and the food. With a smile on his face he remarked that there were ‘many women’ around who can / are doing the job. Indeed apart from the man I spoke to (and another one who was setting up the speaker system and opening up toilets) it was indeed all women who were getting things ready while men were happily chatting away.
A few minutes later when it was time to break the fast I realised that, upon breaking my fast all the drinks and the dates were on the side of the Musalla where the men were.
While the men were breaking their fasts women were waiting in the other part of the Musalla. When I approached one of them that I knew and asked her to come over where the drinks were she was very reluctant like the rest of other women. I pointed to her and others (including some men who were around) that it was indeed them who not only cooked the food but also prepared setting it all up. I also remarked that it was more just for them to have broken the fast first. Some of the women , younger ones in particular, acknowledged this reasoning, however, none of them were willing to break their fast with drinks and dates whilst men were still at it. However no men seemed to have noticed this despite the fact that the Musalla is rather small and that several women were also elderly and looked weak.
Don’t get me wrong. This congregation that I know reasonably well is by no means conservative and very few of the women (or men for that matter) conform to the traditional, let alone strict puritan norms and standards of behaviour, in their ordinary lives.
The same applied later on with the food. While I was trying to protest by telling one of the women (in the vicinity of other men) that I will not eat the food until at least one or few of the women had taken some first, one of the male leaders of the community who heard what I had said not only remained silent but without being given permission pushed in front of all of the other women who were lined up. The (self-appointed) prayer leader who was symbolically heavily ‘Muslim’ with the turban and all the other paraphiliacs ( whose Qur’anic reading, knowledge of Islam, smoking habit as well as personality make him anything but an obvious choice for the function of the prayer leader that he so willingly assumed) was also oblivious to this injustice and insensitivity towards women.
Based on anecdotal evidence I am sure that what I briefly described above has happened in many other mosques/musalas.
Why is it that so many Muslim men are so insensitive to gender justice to the extent of branding those few Muslim men and many women who are as agents of “western” culture? Could this insensitivity in more extreme cases also explain the presence of misogynist thinking among some Muslim men and acts of abuse may that be in the context of marriage or parent-child relationship?
What good does the fasting during the month of Ramadan serve if we are not even sensitive (or choose to be insensitive) to the needs of our sisters in faith? Why do we easily fall for and unquestioningly accept facades and masquerades over essence and what really matters?
My personal goal and wish is to spend the rest of this fasting month improving my own sensitivity to the other gender. I hope you will too.
Dr. Adis Duderija is a research associate at the University of Melbourne, Islamic Studies. He recently published a book: Constructing a Religiously Ideal "Believer" and "Woman" in Islam: Neo-traditional Salafi and Progressive Muslims' Methods of Interpretation (Palgrave Series in Islamic Theology, Law, and History.