By Sumayya Tobah, Editor
You thought I was done with the brothers, didn’t you?
Please, they’re not getting off that easily.
In my last post, I was feeling extremely sentimental. Don’t get me wrong, I love my brothers. But our community is far from flawless. And unfortunately, misogyny runs rampant in Muslim communities around the world.
Correction: Misogyny runs rampant in ALL communities around the world. But I can only speak to what I know well.
Brothers, listen up. While I appreciate your every effort to be good role models and valuable contributions to society, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Brothers, here is where you can start:
- Be inclusive: If you’re putting together an event, bringing a speaker or planning a panel, your first thought should always be where are the sisters? It’s incredible the difference this simple thought can make. Obviously it’s important that inclusivity is practiced in our mosques and communities in every way possible. But with the majority of our speakers and scholars being male, not only are women missing out on valuable public speaking opportunities, female participants are often discouraged or uncomfortable asking questions or discussion their problems with said speaker. We’re obstructing young women in their attempts to grow, as young Muslimahs and as young women.
This is so important; brothers, if you’re on a panel and you look left and right and see no women, say something. If an important speaker is coming to your community and you’re planning an intimate meet and greet, invite the sisters. If you’re planning a conference and all the speakers are men, rethink your line up. We have so much to offer and when given opportunities, we will only get better.
2. Stop policing what women wear: while this is hardly specific to the Muslim community, because of the hijab, our communities are particularly obsessed with policing what women wear. Let’s get one thing straight. There is no one way to wear the hijab. And whatever decision a woman makes is hers to make for herself. It’s completely absurd to make assumptions about a person’s spirituality or morality based on how they dress. True story: a friend of mine was once warned to stay away from me because I “wear pants.” And the person who warned her? A guy from our community who probably spoke two sentences to me before coming to the conclusion that me and my jeans would be a terrible influence on all other Muslim women on campus. If you don’t think this is even a little crazy, you need to seriously reconsider how you understand your religion.
The hijab is merely one of the signs of faith you can see. A woman doesn’t wear how much money she donates to charity around her head. You can’t see how many verses of the Quran she knows or how well she takes care of her parents. How a woman dresses is really none of your business, and making judgements on her spirituality based on how she dresses speaks more to your spirituality than hers. Let it go.
- We are not your manic pixie dream Muslimahs: I can’t stress this enough. This is for all my brothers still looking for that perfect woman. I don’t know how many times I’ve met a guy who seems to have an impossible checklist for the woman he wants to marry. Must be an incredible cook, wears the hijab, eyebrows on fleek but can also read and understand the Quran. Will get along with his parents, never had a boyfriend, fluent in arabic but doesn’t have an accent, and her outfit always matches with her glowing halo. Brothers, we are not here to save you. We are not looking to take on any projects. Unless you hold yourself to the same standards, I don’t want to hear it. So many times, I’ve seen guys be more interested in the idea of a girl rather than the girl herself. And when they’re faced with reality, the relationship falls apart. Brothers, see us for what we are. Sounds logical, but you’d be surprised how rarely that happens.
- Respect our differences; yes, my last post was about how hard it is to be a Muslim man these days, and I don’t want to take away from that. But it’s important that our Muslim brothers understand that our experiences differ and, especially when it comes to women wearing the hijab, there are some experiences they will never understand.
I was once approached by a stranger on campus and asked outright if I was oppressed. Now, this happens more frequently than I’d like, and I usually try to answer with grace and poise. Unfortunately, on this day, I was a little emotionally drained and was completely out of patience. In moments like this, it feels like every effort to speak for myself and be a positive example completely evaporate. You can write columns, go on TV, do volunteer work, get academic honours, it doesn’t matter. People will still see your covered head and assume you have no voice, no power. It crushes you. So when this total stranger asked me if I was oppressed, I’ll admit, I was a tad snarky. After which, I went home and ranted to my siblings, my older sister and my younger brother, about how frustrating the whole experience was. And my brother, being the rational and cool headed individual he is, said “Sumayya, I hope you were cool. It’s important to set a good example.”
And I started crying.
My poor brother was totally thrown. It’s not like he’d said anything hurtful or new to me. But the thing is, he completely misunderstood why I was sharing my story. I just needed to blow off steam, and instead of being supportive or just letting me rant, he tried to offer criticism.
Brothers, you will never know what it’s like to wear the hijab. You cannot possibly know what it’s like to be a Muslim woman. You will never know what it’s like to be singled out on busses or at the mall, and asked personal and prying questions about your choices and your faith. You don’t know what it’s like to consistently be told that you should be pitied, that you’re powerless and weak. So please, when we’re sharing our experiences with you, don’t criticize or offer advice. Just listen. Listen and let us rant.
Again, this is not to diminish the struggles our brothers do face. Like I’ve said and will continue to say, there is no one more hated in the world today than the Muslim man. And the next time you want to talk about it, I will be here to listen.
These points are the summation of several different conversations I had with my friends and sisters. While they were discussed in the context of our community, they can be applied anywhere. The most important piece of advice is this: talk to each other. Talk to the women in your community, your classmates and friends and ask them what they want.
Because believe me, we want so much.
Follow Sumayya on Instagram and Twitter @thisissumayya