Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi: Muslim Women Take Back the Mic on International Women’s Day
Everyone has an opinion about Muslim women, even those — especially those — who have never met one.
As Muslim women born and raised in America, we are tired of hearing everyone — politicians, pundits, men and women of other faiths (or those not adhering to any faith) — talk about Muslim women without ever stopping to listen to what we have to say about our lives.
The narrative about Muslim women spun by others — and propagated in the media and popular culture — as silent, submissive and oppressed, is one that neither of us recognize in ourselves, the women in our families, or the women we have met over the years through our work within the Muslim community both in the United States and abroad. (Ayesha as a development consultant and Nura as an attorney.)
When we raise our voices to tell our own stories, we are silenced. We are either dismissed as outliers — educated and upper class Western-raised Muslim women with no grasp of the reality of “real” Muslim women — or brainwashed, because how could any intelligent woman defend Islam or call herself Muslim? In many cases, our experiences are negated or dismissed as inauthentic by virtue of comparison to the circumstances of some women in other countries, e.g., burqa-clad women in Afghanistan or child brides in Yemen.
What about child brides in Yemen?
There is no denying that there is subjugation and oppression of women committed by Muslims, in the name of Islam, the world over — just as we know there is injustice occurring everyday against women of all faiths, in all countries, in the name of religion politics, and ideology.
But the experiences of some Muslim women do not negate the experiences of others. The voices of Muslim women are diverse, and our individual experiences authentic. We must be placed in our own context without being smothered under an entire globe’s worth of geopolitical baggage. Just as the life of a Catholic woman in a village in Guatemala is very different from that of a Catholic woman in the village of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, so too are the lives, realities and experiences of over 500 million Muslim women across the globe.
In the last few years, Muslim women have begun pushing back against the monolithic “Muslim Woman” to celebrate the joys of our context and the challenges therein. We’ve seen a Muslim woman — Tawakkul Karman — win the Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy work in Yemen, and another Muslim woman — Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy — win an Oscar for amplifying the courageous voices of acid attack survivors in Pakistan.
Here in the United States, the American Muslim community is coming into its own, and women are leading the way through their literary achievements, including anthologies and novels, plays and memoirs. As editors of the groundbreaking anthology “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women,” we were privileged to hear the perspectives of hundreds of women who responded to our call for stories. These Muslim women courageously raised their voices to share their complex, joyful and sometimes painful love lives, thereby giving readers a glimpse of what it really means to be a Muslim woman in America today.
This International Women’s Day, Muslim women are speaking. Are you ready to listen?
Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi are co-editors of the non-fiction anthology ‘Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women‘ (Soft Skull Press, 2012).