“The Tone-Up” amplifies the voices of Muslim women who have something exclusive about Muslim women to talk or rant about. In this instalment, Oyinkansola Fadiji talks about Gendered-bulling in Muslim circles.
I joined a Muslim WhatsApp group earlier this year. I joined because I needed company. I had been by myself for so long and I desperately craved the comfort of being around people who I could easily detach myself from when I didn’t feel like it. Before that time, I had experienced a near-death event which had me in my feelings. I eventually got in touch with a good friend and explained my plight. He suggested that I joined a Muslim Whatsapp group which he was already a part of. I did not think twice.
I was later to find out that the group was a boisterous one. I was quick to recognise cliques and hierarchies of command. I give credit for my ability to recognise this to my experience at boarding school. I did not have any difficulty recognising who responded to who and what issues drew out the largest crowd. Initially, the group had a few rules and only a little enforcement. Therefore, there was not so much decorum. However, what it lacked in decorum was gained in engagement. Now, it is just stiff and boring and not so educational. ‘I should opt-out‘, I think to myself. I’m in the group for the Dawah, It is not like they do much of it these days. Much of it is admonition anyway; mostly directed at women by men and on very few occasions, from women to women.
On Being Apologetic
Now, this is what I’m getting at. I am not against being admonished. I like to be reminded of my Islamic obligations. I feel like I have to make this clear. I don’t want to, but it feels like I have to, to feel accepted and understood, which in itself is the crux of this essay. Why do I have to convince anyone that I like to be admonished just because I have an issue with how some topics are presented and discussed? Why can’t I state my issue with such admonitions and have my arguments purely measured on the merits of the facts presented? I do not like to be patronised. And I do not like to patronise others either. Tactful? Yes. Blunt? Sometimes. Patronising? Never. But here I am. Another pitfall of my own 2020.
I have had quite some digital confrontations and they’re rarely about me. It’s mostly someone else’s issue that I have felt strongly about. I think I carry too much on my tiny head. However, I recall only a few of the issues that lead to these encounters.
There was once an admonition about arrogance. As usual, the article centred sisters. Not all sisters of course but well read sisters. It chastised them for wanting to marry well-read men. It insinuated that the Deen should be the only criterion sufficient for any sister to pick a brother for marriage. It ended with a statement of hope that read “Looking forward to a day when a PhD holding sister will choose a brother who is a carpenter for a husband“.
I was furious; not because I am a PhD holder and a single sister myself. I can and would marry a sculptor if he were a Muslim and could stimulate my mental curiosity. But I was mad because I recognised that article for what it was. It not only made arrogance seem like a woman’s issue, it painted education as an unnecessary criterion for women seeking to get married. I did not mince words when I responded that “that day will never come“. A brother who believes education is not important has no business desiring an educated sister. There is a reason the adage “Birds of the same feather flock together” exists.
I was not alone in this submission. However, we were few. And when you further look into the number of people who thought money can make up for lack of education, the few became fewer. The point I’m trying to make is that this subtle bullying of women to lower their standards to nothing at all has got to stop. We are repeatedly told to take whatever is on offer like we have no right to have expectations or preferences. We are told to settle for whoever it is so long as he is a Muslim. Men really do have audacity, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
On FGM and Male-Centred Sexuality
In the early days of my membership in the group, I found it frustrating to listen to the members’ gendered-bickering, way before the advent of the mute button On one occasion, an article was posted about female circumcision. Prior to that time, I had read that female circumcision is a recognised practice in Islam. This is based on some sayings of Umar bin Khattab (May Allah be pleased with him), the authenticity of which I cannot tell. I did not have an issue with the article in question because we listen and we obey right? I had an issue with a point from that article.
The article insinuated that Muslim women should submit themselves to circumcision as a way to reduce their libido. By so doing, their husbands can fulfil the task of marrying four wives and sexually satisfy them all. It made me laugh. But not the cheerful, heartfelt, cheek to cheek, wide-eyed laughter. It was sad and pitiful. Pitiful because it came from a woman. Sad because I could only imagine what form of indoctrination must have birthed such awful take. Polygamy is not compulsory. It is subject to your capability as a man. It is why I do not, cannot and will not understand why I must reduce my capabilities as a wife to elevate yours as a husband. When bullying occurs in religious settings, you find out that men and women, although different, are very much similar.
I remember vividly, my interaction with the group on a vivacious afternoon. There had been a lot of bickering. What generated this out-pour of emotions? It was the highly-contested topic of Mahr. Sisters were going at brothers about the amount of Mahr that they intended to ask their husbands. One sister said she’d ask for a G-wagon. One brother responded that her mates were asking for Ayat of the Qur’an. I recognised it as a joke. However, looking critically at it now, it did feel like bullying. Mahr is a gift given to the bride by the groom. It is entirely what the bride requests from the groom and brides have the right to ask for anything they want.
Asking for a recitation of an Ayat or a Surah as Mahr happened when companions of the Prophet (PBUH) who had nothing other than their knowledge of the Quran sought the hands of women in marriage. The Prophet (PBUH) then permitted the recitation of any Ayat or Surah of the woman’s choosing as Mahr. Does this then mean that marriage ceremonies where monetary or material gifts are sought as against the recitation of Ayats or Surahs are doomed to fail? Definitely not. Does this mean that brides who ask for Ayat/Surah have some form of moral superiority? Of course not. Bullies without intention have no chill day.
On a Woman’s Financial Right
When Mercedes created the G-wagon, I’m not quite sure they envisaged what ruckus they’d be causing in our little corner of the world. During another conversation in the group, a brother had found the G-wagon a symbol of gross disrespect.
My best friend and I are Mercedes lovers. We do not own one, but we hope to someday. So when she asked whether it was okay to buy herself a G-wagon if her husband could not afford to buy her one, a brother on the group got furious. Very often, we talk about the woman’s money being hers and the man’s money being for the family. We emphasize that how a woman chooses to spend her money is entirely up to her. What I had never heard is that a woman still needs her husband’s permission to spend her money. That out of ego, the husband can deny such a request.
To quote the brother’s actual response, “Why will my wife choose to buy a G-wagon when I own a Toyota Corolla“? He was bitter in his expression of how he considered it a huge disrespect. The issue was beyond him driving a smaller car. In his opinion, it was more of the fact that she could afford to buy herself a G-wagon. There are over two hundred members in that group. Only ten brothers laughed it off. Two of them called it out as gibberish. However, the rest of them chose silence. Martin Luther King Jr said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty of the bad people but the silence over that by the good people“.
On Virginity and Chastity
I am obsessed with processes and patterns. My daily life is largely influenced by science. Even when I am not in the laboratory, I am in a laboratory. I am constantly looking to draw inferences. I think most scientists can relate to this.
Recently, A. A Haroon wrote an article. This article was shared by a brother in the main group. The theme of this article was chastity. However, it was neither different in style nor was it addressed to a different audience from those of earlier writers. Again, the buck of it centred women. The article began by stating that non-virgin sisters were the ones who would have issues with the article. It then went on to establish the right of Muslim men to seek virgins in marriage. Somewhere in the article, the writer asserted that Muslim women had an obligation to keep themselves chaste, only as gifts for their husbands.
I sighed. I do not understand how penis-owning men get overly obsessed with vaginas. It’s ridiculous how chastity is loudly proclaimed for women, while it’s only passively mentioned for men. I find it mysterious that women are admonished to be chaste for their husbands, but not men for their wives. I will never comprehend why only non-virgin women will have issues with such an essay. Who in the world monitors men’s penises when everyone is monitoring women’s vaginas? I enjoin and encourage boys and girls to keep themselves chaste, but only as a form of obedience to Allah. So what if I am not a virgin? What if I am? The point is that I had issues with the article and I will not allow anyone to bully me with such a prejudiced assertion.
Oyinkansola Fadiji is a cage rattler; a purr girl who is most at peace with donning pants, living unassumingly and being a nomad.