Dear Brothers/Sisters, SA
I found this in my email box today and decided to share with you. Brother Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid is an old Jamaati friend of mine. Though he still preaches N2I, yet his voice in support of Muslim women’s rights is worth listening.
She died over five years ago, but her words are a haunting warning that we continue to ignore: more women are leaving the Muslim community because of the way they continue to be treated.
These were the words of the late Shareefa Alkhateeb, one of the pioneers of the Muslim community in the United States, when I last met her at a conference just months before her death in 2004.
Sr. Shareefa was one of the earliest and most vocal voices in the American Muslim community to push for the inclusion of and respect for women. She was often the first to notice the lack of sisters speaking at an event and she would firmly, but always politely, make sure something was done about it. This became most obvious to me when I organized the national Bosnia Task Force rally in 1993.
The platform was dominated by men, with not a single woman present. “Why are there no women speakers?” she asked, in her usual polite, but no-nonsense tone. I was embarrassed to admit she was right: there were no women included on the stage. I hastily arranged for two women to speak. Sr. Shareefa taught me a lesson I will never forget.
Through her simple question, I began to notice the painful ways that Muslim women continue to be ignored and excluded in the community. On one extreme, it can be found in Masjids that bar women from entering, something that is forbidden in the Quran and the Sunnah. On the other extreme, it is in the way sisters who are highly educated professionals are relegated to “kitchen duty” during events and project meetings, their talents relegated to a kind of pink collar ghetto. The exclusion is also evident in the way women who do choose to volunteer for tasks like cooking or cleaning up after events are never acknowledged or recognized while male speakers and fundraisers are fawned over and sought after.
This exclusion is not part of our history. How do we know about women like Khadija, Aisha, Fatima, Umm Salma, and others? It is because their lives were given importance and weight by early Muslim scholars. Their contributions were and to this day are recognized by all Muslims. They were not barred from the Masjid. Their talents and skills were utilized to establish and strengthen the Muslim community. Their sacrifices were recognized as indispensable to Islam and Muslims yesterday, today and in the future.
Sr. Shareefa was right: where are the women? It’s a question every Masjid, every Muslim leader, every Imam, every principal of a full-time or weekend Islamic school needs to ask. It’s a question every father needs to ask.
If we don’t do this urgently, the answer may be this: the women have left and they have no desire to come back.
Abdul Malik Mujahid