Archives for category: Uncategorized

Oum Kulthoum’s Sexuality by Musa Al-Shadeedi: a concise bilingual booklet that is less about the star’s sexuality and more about why we’re so obsessed with it in the first place.

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano: blew my cis-gendered feminist mind the fuck out. Forget what you think you know about gender and please just read this book.

The Keys’ Shadows by Ibrahim Nasrallah (Arabic): reads like poetry and the haunting imagery will probably stay with me for years. Haven’t read anything this beautifully written in Arabic in a long time.

Mythologies by Roland Barthes: read the second half first and the short essays second. Lays important groundwork for a better understanding of culture, power and representation.

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (Arabic): every page packs a punch and it never wallows in self-pity. What this book lacks in writing style, it makes up for in hard-earned lessons.

Beloved by Toni Morrison: This is a masterpiece and a masterclass in good writing. Between the words, the characters and all the emotions they evoke, it’s a wonderful mindfuck.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: a good example of how to choose characters and narratives that can bring home a vital history.

Queer by William S. Burroughs: self-indulgent, racist and misogynistic. I understand what kind of character he was trying to paint and the autobiographical appeal this book might have but it just reminded me how unbelievably stunted and toxic men can be, straight or gay.

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde: a revelation in content and style. Nobody has perfected the art of balancing the intimate with the universal as well as Lorde does.

Uncut Funk: a contemplative dialogue between bell hooks and Stuart Hall: needless to say, the conversations between these two are fucking fascinating. Juxtapose it with superficial conversations on identity politics today and you’ll understand why this level of nuance is so necessary.

Brooklyn Heights by Miral al-Tahawy (Arabic): I was ready to love this book and although some aspects of the personal history were interesting, neither the storytelling or the writing styling were powerful enough to engage me.

The City Always Wins by Robert Hamilton: visceral and real, it’s an emotional read but one that will take you right back to the heart of the storm.

Black Skin White Masks by Frantz Fanon: a much needed look at how racist colonial systems affect the psyche. Definitely male-centred but an essential read.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: a perfect study on love, shame and how these emotions manifest in our personal relationships. Baldwin’s writing is both soft and powerful, ie. easy to read and stays with you for a long time.

The End of the Affair by Grahame Greene: lyrically written without romanticising the writing experience and includes some excellent passages on love and religion.

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon: infuriating in how accurate and relevant it still is, this book should be read by everyone in the Global South. But don’t forget to situate it within its correct political and historical context.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: a new format for me but thoroughly enjoyed it! Slow, insightful and beautifully done.

Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose: I didn’t know how much I needed to read this. It provides an excellent analysis on how motherhood is scapegoated on an individual level and often weaponised in the media for wider political gains.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge: a great primer for white audiences but offers little in-depth analysis or direction for the future of racial discourse.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi: this book is stuck between that particular rock and hard place, between self-orientalising and telling your truth. If the author had been a little more aware of her audience and positionality this could have been a great book.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: forced migrations and political upheavals through the families that lived them. Drags a little near the end but absolutely worth it for the women’s stories and all the lessons that come with them.

(First published on Gal-Dem.com, March 2019)

When I told a white non-Muslim friend that I used to be veiled, I was met with a blank stare. He only understood what I meant when I said, “I used to wear the hijab.” In my predominantly Muslim country, we always refer to it as “the veil” when we are speaking in English, so I wondered why then did an English man not understand this English word?

Last year I attended a panel on the politics of the Arabic language that helped me to answer this question. The speakers included a lecturer, a translator and a researcher who were all saying the same thing: that Arabic is being misused and those who do not speak it rarely understand the full political and historical implications of this. The examples given ranged from misleading translations of official treaties and political statements to the selective Arabic words and phrases taught to trainees in Western security apparatuses. To understand the complexities of the Arab world in an international context, speaking only English or Arabic meant that you were only receiving half the story.

Up until that point, I had understood that Western media outlets specifically chose to write very average run-of-the-mill words in Arabic to highlight the subject matter’s foreignness (eg. school/madrasa, veil/hijab etc.). This panel discussion gave me a deeper understanding of its political ramifications and confirmed my suspicion that the Arabic language was being intentionally weaponised to demonise Arabic speaking and Muslim countries.

At this point, it is essential to differentiate between Arabic speaking countries (which are almost always Muslim majority) and non-Arabic speaking Muslim countries. The reason is that while the word “madrasa” means any school in an Arabic speaking country, it is only used to refer to Islamic schools in non-Arabic speaking countries. In a post-9/11 world, this word came to infer alleged “breeding grounds” for future terrorists, at least in the English speaking use of the word. It is very confusing for an Arabic speaker to hear this word used in any context other than a casual “how was school today?”

A similar thing happened with the words “jihad”, “mujtahid” and “mujahideen”. All these words have the same root – “juhd” – meaning effort, and a student who is “mujtahid” is simply making a good effort. The word jihad itself does have a rich variety of meanings within Islamic teachings but for a word that has been around for thousands of years, there’s a particular reason people in the Western world have recently become very familiar with it. It wasn’t until the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 that there was an interest in the “mujahideen”. And in the West’s scramble to find a new enemy in the aftermath of the Cold War, the Muslim world and “jihad” became the targets of choice. Since then, this entire branch of the language has been tied to and constricted by these forced associations with religious extremism and acts of terrorism.

What compounds this problem is the language’s underrepresentation on a global scale. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world but contributes only 0.6% of content on the Internet. Due to its complexity and diversity of dialects, it is mostly used by native speakers and only one in five people who try to learn it go on to take advanced classes. This makes it more vulnerable to media priming and framing – the idea that the media can set interpretative filters and associations by choosing what to focus on and how it is portrayed. This means when a reader sees an Arabic sounding word written in Italics on the page of a newspaper, years of exposure to negative content about the language/religion/culture will trigger them into either being afraid of this “other” or accepting that it is something dangerous that should be eradicated.

Putting this in the context of the recent surge of Islamophobia in the UK, where women are being disproportionately targeted, the word “hijab” is almost dangerous (depending of course on who is using it and to what end). Assuming these hate crimes are in response to terrorist attacks and the rise of the far right, it would make more sense for these bigots to target Muslim men, but ultimately Muslim women are more visible and seemingly easier to shout abuse at in the street. They have been labelled and associated with the “hijab” – the West’s easiest marker of what a Muslim looks like.

A veil is something universal, a bride can wear a veil on her wedding day, traditional Christian women will wear a veil to church, in some West African tribes it is the men who wear a veil. But a “hijab” is reserved for “oppressed Muslim women”. So if the English word for it exists, why not use it? The answer is to create a strong line of division, to create the impression that these ideas are foreign and cannot be translated into “civilised” English.

c7d0e1aa-c494-4918-8efb-d94e96de3a06Fou’ada is their conscience and the voice of reason, an entire village’s moral compass and the only one to stand up for what’s right. She is also the one soft spot of the strongman terrorising the village, Atrees. He wasn’t always like this, when they were kids they were equals – sensitive, caring, and not wanting to hurt a living soul. But the little boy was trained in the ways of his cruel grandfather who through years of abuse manages to infiltrate his grandson’s mind. Atrees grows up knowing that he is not like his grandfather by nature and promises Fou’ada to never kill. This all changes when one villager shoots the grandfather and makes Atrees promise to take revenge. In an exaggerated show of violence and as a metaphor for the death of his innocence and kindness, Atrees uses all of his men’s guns to repeatedly shoot the perpetrator.

Atrees becomes increasingly cruel, killing those who defy him and punishing others by burning down their farms or cutting the water supply. He has come to understand that to continue having this much power it must be done through fear, he has no desire to be loved or respected. This fear shapes the village, it infects how they interact with each other and how they view themselves, with most of them complacently accepting that this just how things are. The only exception is Fou’ada, who is not governed by fear. When she questions why no body is standing up to Atrees, the reply is always ‘why should I be the one to do it and risk death?’ Everyone is waiting for someone else to take the first step. The good of the individual is pitted against the good of the community and that is the true victory of fear and violence.

In the moving scene of rebellion where Fou’ada opens up the water supply while the rest of the village sulks over their misfortune, the people rejoice at her actions but are not moved to follow suit. There is an understanding that only she can do this because Atrees loves her. She has the one tool that exists outside the power structure. Her overwhelming compassion for others and intimate knowledge of Atrees makes her the go-to person when something has gone wrong. The men don’t turn to each other for help and support because they have nothing to offer each other whereas Fou’ada is always willing to help them out. Her expression of emotion is always to mourn for and with others but in the face of any personal struggles we get the steely glance of perseverance.

Atrees tries to intimidate Fou’ada and her family into a marriage with him and although she doesn’t agree her father and his witnesses lie and say she does; assuming that, like them, she will cower in front of him when the time comes. It is here that we see Fou’ada using the one structural and institutional piece of arsenal available to her – a Muslim marriage is only legitimate if the woman approves it. Despite this, her father marries her off anyway and it is almost through sheer luck that her brutal husband decides not to rape her. But for Atrees, to have Fou’ada by force would be counterintuitive because the reason he wants her in the first place is that she is balm to his wounded self, she is the sole source of light in this violent life he has created. He never talks of her personal attributes but keeps mentioning over and over again how she used to make him feel. She is his pain because she is a living reminder of the person he used to be and he wants to contort that into something that will give him relief instead. She is not a person with agency and her own make-up, she only exists in relation to him.

Fou’ada reminds him that his violence is a choice. He forced this marriage on her father but she would have willingly had him if he hadn’t committed all these unforgivable crimes. Yet he still tries to force her to become his salvation when she is clearly more interested in saving her village from him. The men’s reactions to her stance is particularly interesting. The young idealist claims that she has killed their manhood because she has done what none of them had the courage to do. Usually this would incite a reflexive hatred towards the woman for reminding them of their shortcomings as men but instead they have decided to use it as motivation to act, because if a woman can do it then they as men can do it too.

The most progressive gender stance then comes from the idealist’s father who tries to rally the men after Friday prayers. His argument is that even if they allowed Atrees to break the laws of man they must not allow him to break the rules of God. When another villager points out that they have a woman in their midst who sins by sleeping around, his response is that she has done this of her own free will whereas Fou’ada was taken from her family home against her wishes; and once they free themselves of this tyranny they can then sort out any internal issues that are bothering them. This begs the question then of whether or not they would have come to Fou’ada’s rescue if she had been raped or beaten? Or was it only in the breaking of the sanctity of marriage as laid down by Islam do they find their true motivation for taking action?

 

 

فيلم عرق البلحAnd what happens to the women when they leave? This is the central question posed by the 1999 Egyptian film ‘Arak El-Balah (3ara2 elbala7 – “Date Wine”). 

It starts with a mysterious voice visiting a poor village and asking all the men to come to a faraway land where they will gain many riches. The incentives appeal to the men’s masculinity: buying jewellery for a beautiful wife or being able to afford a daughter’s wedding. Although these reasons revolve around the family, the women express that they do not care about these things and would rather their fathers, husbands and brothers stay. It is clear the men are going to be exploited, the conditions for their work are: silence, blindness, forgetting.

The one man who resists is the one with no family, no wife or children to take care of. He is only concerned with the large palm tree. His self-assigned life purpose is climbing it and getting the white date wine that will cure his ailing grandfather. They end up being the two masculine figures left behind, the young man that must prove his manhood and the old man who can no longer speak or support himself. The old man is accompanied by Grandma Zein, the mysterious black woman who represents ancient wisdom, she is the overseer and protector of the village – sometimes through simple actions and stories, other times through cryptic metaphors and poetry.

The young man, Ahmed, is the only person in the village that knows how to read and becomes the women’s sole connection to their estranged partners and relatives. It’s one of the many ways he begins to gain their respect, culminating in a scene where they dress him like a “real” man and put him on a horse to call for musicians from a neighbouring village to celebrate a newborn baby. Like a child he accepts their grooming – it is the women who make the man. It is only when they stop treating him like a teenager that he stops trying to prove himself to them.

As time passes many women fall into either despair or insanity – sadness and madness – the central thread running through the women’s characters. Female sexuality for example is portrayed as a rising tension that sometimes leads to self-pity and other times to depravity. Only the married women have sexual desire, seemingly because they tried it and now cannot live without it. They are the ones who start proactively trying to find ways to fulfill their needs. One goes after Ahmed when drunk and gets beaten off like a dog by Grandma Zein, and another dances suggestively and ends up sleeping with one of the musicians from the neighbouring village. In a scene that provides an intense visual representation of shame; when the women find out, they surround her and silently pressure her into killing herself. On a group level it is a form of self-correction in order to preserve their social norms and on an individual level her pre-existing shame makes stepping into a fire and burning herself alive almost seem inevitable. Female desire is never treated as just being human, it is subhuman and abnormal, and is treated as such at every turn.

The men eventually return, tired, broken and seeking consolation in their women. The women seemingly so relieved at their return must quickly hide any mental distress that was caused by their departure but it manifests in other ways. The woman who had pursued Ahmed doesn’t want her husband anymore, she spends her days holding her son that she had almost killed in a fit of rage and smoking cigarettes (a decidedly masculine habit). The village is silent about the woman who killed herself and when one man asks why she did it, his wife tries to blame the sadness and he responds by telling her that they all have sadness in their hearts but nobody has killed themselves. Sadness is their accepted fate and it must come with an acceptances of all circumstances – acknowledging the possibility of desire, shame and mental imbalance is not an option.

The men also find out that Ahmed intends to marry the young and beautiful Salma but has impregnated her in the meantime. In a final showcase between two adjacent interpretations of masculinity, Salma’s father challenges Ahmed to climb the tall palm tree as a dowry for his daughter then cuts it down when he reaches the top, ultimately killing two of the village’s most valuable and productive entities.

Unlike palm trees that are resilient and don’t break in the wind, the system they had created and tried so hard to protect only works when everything is going smoothly with man, woman and children at home. In its attempt to spotlight the importance of family and the trivial pursuit of wealth, the film actually exposes how deeply flawed a traditionally patriarchal system is. The system however has succeeded in making the female characters internalise it and believe that they cannot survive without men, to the point where the women were able to successfully perpetuate its destructive tendencies. This is despite the fact that there are many modern, historical, urban and agricultural examples of successful female communities and female-led households. It is clear then that the overarching system cannot survive without this firm belief that if all the men disappeared, the women would crumble, like a built-in safety mechanism.

tearsAl-Ard (The Land, 1969) is arguably one of the most powerful depictions of land struggles and the plight of the farmer against oppressive landowners, the corrupt government and British rule in the history of Egyptian cinema. I was very young when I first saw this film and my lasting impression of it was its visual homage to Egypt’s stunning farmland and the intensity of feeling it aroused in the people who inhabited it. On second viewing I started noticing disturbing (though unsurprising) patterns in its portrayal of masculinity.

The whole village, young and old, is fixated on beautiful Wassifa (who also happens to be the most light-skinned woman in the village). She is strong-willed and courageous, supports her father and cunningly navigates many difficult situations but is still only ever lauded for her looks. Although she and the rest of the village women work as much as the men do, the women in the film don’t outwardly take pride in their work nor is it acknowledged by anyone around them. Instead they aspire to the life of leisure of the Cairo women that don’t have to get their hands dirty in the sun. The ideal scenario for women is that of a pampered wife who can stay at home and have children, the polar opposite of the masculine ideal; which is why both men and women in the film consistently use variations of “woman” as the worst possible insult to give a man.

Beyond the universal gender divide, in the towns and cities social hierarchy is also clearly divided across class lines and wealth as well as proximity to power or governmental ranking, two elements that are often inextricably linked. This also applies to the village but only in their relationship with the external forces acting upon them, amongst themselves the most important factors are family and land. This is made apparent when a murder occurs in the village and no one is held accountable because the victim is a poor, orphaned woman who has no land. It is immediately assumed that she must be of poor reputation and is consequently considered not worthy of a proper burial. The only suspect is the one other character in the film who has no land or family either. He is essentially scapegoated by the corrupt local leadership and only unofficially punished. The social circumstances of both these characters also prevented them from getting married, in essence their fate is pre-determined and there is no way for them to conform to social norms despite their desire to do so. He is socially emasculated as a result and she loses her “honourable” femininity.

The ideals of masculinity were represented through two central characters in this film. Mohamed Abu Swelam (played by Mahmoud El Meligui) is the older, principled, activist who believes in the power of small-scale collective action. He is the thinking man who is willing to lay down his life for what he believes in. His passion is viewed as a strength rather than blind emotion that could hinder his rational thinking. This is because he shows emotion towards the things that are socially acceptable for men in his village to show emotion towards – symbols of strength and masculinity, and his farm which is the lifeblood of his family. This is evident in the two most intense scenes of the film; the first shows his moustache being forcefully shaved off while in prison and the other shows his blood spraying the cotton as his body is dragged through the field, his fingers clinging to the dirt. Neither one of those images is subtle because they simply don’t need to be. The moustache is not a metaphor for his masculinity, it IS his masculinity. His jailers know that as a farmer who is willing to fight and receive violence for his cause – a truth he understands and accepts (see Fanon’s “Concerning Violence”) – the only way  to truly hurt him is not through physical torture but by emasculating him in both his eyes and the eyes of his peers.

The other masculine ideal is that of the strong young man, Abd El-Hadi (played by Ezzat El Alaili), he is impulsive and threatens his clearly more powerful oppressors with physical force at every opportunity. To ensure that he is not supplanted as the alpha male of their social group by the new male, Abu Swelam conducts several displays of physical strength to Abd El-Hadi (at the wedding and later in his home). This makes them equals and partners, and combined they represent a complete humanity in its various stages that draws in strength from the mind, body and soul; thus naturally rendering the women irrelevant. Except for the running joke of Abd El-Hadi asking Abu Swelam for his daughter, Wassifa’s, hand in marriage and Abu Swelam telling him this is not the right time (they have more important things to do).

In one of the film’s most seminal scenes, Abu Swelam gives a rousing speech to rally the villagers against the landowner and calls on the men to be men. Throughout the film, masculinity is portrayed as a form and expression of resistance. It is the symbol of strength in the face of oppression. The men use it as code for standing up for your rights and falsely equate it with characteristics that should have never been gendered. Which means that when the women also collectively organise themselves and face a terrible amount of violence, these acts of resistance end up being erased by default, simply because they are not men. It is a disheartening pattern we see throughout history where the role played by women in any revolution or anti-colonial struggle often goes unacknowledged. Ultimately we see masculinity being celebrated as being noble and heroic and women being treated as empty vessels for men’s designs. Maybe the characters did not have the right words to describe what needed to be done and so wrongly ascribed it to “being men”, but in doing so they perpetuated more of the violence and injustice that they hated so much in their own oppressors.

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith: included some lines that I’m still referencing a year later. I’m also never going to read anything by David Foster Wallace because of this book.

Heretic by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: I have never seen someone contradict themselves so flawlessly. She has every right to be angry but some of the arguments have more holes than Emmental cheese.

The Art of Reading by Damon Young: self-indulgent yawn-fest. Gift it to an academic you don’t particularly like.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: more than a story, this is an experience. Requires emotional commitment but definitely worth the pain.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty: just when you think you’ve seen it all, here comes a book that will kick you in the teeth and leave you smiling through the blood.

Inside the Gender Jihad by Amina Wadud: a much needed academic angle on feminism in Islam. An original and well-argued perspective that can at times be repetitive but still worth the read.

Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy: though I still have mixed feelings about its “shock and awe” approach, this book was inspiring in some very unexpected ways. But it definitely felt like I was not the intended audience.

Key Concepts in Gender Studies by Jane Pilcher and Imelda Whelehan: great cheat sheet for anyone wanting to dip their toe into academic feminism.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: this is the book they would give as an example of good horror writing in a creative writing seminar.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid: author cornered himself with this book’s format but managed to create decent rising tension nonetheless.

Paradise Beneath Her Feet by Isobel Coleman: if I ignore the misleading cover and subtitle, I can easily tell you this was one of the most important books I read as an Arab woman and feminist.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie: layered, textured, and insightful. Good twists too.

Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki: sometimes funny, sometimes depressing – very orientalist. Highlights some underreported but important points and research.

A Book for Her by Bridget Christie: meh.

Big Ideas in Social Science: overview of latest social science research in an easy format, enough to push you out of your discipline-based snobbery. Fascinating read.

The Power by Naomi Alderman: great idea but writing lacked oomph. Still enjoyed reading the shit out of it.

Guapa by Saleem Haddad: hits close to home but disjointed in places.

Women & Power by Mary Beard: men are trash, historically.

Cultural Relativism and International Politics by Derek Robbins: (see The Art of Reading).

Crisis and Class War in Egypt by Sean McMahon: marxist and repetitive but provides a unique perspective on the revolution.

Ain’t I a Woman? by bell hooks: I said it before and I’ll say it again – this should be mandatory reading everywhere.

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler: had to quit halfway, not suitable for non-academics (or maybe it’s just me).

Swing Time by Zadie Smith: a long sequence of missed opportunities and almost there’s.

Drown by Junot Diaz: stories that read like poetry from an undeniably authentic voice.

The Girls by Emma Cline: go read the Charles Manson case files instead.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville: like a summer blockbuster I enjoyed it while I was reading it but then forgot about it immediately after.

Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde: no book has ever spoken to me so intimately and so immediately as this one.

Call Me Be Your Name by Andre Aciman: it made me feel things.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy: left me frustrated at times but it paints a rich portrait with multiple faces and locations.

Again this unfortunately excludes the Arabic books but one day my lazy ass will get round to it.

 

 

 

(First published on Gal-Dem.com, December 2017)

I’m going to start this piece the same way I plan on ending it, by saying – whatever fucking works. With this in mind, let’s also consider that Islam and feminism are compatible: they can and do coexist. Real-life experiences tell us so.

I do understand the potential confusion that can come about from seeing the words “Islamic” and “feminism” so close to each other (especially for non-Muslims). For example, we have seen that the first order of business for most Islamic leadership (whether communal or governmental) is to pass some form of judgement or restrictions on women’s lives. Two of the most misunderstood but visible examples of this are Iran and Afghanistan. More recently, after overthrowing their respective dictators, Libya’s constitutional court overturned a law restricting polygamy while Egypt saw a wave of mass sexual assaults in the very square that was at the heart of the 2011 revolution.

However, beyond post-revolutionary decrees and actions that massively harm the status of women in many a Muslim-majority country, being anti-women’s rights is first and foremost a deeply ingrained symptom of postcolonial malaise. Women’s rights are frequently either viewed as an extension of Western influence or of despotic regimes that have pandered to those very same foreign powers. Though of course this issue cannot be reduced down to a direct cause and effect, many Muslim former colonies have shaped their newfound independent identities in the negative, by either clinging on to or creating “Muslim” norms that represent whatever the West is not. This is ironic considering that a lot of the former colonisers are not exactly beacons of gender equality, but injustice unfortunately exists on a spectrum.

I find it very myopic to dismiss Islam as a tool for women’s liberation. As a person whose views are very secular on both the political and social front, I have personally fallen into this trap many times. But recently it has become quite clear to me that Islam is something you have to go through rather than around when advocating for women’s rights in the Muslim world. So much so that the word “feminism” doesn’t even necessarily come into play in this context. It’s a point made necessary because of and thanks to intersectionality: a recognition of different needs, different experiences of oppression, and different frameworks requiring different solutions.

The question here is whether the motivation behind this should be to reframe Islam as a religion that can be friendly to women (a battle that needs to be fought on both fronts – internal and external) or to use Islam to further the rights of women and fight for their equality.

In Inside the Gender Jihad, Amina Wadud, Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, highlights the fact that men have dominated Islam and its interpretations. Wadud argues that such interpretations are not final; they were ultimately forged under certain environmental conditions and now is the time for women to reinterpret it for themselves. Isobel Coleman’s Paradise Beneath Her Feet features projects that have utilised Islam in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan to create small communal solutions either through interpreting the Qur’an to defend women’s rights or by seeking out the support of a local religious leader to support educating young girls. These approaches have opened my eyes to the possibility of subverting the patriarchal cultures that take refuge in Islam, as in all religions globally.

Incidentally, some of the women involved in this endeavour call themselves “Muslim feminists”, some don’t call themselves feminists at all, but most call themselves people working to improve the situation of women, full stop. It’s a herculean task in the face of arbitrary and largely false arguments such as “baby girls used to be buried alive in the pre-Islamic Arabian peninsula so just be thankful” – the explicit proposition here being that anything above infanticide should considered progress.

Women should not have to choose between their faith and their belief in equality. So for the same reason you shouldn’t judge a fellow feminist wearing a hijab don’t judge Islamic feminism for using whatever means necessary to bring about positive change. Whatever fucking works.