The Muslim community needs to make a quantum leap in addressing the issues of gender roles, gender worth, and gender relations, and so this week I am declaring a ‘womelution’.
The debate about Islam, women and rights seems to have reached a dead end. We are stuck, all of us together – Muslim and otherwise – in a groundhog day regurgitation of the same arguments about women and Islam. It’s all talk with few new ideas and intellectual works being produced, little social change happening, and Muslims still not facing up to the fact that we need to address the subject of gender. We must reject this status of ‘stuck’. Stuck, is no longer an option. God does not change the state of a people until they change it themselves.
We must also reject the notion of ‘fixing women’. Fixing women, doesn’t fix the problem. Let’s replace the issue of ‘women’ with a debate about women and men. After all, God does say He created human beings in pairs.
What we need is for men and women to work together so that we can make substantive change and real improvements. What we need are open hearts and inquisitive minds so that we can make a positive move forward. What we need, is a womelution.
Inspired by women, but for both men as well as women, the womelution is positive, engaging, creative and forward-looking. This is not a bloody revolution, but looks inside all traditions and heritages, to both genders, to all ages and multifarious ethnicities and languages.
The womelution is about making real change: intellectual change but most importantly, real social change. It is characterised by compassion, humanity and humour and most of all by respect. It is not about women versus men, but about being on the same side, creating the best for everyone. It is rooted in Islam and its foundations are within the Muslim conception of the world. Its premise is that Islam has more to offer than it is currently given credit for, and it has a blueprint that can contribute to humanity in general. The womelution encourages questioning, respectful challenging and constructive criticism.
1. We need to re-ignite the tradition of intellectual debate
We need new thinking and output that moves forward Islamic scholarship on the issues of gender. The world has changed and we need to face up to that. We must ask challenging questions – but with respect and within the spirit and ethos of the Qur’an and the teachings of the Prophet. Every time we look at the words of the Qur’an we are advised that they will reveal something new. In the same way, when every new generation looks at Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic traditions it will be through new lenses.
In 2008, I invite every Muslim scholar, every Imam, and academic to tackle the issues around Islam and gender. It can be in the shape of a theological discourse, or a social reform, small or large, but it must offer something new and positive that leads to real change.
2. Communal spaces, particularly mosques, need to re-balance gender participation
Although a womelution is about both men and women, it is undoubted that in some areas – such as those of mosques and other public forums – getting women involved is the first priority. This will benefit both men and women. Those mosques or community centres which currently have no space for women need to create areas for women and start engaging with them. The many mosques where women are already actively involved need to make sure that there is at least one woman who is on the management or executive committee of that mosque or centre, and that she has actual authority and empowerment vested in her.
Let 2008 be the year for asking questions and offering answers about how men and women should share mosques and community spaces, and when every single mosque up and down the UK succeeds in appointing a woman into an official position.
3. Women must themselves actively pursue improvement and change – for the sake of society as a whole
Men need to open hearts, minds and doors, but women must also grasp the mettle and engage in change. It can and will be difficult and will feel uncomfortable. Both men and women need to understand that women must participate to create a successful community. Women have new perspectives and approaches, and will bring forward issues that have not yet been addressed. Women will double the resources, brains and energies at the disposal of the Muslim community.
4. Change must be based on addressing the needs of both men and women
What are the traditional gender roles that we are upholding? How do men and women currently interact, how are responsibilities distributed, and are these rooted in culture or faith? Once we’ve asked these questions we need to assess: what should be our definitions of gender roles and what should be our notions of gender worth? We don’t live in a traditional world anymore. It is worth remembering that the greatest failing of the community of the Prophet Abraham was that they did what their fathers and forefathers before them did without questioning it.
The biggest social and practical issue facing us today though, is that of gender relations – how should men and women relate to each other, and how do we implement personal law? Muslim women have become the bastions for maintaining and regulating gender relations. The concepts of hijab, niqab and segregation have been confused with the real concept of modesty in etiquette, behaviour and personal relationships. What does modesty really mean? What is its role in Muslim society, how should both men and women practice it, and how should it regulate the world of gender relations?
5. Confidence, compassion and curiosity are the values that will drive positive change
It’s time also to put paid to the frankly silly but insidious suggestions that Muslims are alien to Britain. Muslims must be confident in themselves, in their Islam and in living in Britain. We must have curiosity and confidence in asking questions to make the lives better of everyone around us – Muslim and otherwise. It also requires compassion and empathy for our neighbours which, of course, comes with the right to be treated with respect and love in return.
This year should be the beginning of a womelution, a marked change in the tempo and confidence of the Muslim community, with a particular focus on gender. We will need vision and creativity and to be positive and work together. This is the only way that we will move forward.
And if you’re still confused, it’s pronounced wi-mah-lou-shun.
P.S. We also need a little inspiration and some humour. As my own personal contribution, I dedicate four Superhero characters, which you will find on my blog www.spirit21.co.uk/magicmuslims
This article was recently published in The Muslim News
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