I was somehow different, vulnerable, and most importantly, I posed a bigger threat towards social morals, than my male counterparts.
The beautiful thing about being a child is that your soul is pure. As a child I understood that cultural sexism was wrong. As a child I understood that the force of good that I felt within me could not write of half of its creation as unequal or different.
As a Muslim, fighting tyranny was my greatest duty to God and the first injustice I ever fought was cultural sexism within my own home.
Islam was my shield and my protector from this poisonous venom that we know as sexism today. In a world where Islam is associated with everything but freedom, you’d probably be surprised to hear that Islam set me free.
Islam freed me from sexual objectification and the sexist norms of the status quo. I didn’t have to be accepted by anyone, I didn’t need to adhere to a social code, and I didn’t need to be judged by other human beings.
God was the supreme judge and I feared God’s judgement alone. Social or peer pressure meant nothing to me, it did not dictate who I was or who I would become. The only opinion that mattered was the opinion of God.
Islam freed me from the shackles of sexism and told me that I must aspire to become a great woman, a leader and a warrior.
Historically, God sent Messengers to fight oppression and establish justice. From the oppression Pharaoh inflicted on the children of Israel, to the camel that was tortured by the people of Thamud, God sent a sign to all of mankind that his creation should never be wronged. Each time a messenger was sent, a new form of oppression was highlighted.
God did not forget any of his creation and when Prophet Muhammad was sent with God’s final revelation to mankind, God chose to highlight the oppression inflicted upon women. At a time when women were seen as passive sex objects in most parts of the world, in Arabia, women started leading wars, becoming surgeons and teachers and acquiring property rights. In short, women were liberated by God 1400 years ago and the world’s feminist movement began with Islam.
Women were among the oppressed that God came to liberate. Eighty percent of legal material in the Quran focuses on women. From divorce laws, to the marriage gift and right to the condemnation of female infanticide, God safeguarded the rights of women and removed them from a vulnerable position.
Yet I studied in madrassah for nine years without ever hearing of these great principles of justice, of gendered equality and the liberating movement that I know as Islam. There was no sign of empowerment in a madrassah that taught little girls like me from the age of five till the age of sixteen. In fact, there was disempowerment, there was segregation, and most importantly, there was a widely accepted feeling of sexual superiority hidden under the banner of ‘sexual difference’.
After realising that I was studying in a disingenuous institution, I dropped out of my Aalima course at the age of thirteen and moved on in my journey to find Islam. I joined a number of organisations from YMUK, to Respect, and Stop the War Coalition and I ended up at MPACUK by the time I was sixteen years old.
But it was at the age of eighteen, when I was fighting a nationwide election campaign to oust out Zionist Members of Parliament; that I experienced the most overwhelming forms of sexism.
I remember my heart beating as fast as a treadmill as I approached a crowd of men returning from Friday prayers at the Mosque. I stood there with a pile of pamphlets, some fire inside my heart and a passionate voice. As I tried to educate these Muslims about the importance of voting for ethical MPs, I was looked upon as filth, pushed from side to side and accused of being a shameless woman for having the nerve to stand outside God’s house. It was as though God’s house was reserved for men alone and was completely off limits to the other half of God’s creation.
I walked away with tears flowing down my cheeks and confusion grasping my mind. As I turned to God in pain and disgust, I blamed him for making me a female. I told him I could not fulfil these gendered roles that had been constructed by society. I told him that my gender limited me in my dream to be his warrior. My gender limited me in the precious purpose that he had created me for. Since I was a child my only dream was to lead a change for the sake of Islam and now my dreams were being dictated by patriarchal men whose filthy minds could not see beyond my sexuality.
As I prayed to God, I had a moment of realisation. A voice inside of me told me that my purpose was greater. I realised that my gender did not put me at a disadvantaged position at all; in fact, it put me in a powerful position. God wanted greater struggle for a greater reward. God created me as a female and put the quest for struggle in my veins with a clear purpose. I was to break the stereotype and fight these socially constructed gendered roles. I was to declare my right on this earth to live as a free woman. Free from sexual objectification, free from the labels of sexual deviancy, free from patriarchal readings of the Quran and free from the male interpretation of sexual modesty. My purpose was to revive Islam as the feminist liberation movement that God intended it to be.