New beginnings in pursuit of sovereignty & justice, one unlearning foot at a time

I do not recall it was a conscious, thought-out decision. It was more of a subtle, quiet unfolding of the divine hand, similar to a worthy piece of writing born from channeling, the words flowing from a place way beyond the human mind’s reach. The quietness was the reassurance I needed that I was on the right track. It’s always the soft, gentle ones that leave the everlasting mark. And so it was that a couple of months ago I woke up to an email congratulating me on my acceptance to pursue post-graduate studies. Quietly. [I can see the smirk on your face my friend. I know. Not so quiet anymore.]

It is both ironic and tragic that innovation (bid’a), the very essence of progress, has been exploited by Islamic scholars for centuries to silence any legitimate attempts by Muslim thinkers to explore new meanings from new contexts in sacred texts, spirituality, and religious history. From where I write in this expansive universe, it is no wonder it feels like Islamic countries alone suffer from human rights violations, perpetrated by their own and undeniably exploited by greedy colonial powers that find in us an easy prey ripe for abuse. Often, those human rights violations are used as justification for their occupation and cleansing. We see this played out so sadly in the struggle of Palestinians for liberty and freedom, with the Zionist occupation writing the handbook on this as the rest of the world claps.

This does not mean we should sit helplessly as victims. I cannot ignore that the Islamic world that will always be my home happens to contribute very little innovation to civilization. I know it is naive, unfair, and inaccurate to assume this world to be one homogeneous entity. But let us assume for a “page” that this is true. After all, most modern-day wars happen to be in Muslim-majority countries, with Muslims fighting one another, obviously armed to the teeth with state-of-the-art weaponry innovation coming from those authoring the handbook. Muslim-majority countries report worrying numbers of crimes against women committed in the name of God and the teachings of his Prophet Mohammad Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH). Environmental abuse is rampant too, with no compassion toward any other being than the male human other than empty lip-service to meet quotas and silence dissent. Affluent countries in the Middle East have proudly become a consumerist culture, readily receiving the bid’a of other civilizations often in stark opposition to their values, without offering much value to the world in return other than their money.

The first word to be divinely revealed to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was “Read.” Centuries later, we have allowed ourselves to only be read to, gradually and willingly relinquishing our sovereignty to a religious and political elite that has brought us to where we are today: crippled, rudderless, and reduced to advocating for a woman’s basic right to live.

I cannot ignore that this metastatic degeneration has been fed by the equally metastatic rising momentum of the accusation of bid’a particularly over the last century. The Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi describes in her book The Veil and the Male Elite how not so long ago in 1946, Sa’id al-Afghani oversaw the publication of two biographies of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) second wife A’isha to conclusively kill any discussion of women’s involvement in Muslim politics, stating clearly that women were only created for the purpose of reproduction. His biography of A’isha was in such high demand that it was republished in 1971. Muhammad ‘Arafa in The Rights of Women in Islam resumes the same narrative. Allah and his prophet were clear. Any questioning of sacred tradition is an unwelcome and rejected act of bid’a. End of discussion —or innovation.

In 2020, a Jordanian father chased his bleeding forty-something-year-old daughter down the street in the northern ‘Ein El-Basha neighborhood, a twenty-minute drive from my home in Amman, Jordan. The neighbors heard her screams for help. Someone caught the murder on camera and shared it on social media. No one interfered. Daughters and their male family members (“guardians” they call them) were personal family affairs. Enabled by a patriarchal culture sanctioned by the likes of the aforementioned scholars, he took a concrete block from the street and bludgeoned his daughter to death. When he finished the job, he sat next to her body smoking a cigarette and drinking tea. His brothers arrived to congratulate him on saving the family honor.

This wasn’t the first crime committed against women in Jordan, nor will it be the last. Since this murder last June, there have been tens of “honour” crimes against Jordanian women. Feminists have been calling for a re-thinking of the whole system including social attitudes, shying away from addressing the elephant in the room: the religious establishment (comprised of men.)

Let’s face it: justice cannot be reduced to parts. In fact, absolutely nothing can be reduced to parts without understanding and honouring the whole first. And the whole is hurting.

The trajectory of progress has clearly shown civilization that pain/suffering/need/growth/healing somewhere will influence the process at the other end of the globe. Eventually. A mother’s cries in Jerusalem reverberate across the globe. A battered daughter in Jordan ultimately affects the future of a young man in Japan.

Political and social justice cannot be separated from religious justice. It cannot be addressed in isolation of environmental justice. It is all intertwined. Liberation means freedom from all oppression. Religious justice cannot be pursued without unapologetically embracing bid’a as the path forward.  Having the courage to follow the path of innovation we are indoctrinated to avoid is the single, most empowering act we can undertake.

That is the only path that can heal our fractured world. And we must heal. The wells of tears have dried up. The blood that has drenched the land has left no room for air.

Creation is whispering — quietly— for us to open a window.

I am so inspired, heartened to find the seeds of an emerging courage to step into a safe, supportive space for unlearning to unfold as a human being, a woman, a Muslim, and a heart of deep faith and connection. There can be no healing without the mysterious, intimidating journey of unraveling custom, revisiting beliefs, and relearning the wisdom of faith. Helping has to move from prayers to action, and that entails reclaiming our sovereignty by turning inwards and outwards, exploring our own spirituality and faith, while learning about others’ pursuits of bid’a, freedom, and justice.

As a Muslim, I am convinced reform requires innovation. And it starts in the mosque because that is the very space that gives a father who has just bludgeoned his daughter to death in front of his entire neighbourhood the ownership of a patriarchal God committed to the oppression of the woman He has created.

One Comment

  • Jennifer Suleiman says:

    Oh dear. This punched me in the gut and said all that I want to say (and more). We women have been complacent in raising generations upon generations of men who have stolen our narratives, twisted them, and made them theirs. There ARE good men, and good Muslim men, who are truthseekers. We all know this (we are married to them, many of us). However, HOWEVER, something happend to cause the schism that took the Muslim world from being capable of leading the world in “positive innovation” to hiding it away like monks in the Dark Ages. So many things were hijacked, stolen, rebranded, accosted, trivialized…oh, I do not have enough verbs. But I thank you for your wisdom. We can do more. We must do more. Viva Palestina.

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