“Looking at the world as if women matter” is just one of the many ways feminism is explained. Some definitions are more academic and others are less generous, but searching through the philosophical pile of feminist theory and movements, one will discover first-wave and second-wave feminism, post colonial feminism, Western feminism, Black feminism, radical feminism, Islamic feminism and more, all with varying solutions to the issues women face.
As the Muslim American community grows and develops, the feat of building institutions requires our social architects to consider the religious, intellectual and political discourse on women’s equality. Standing at the intersection of gender and Islam, Muslims are looking down a road with some smooth stretches, as well as some huge potholes.
Muslim scholars and imams who begin their ‘Women in Islam’ chapters and lectures with glowing reports of the rights Islam restored to women, then proceed to interpret the primary sources of Islam in ways that negate those rights, have created confusion and illusion. To clarify we may ask, “When it comes to leadership in Islam, can gender trump competency? If so, what else can trump competency and what else can gender trump?” These and many other questions are asked in the conversation about the construction of the Muslim American landscape and culture.
Let’s look at who we are. In the Muslim American community we have over 80 ethnicities represented; there are people following every school of Islamic thought, on all levels of adherence and observation. In this fantastic mosaic there are people who are Muslims by choice and those who are Muslims by chance; there are Muslims of culture and Muslims of conscious. There are those whose ancestors were here before this nation was founded and others who just arrived from Muslim-majority countries. There are those who are learned in the nuances of Qur’anic hermeneutics, and those who cannot read or write a word of Arabic, relying on translations in English, Urdu, Persian and other languages.
It stands to reason this multiplicity of ethnicities, experiences, expertise and excitement about Islam is bound to yield varying readings of the Qur’an and different interpretations of women’s equality. Some of us want to fill those potholes with material to neutralize patriarchal privileges, others want to fix them with secularism, while others want us to maneuver around the potholes.
In a community this complex, one size really does not fit all and neither does one style. It becomes problematic when one Muslim’s experience, be it positive or negative, is the point of extrapolation from which to typify solutions for all Muslims. Some would have us teetering in stiletto solutions that are two sizes too small, and others would have us lumbering in laced-up boots with solutions three sizes too big.
Expecting others to be where we are, spiritually, intellectually or socially, is second in folly and futility only to forcing our perspectives and beliefs on others. The Muslim community in particular, and humanity in general, will stunt its evolution until each and every person can be viewed as a spiritual being on their way back to the Creator; until we each master the ability to slip from one frame of reference to another with the same grace, ease, understanding and non-attachment, that we can move from speaking one language to another.
Muslim women in America are in a privileged position. On one hand we have our American legacy of freedom of speech, freedom of movement and an academic heritage of critical thinking (things not always present in some Muslim-majority countries). On the other hand we have our Islamic legacy of spiritual agency, a contract to pursue knowledge, and a universal worldview. We are poised in this privileged position to create a community where all voices are heard and respected; a community where our plurality is acknowledged and where unity does not hinge on uniformity.
Islam is more than a religion and it’s more than a way of life; Islam is a state of being. When we truly live our lives in the state of Islam, that is in a state of wholeness, serenity and in alignment with the laws of the universe, every second of existence, and every fiber of self is centered on connecting to the Divine. In that state, the flame misogyny has no oxygen. In that state, a world is created where women, and all humanity, matter.
Tayyibah Taylor is the founding editor-in-chief and publisher of Azizah Magazine and has presented workshops and lectures on Islam and Muslim women throughout the country. Born on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean, Taylor grew up in Toronto, Canada and studied biology and philosophy at the University of Toronto. She lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for several years and attended King Abdul-Aziz University for Arabic and Islamic studies. She presently serves on the steering Committee of WISE, an organization that convenes global Muslim women leaders and fosters Muslim women’s participation in Islamic law and contemporary debates. She presently sits on the board of the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta and the board of directors of Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters and has also served on the board of trustees for the Georgia Council for International Visitors.  Taylor is the mother of five children.