Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Review: Living Islam Outloud, American Muslim Women Speak

Living Islam Outloud, American Muslim Women Speak
Edited By Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur

“This anthology is about women who don’t remember a time when they weren’t both American and Muslim,” writes Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur in the introduction to Living Islam Out loud, American Muslim Women Speak and ones does not have to agree with all of the ideas put forth in this book to recognize it as important to modern discourse. Saleemah Abdul-Ghafur presents some of her own reflections on being Muslim in America as well as those of fifteen other Muslim women authors in a way that is both compelling and inspirational.
The overall message I came away with from the book was one of empowerment, liberation from the constraints of cultural traditions posing as Islam, and that of women being entitled to worship God free of the restraints and influence of others, a message that I found to be refreshing in it’s candor and honesty. This book attempts to address and expose prevalent issues in Islam as we practice it every day while remaining, for the most part, within the fold of Islam. There are stories of sisters who are pious and secure in their faith and there are also stories of sisters who are not secure or who have re-discovered their piety and faith, which I believe accurately reflects the diversity within the Muslim community and depicts Islam as the journey that it is rather than merely as a habitual religious tradition.
Sister Abdul-Ghafur writes, “The truth is that some Muslim women, both in the United States and abroad, are in fact oppressed in many ways and do not live self-determined lives. The truth is also that many Muslim women live powerful lives sourced from the freedom granted to us by God. No longer can mainstream institutions and individuals continue to paint Islam with the broad brush of rigidity, chauvinism, and antiquated notions.” Although it is questionable whether mainstream institutions and individuals cannot paint Islam with a broad brush, as I continue to witness some institutions and individuals attempting to do just that, I completely agree that Muslim women can no longer be stereotyped in the ways that they have been in the past.
I enjoyed the diversity in perspectives most within the anthology. The reader is able to witness the unique mixture of experiences that is the lives of Muslim women in America while gaining insight into the issues that matter most to us in the day to day practice of Islam. Sister Abdul-Ghafur writes, “Over the past three years, I traveled around the nation and listened to the issues facing American Muslim women, which I have grouped as follows: intersecting identities, hijab, relationships, culture juxtaposed to Islam, sex and sexuality, activism, and spirituality. The essays in this anthology examine these issues through first-person accounts.”
The book is consequently organized into four major sections. Section One, Crossroads, deals primarily with growing up Muslim in the United States and the challenges that Muslimah’s face in forming their cultural identity. Section Two, Love, addresses marriage, love, sex and sexuality. Section Three, The Strongest of Faith, addresses Islam in modernity with an emphasis on activism and Section Four, Soul Journeys, deals primarily with spirituality.
The authors artfully weave their own experiences and expressions of Islam into these meaningful issues to form a tightly woven tapestry of Muslim American womanhood, revealing both the beauty and the struggle contained therein.
There are ideas such as the one described by Yousra Y. Fazili in her essay, Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, where she writes, “Hijab was not a symbol of repression – sexual or otherwise. To the contrary, it enabled a unique sort of freedom,” an empowering and inspirational moment in the book relating the sentiments that many of the sisters I’ve known have come to embrace. However, not all sisters feel that way about Hijab and their views are also represented within the anthology. Sister Abdul-Ghafur does well in ensuring that many of the varying perspectives of American Muslim women are represented throughout the work.
An example that I found was that of two sisters and their descriptions of marriage. One sister, Manal Omar, in My Own Worst Enemy, writes about her marriage and the choices she made in choosing a husband by stating, “Looking back in hindsight, it is evident that most of the absolute values that I chose to live by over the years stemmed from the misinterpretation and misapplication of both my religion and my culture, which admittedly at times are not in synch.” In her instance her family and the cultural norms and traditions she grew up embracing effected her decisions for marrying and she ultimately chose to divorce.
In contrast, however, another sister, Asia Sharif-Clark, in Marrying A Believer, writes about marriage describing it from a different perspective. She relates, “Getting married required arrangements, but staying married required strategy,” eluding more to the mental and spiritual adjustments she had to make in order to maintain the success of her marriage.
There are many lovely and meaningful narratives within this anthology as well as a few disturbing and heart-wrenching accounts of life as a Muslim woman in America, they all come together in the end however to paint a picture of Islam and women that I am pleased and excited to be a part of.
A piece that stood out to me personally is titled A Day in the Life, a poem written by Su’ad Abdul-Khabeer. She writes:
“My mind fumbles for words
So my soul may speak.
Labbayka allahuma labbayk
I surrender.
Labbayka allahuma labbayk
I submit.
Labbayka allahuma labbayk
I am captivated.”
I also often find myself uttering labbayka allahuma labbayk, desiring nothing more than the complete surrender of myself to Him alone and the beautiful peace I find there, and captivated is the perfect word to describe how I often feel during those moments. It is worship of Allah, subhanu wa ta’aala, that transcends nationality and cultural identity and pieces such as this one make this work significant not only to American Muslim women, but to Muslims in general as we journey on the path to complete submission to Allah Ta’aala.
“My overall intention for this book is to humanize American Muslim women to our fellow citizens of the world,” wrote Abdul-Ghafur, an intention that I believe was eloquently fulfilled.

Life Reminders

Psalm 145:8-9 The Lord is Gracious and Merciful
The Lord is Gracious and Merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His Compassion is over all that He has made.

Matthew 11:28 Gentleness and Humility
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Surah 33:21 Beautiful Pattern of Conduct
Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern of conduct for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.

Sahih Muslim, Book Unknown: Changing an Evil Action
“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest of faith.”

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