In my graduate school religion class, I brought up patriarchy constantly. So one day my professor asked: ‘why are you still a Muslim if there’s so much patriarchy in your community?’ (I hope he said ‘community’ and not ‘religion’. I don’t remember his question verbatim. Only the point.) And it suddenly dawned on me that he, like many others, didn’t get it. Not only do too many people not get it, but it turns out, I need to be more cautious about who I have such intimate conversations about my faith with.
I had never thought about the question before. I had never asked myself why I am still a Muslim despite the patriarchy that appears to be so ingrained in the tradition and faith that I am committed to. This question makes so many problematic assumptions, all of which I am going to raise in the form of questions. Is patriarchy only the enterprise of Islam, Muslims, and the Islamic tradition? Would we ask a feminist non-Muslim, perhaps a Christian, the same question – why they are still Christian when there’s so much misogyny in the faith and community they are devoted to? Is patriarchy a problem only in religious contexts? Is it even possible for me to leave Islam and suddenly begin to be a citizen of a world without patriarchy – in other words, does a world without patriarchy currently even exist? And, most disturbing, can only misogynists lay a claim to Islam as their faith, leaving all non-misogynists no other choice than to walk out of it?
Since that graduate class, this question has come up a lot more – though explicitly and vocally only in Muslim spaces, in spaces where I feel safe enough to answer it. I have sensed it arising in non-Muslim spaces, where I suspect an observer is desperate to express their pity on me for being a Muslim woman or otherwise express some desire to enlighten me about my status as an oppressed Muslim woman. Their looks of commiseration speak plenty. But besides this pity committee, as Mohja Kahf calls them, many of my Muslim friends, male, female, and non-binary, who are committed to an egalitarian practice of Islam have asked if their fight against sexist bigotry is even worth it.