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.continue reading
In December last year, I travelled to Darfur as part of a multi-disciplinary group to visit the war-torn region and the camps that are home to hundreds and thousands of displaced people. The group I was part of visited the camp that is run by Islamic Relief, a British Muslim charity which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. Their longevity and influence as one of the world’s leading Muslim charities was recognised by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office who hosted the quarter century celebrations.
The UK Director of Islamic Relief was part of the group, and along with the other delegates we travelled through Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to raise the profile of the tragedy in Darfur. We were often asked “Why do you talk about Darfur, and not Palestine?” We answered “Suffering is suffering wherever we see innocent people dying. Death, destruction and poverty in one place do not make us forget it in another. The human heart is big enough to deal with all of the suffering.” The day that we returned to Britain, hostilities against the people of Gaza began, resulting in 1400 deaths, and the destruction of many places of civic life like hospitals and local institutions.
The same UK director of Islamic Relief, is currently visiting Gaza to see what work his organisation can do. He sent me this note today, and I wanted to share it with all of you.
As I retire to the comfort of my room in Gaza at the end of Day 2, I wouldcontinue reading
like to share my feelings with you all.
What I witnessed today is the reality of the horrors of the brutality of
war. It is the disintegration of basic values, the same universal values which
allow human beings to live with one another.
For us who are far away, on the other side of a television screen, last
December seems a distant memory. We may have seen crisis upon crisis across the
world, but for the people here in Gaza, what happened eleven months ago is not
forgotten. It has utterly changed their lives.
During my visit I have seen them living with death, destruction, grief,
misery, bad sewage smells, people locked in like cattle. Everyone has been
affected, every man, woman, child has witnessed with their own eyes the tragic
reality unfold in front of them. Physical and emotional pain is all around
I wish I could tell you that my description is journalistic hyperbolae,
designed to tug at your heartstrings and maybe even make you feel guilty at the
comfort in your own homes. Simple human stories remind us, however, that this is
not a showbiz game, but that real lives have been affected.
I met Mahmud today. He is nine years old, and he has lost his mother. Like
many other children he has forgotten how to play, fearful of those attacks in
December. Broken by the loss of his family. An innocent child amongst many
innocent children, paying a horrific price. I witnessed children in our
psycho-social centre today with our excellent team actually being taught how to
play like children again. Imagine re-teaching your loved ones how to play a
Mahmud broke my heart today. But has he lost his entire family? Or will we
help him to realise that Mahmud is our child and we are his extended
Through all the devastation and turmoil, there is one thing that I have not
seen: hopelessness. The People of Gaza for me embody Inspiration and Hope.
They are a people that defy logic and stand tall with dignity &
resolve. They live not just narrate the verse: “With Hardship comes
I ask you all to keep our team in Gaza in your prayers, so that they can
continue to reach our extended family.
Jehangir Malik from Gaza: the Land and People of Hope.