Breaking Silence Through Gender Jihad: Muslim Women and the #MeToo Movement

Breaking Silence Through Gender Jihad: Muslim Women and the #MeToo Movement

Umme Al-wazedi (Augustana College, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9195-5.ch009

Abstract

With the advent of the #MeToo movement many Muslim women are naming their abusers now—both in the US and internationally. First, it has opened the door for re-studying the orientalist approach to portraying Muslim women's bodies, and to challenge and critique the idea that Muslim women's complaints against Muslim men complicate race relations in the aftermath of the war on terror in the US and France. Second, this movement has created such movements as the #MosqueMeToo movement and has given birth to a very needed phase of Public Feminism that criticizes Muslim patriarchy. This chapter critically analyzes several documentaries and fictions written and directed by Muslim women and argues that this movement gives an opportunity to Muslim women to speak out against their abusers; it has given freedom to councilors in faith-based institutions and other not-for-profit organizations to talk about sexual assaults—a much needed community service that was previously unavailable.
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Introduction

There is no place in paradise for a black woman. – Nawal El Saadawi, She Has No Place in Paradise (1987)

Feeling dirty, used-up, useless, broken—it’s such a part of survivor’s lives. – Sohaila Abdulali, What We Talk about When We Talk about Rape (2018)

To be female is to be human. Those who act like I must be something else in order to merit full human status implicate themselves by implying that ‘man’ is actually the same as human, such that being a female is dehumanizing. Women have consistently shown the moral fortitude to live as Muslims despite the absence of recognition of our full humanity in Islamic thought and practice. I have fought in the gender jihad to affirm both for myself and for other females, that being who we are is exactly what we were created to be. I could not be more or less than female. This is my humanity. – Amina Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (2006)

The #MeToo Movement, which was created by the Black feminist activist Tarana Burke in 2007, has taken the media, business, and film world by storm. More importantly, the aftermath of the movement has been felt in local communities and among women of color and women belonging to different religious groups; many of these women are naming their abusers now—both in the US and internationally. The #MeToo Movement has given Muslim women (the author understands that there are intersectionalities among different groups of Muslim women and that Muslim women are not a homogenous group) the opportunity to advocate on behalf of themselves and each other. However, some women still are not talking about their assaults, as talking about sexual assaults in their own community can be stigmatized or considered as shameful. In the past, many Muslim women, particularly Muslim women writers, have come forward to talk about their conditions, yet these writers were highly criticized and seen as native informants or as imperial feminists catering towards imperialism. They were accused of creating images of Muslim women that contributed to the Western readers’ projected image of their community and of Muslim men as backwards and as oppressors, respectively. Writers like Nawal El Saadwi, in her 1982 book The Hidden Face of Eve: Women in the Arab World and Fatema Mernissi, in her 1992 book The Veil and The Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Right’s in Islam, have already spoken about the misuse of Islamic laws when it came to the teaching and portraying of relationships between men and women. They have also written extensively on how the social structure in Muslim communities contributes to sexual assaults. Recent writers, like Lila Abu-Lughod in her book Do Muslim Women Need Saving? (2013), have already written about how Muslim women’s bodies have been portrayed as poor and oppressed, as bodies that need to be rescued by international aid operations.

Then how is the #MeToo movement different from all the other previous movements that writers like El Saadwi, Mernissi, and Lughod have tried to usher in? This chapter critically analyzes several documentaries and fictions written by Muslim women and uses few theories to argue that it is different. First, the #MeToo movement has opened the door for re-studying the orientalist approach to portraying Muslim women’s bodies, and it challenges and critiques the idea that Muslim women’s complaints against Muslim men complicate race relations in the aftermath of the war on terror in the US and France. Second, this movement has created such movements as the #MosqueMeToo movement and has given birth to a very needed phase of Public Feminism that criticizes Muslim patriarchy. This movement gives an opportunity to Muslim women to speak out against their abusers who are Muslim men in general and often the clergy in particular; it has given freedom to councilors in faith-based institutions and other not-for-profit organizations to talk about sexual assaults—a much needed community service that was previously unavailable.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Orientalism and Muslim Women: Orientalism criticizes the West and its attempt to see its image as progressive and rational in contrast to that of the East which it considers as backwards and irrational. The word Orientalism was coined by Edward Said, a Palestinian American. The relationship between Orientalism and Muslim women is based on the definition of the word itself—that Muslim women lived in the harem oppressed, veiled, and invisible.

Gendered Islamophobia: Prejudice against Muslim women which comes from specific stereotypes that were historically contextualized—that veiled Muslim women are oppressed or Muslim women live in harems.

Cultural Racism: Cultural racism centers on “the cultural inferiority of a group of people”—in terms of beliefs and behaviors.

Muslim Women and Patriarchy: Patriarchy is about the difference in power whereby men have power and women’s power is relegated to the periphery. In the Muslim community this power differentiation can be heightened by the fact that often religion is used to distinguish between the power of men and women. Amina Wadud notices and challenges one such difference—as is explained through the epigraph used in this chapter.

Public Feminism: This is a kind of feminism that uses the social media and internet outlets innovatively to protest against issues related to women’s rights to their bodies and sexual assaults.

Feminism in 3D: This phrase is coined by Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahaway. This kind of feminism focuses on “disrupting, disobeying, and defying” the patriarchy.

Islamophobia: It is the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia has become most problematic now as it is often used as a weapon in politics.

#MosqueMeToo Movement: It is a movement started by the Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahaway after she found out that many women were being assaulted in religious institutions.

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