This article has just been published in EMEL Magazine.
Muslim women are changing the world. Fed up with voices on all sides telling us how we should dress, what is ‘right’ for Muslim women, and how we should be defending Islam or in other cases dismantling it, Muslim women are getting themselves together and initiating change. But what does this mean if you are a Muslim man?
I should make two statements here: first, that I am an advocate for Muslim women and the changes that they want to make to traditional structures within Muslim communities, from within the faith. I believe Islam has a blueprint that offers liberation for both genders. Second, whilst there are some great changes afoot, an unspeakably huge amount still needs to be done in order to redress the oppression that Muslim women face from all sides.
With this in mind, I ask again, what if you are a Muslim man? It is a challenge being a Muslim woman, but I imagine that it is also a challenge being a Muslim man. There are plenty of books, talks and articles produced about “Women and Islam” but what about “Men and Islam.” It even sounds strange, doesn’t it?
Muslim women are constantly torn between the competing tensions of faith and multiple cultures. Men must be as well. For example, there is much talk about the difficulty that Muslim women face in finding marriage partners. Muslim men, what are your thoughts on this experience?
What notion of fatherhood can a Muslim man shape when battling traditional external notions that it is a ‘woman’s job’, a concept that exists in both western and eastern cultures?
When it comes to ideas about modesty and Muslim dress, what thought processes and support do Muslim men have in determining what they wear and whether this conforms to any standard of modest dress? And when it comes to the traditional notion that the hijab is there to save men from their uncontrollable cave-man sexual urges, do you have any opinions or more to the point, do you take offence at this? I think you should, and I have argued previously that hijab should not be explained in terms of denigrating men as licentious monsters.
When it comes to identity and stereotyping, Muslim men are typecast as today’s ‘angry young men’, with a beard and rucksack as labels for ‘terrorist’. What are the challenges that Muslim men are facing? What support do you want to address these?
If we want to create a change for women, then men need to be engaged. It’s the right thing to do, and it is the inevitable thing. It’s right because if Muslim men truly believe that Islam liberates women, and that it is built on the foundation of both genders being ‘created from one soul’, then they will – they must – stand in support of the changes women are advocating. More significantly, it is inevitable because any change that affects Muslim women must by definition affect Muslim men because the two occupy interconnected spheres of influence. Put another way, if men proactively make changes in conjunction with women, then problems affecting both genders will be solved much more quickly and effectively.
This is not about detracting from women, or diminishing their cause, nor is it about re-instating men as more important, or going back to patriarchy. It is about helping women, and helping the balance of our society as a whole.
Actually, this still sounds very Muslim-woman-centric, and there is a reason for framing my outreach to Muslim men in this way. I don’t want Muslim men’s needs to be hijacked by the same unyielding voices of traditional patriarchy that drown out Muslim women’s voices by telling them that they know better than Muslim women what it is exactly that Muslim women need.
By framing up our need to hear men’s voices from within the paradigm of the changes Muslim women are creating, I’m hoping to give space and freedom to Muslim men to be honest about the challenges they face. Young men can suffer at the hands of tradition, culture and patriarchy too, their needs being overlooked, unheard or dismissed as rebellious immature youth.
All of us need to make space for men to speak up about their concerns. There are two critical components of this space: that men can speak honestly about their issues; and also, that men and women can talk to each other, openly, sincerely and productively.
Muslim men, we need to hear from you.