Gender and religion. Sigh.

Today we discussed Dr. Amina Wadud’s work. It always blows my mind how otherwise critical, reflective, meta-aware, culturally ecumenical religious folks dig their in heels & resort to hadith-hurling to shut down conversations – when it comes to .

For instance, the discussion about Amina Wadud keeps returning to her female body in a state of prayer leadership, as well as the gendered bodies in the congregation. I remember a woman exclaiming: “Why is she there in front of men raising her bottom?” In one fell swoop, Wadud’s extensive scholarship is forgotten. She becomes just a woman with a bottom. This problem is not exclusive to Amina Wadud. Her reminders – that women are not just biology -are poignantly valuable when it comes to the reception of her own work.

One should ask oneself:

Is my position on gender markedly different from (& far more strict, inflexible and conservative than) my religious reflections in other areas? Do I tend to be more innovative, creative, and flexible in other areas? Do I enter a state of anxiety when it comes to the development of religious law around issues of gender? Am I anxious that any change (or diversity) in how my co-religionists approach gender will result in a total loss of identity, a complete rupture with the past, utter chaos? Because modernity and postmodernity are already here, and gender is not the only area they impact.

Modernity renders religious folks a bit anxious. And gender is the greatest stumbling block for such anxious types.

I often hear, “But we are in state of crisis! Why raise other fitnahs! Why bring up new questions that shake our certainty?” Dude, I ask: is there ever a CONVENIENT time to interrogate ? And as for certainty, uniformity, homogeneity, lack of diversity: what are you talking about? Why must gender be the one area you lack questions, diversity, complexity? Why must singular textual references shut down all discussion when it comes to gender, alone?

My daughter is not habituated to segregated and unequal spaces. She believes she can do anything she wants. She does not understand why women must always listen to khutbahs delivered by men. She does not understand why her body is the one that must be restricted and obsessively covered.

Our children will not be satisfied by our responses about “fitnah” and “crisis”. When they are told our religion is about equality and justice, they will ask, “Great. Where is all this equality though?” And then they are told men and women are equal in theory, they are equal in the possibility of salvation: that equality applies to their lives after death, not to these lives on earth.

In this life, my daughter cannot lead the prayer, cannot speak at the Friday sermon, and is told, in fact – as I was reminded today, and as is popularly believed: Don’t prevent women from attending the mosque, but it is better for them to pray at home. I will not get into the context and asnad of that hadith report, but I will say this: in the way men wield the hadith, ultimately it does call for blocking women from the mosque. The theoretical freedom to attend mosques is negated by a moral exhortation to stay away from mosques. Theoretical physical freedom is negated by a moral restriction.

In this version of theology, a woman’s body and voice are rendered invisible. Forget prayer leadership: she cannot even step out of doors without hemorrhaging piety. Theoretical equality, theoretical justice, theoretical pluralism. Show me the money, I say. Show me the justice and equality here, now. Would you accept a theoretical equality that says, I accept the equality of your soul with mine, but I do not accept you have the right to occupy public space as I do? I accept you are equal to me in who you are, but you do not have the right to equal voice in prayer spaces?

Must classical era interpretations of mobility and physicality apply to us today? The warriors of the field of ijtihad range far and wide, but when it comes to gender, they double down, they stamp their feet, and say, “What ijtihad? Remember that one hadith reported from the 7th century in tribal Arabia?”

4 thoughts on “Gender and religion. Sigh.”

  1. The other day my daughter surprised me. In answer to the”What do you want to be when you grow up?” question, she defied my expectations (“I want to be a child psychiatrist”, I’ve heard this about 20x) and instead she said,

    “I want to be an expert on sexism.”

    Indeed, the younger generation is not willing to wait. And for those who remove their critical thinking caps when it comes to religious practice, they will find that people vote with their feet. Deep thinkers will not come to mosques, deep thinkers will dump the Muslim community. What will remain? And what will this mean for the leadership of the community?

    1. How beautifully you put it. “Deep thinkers will not come to mosques, deep thinkers will dump the Muslim community.” And then who remains? The superficial thinkers who are content with the status quo, as long as the mosque and the community looks like their nostalgic perspective on the ‘glorious’ past? They will be quite happy with the scenario though, and will write reports and papers about how “the Muslim community” does X and Y, and believes A or B, with no mention of the majority of Muslims who are unmosqued.

  2. I have hope when we’re old women, we’ll listen to your daughter give us a khutba in a mosque. We’re gonna make it happen.

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