Leading up to the KVS production SLOW, a blog was created as a space for different women to give their perspective on feminism. Sukina, one half of the hip-hop collective Poetic Pilgrimage, gave us an intriguing response to the question. In times of increased Islamophobia, this blog aims to be one of many safe spaces where women—some Muslim, non-Muslim, and with heritage throughout the MENA region—can speak for themselves and give a myriad of different opinions. You can read an extract of Sukina’s response below, and then listen to its full version along with many others on the blog.
“What is Muslim Feminism to you?”
One of my biggest issues regarding feminism is the fact that feminism is a 19th century concept, developed in the Western world by white women to help them assert themselves against the backdrop of white male patriarchy. As far as I am concerned, the foundations of it isn’t my conversation. That was what they did for themselves at a time when we were still enslaved, when we were still oppressed. It didn’t really have much to do with us, they weren’t really interested in the rights of Black women and the rights of indigenous women at the time. At the time it was very much about white femininity and white femaleness. So that is the first reason why I don’t necessarily identify with that concept.
The reason why is because I feel as people of African descent, people of indigenous descent, we have always had a concept of balance (originally) when it came to the roles of men and women. That I think is a lot more legitimate than a 19th century concept. That was also against a backdrop of so much Capitalism and all these different things. It was almost like feminism was a response to something, that is not necessarily what I’m identifying with. I feel like if we look at traditional African languages, traditional Native American culture, if we look at Aboriginal cultures, you see so much in the roles and the contributions of women and the balance of genders that we didn’t need these Western concepts to give us this sense of self. We had our own thing, our own ideas, our own identity.
I think that when you look at Islam or Muslims and then feminism, when I look at what it means to be a Muslim, I think for a lot of people the word has different connotations. For some people, to be a Muslim is just a tradition of their parents. It is a cultural concept, it’s a construct. For me, what it means to be a Muslim is a very universal, sacred idea, that has no time or space to do with a soul that lives its life in service to God. To me, Muslim doesn’t mean Moroccan, it doesn’t mean Saudi Arabian; it means a soul that recognizes and witnesses within itself that it has a Lord. And that comes with a particular way in which we live. I don’t see that to be a Muslim, that concept came just with Muhammad (peace be upon him). I see that that is a universal concept that has always existed but we just identify it as Islam now.
With that in mind, feminism which only happened “5 seconds ago” doesn’t sit next to this universal concept. Because for me what it means to be a Muslim is an eternal universal concept. As Muslims in the Western world, we lack self-esteem when it comes to our own traditions, we are very insecure. So we are kind of “siding” ourselves with these different ideologies to give ourselves a sort of identity, a significance. Personally, I think we need to look into our own traditions. I’ve gained more of a sense of self as a woman in Islam than I had prior to that. That might seem like a contradiction for a lot of people. It is not because of a bilog that exists in Islam, it’s because of the tradition, because of the teachings. I recognize that in the Quran, when Allah talks about the soul, there is no distinction.
On the level of the soul, there’s no distinction between a male and a female soul. I follow a Sufi path within Islam, when you deal with Sufism, there comes a point where you get beyond the gender binary. It’s not about, I’m a man and you are a woman. In fact, in some circles, when you travel a spiritual path and gain certain knowledge, a certain level of enlightenment, they don’t even refer to you by gender anymore. They would say, “you are a man of God.” It translates to be “man of God” but it is not even really man. It’s not really about masculinity. It’s to do with a level of righteousness. To show you that, as you continue on this journey, these kind of binary actually don’t really exist anymore.
Not to say I don’t take away from what is happening in Afghanistan, I don’t take away from what is happening in Saudi…that there are issues of patriarchy in Muslim, African countries, but I also feel like we need to look at these countries before colonialism. The same period of time of European patriarchal systems. We also had something before that. I’m not that interested in what white masculinity did as a particular thing to our people, so now we are using white femininity to re-define ourselves. I’m not interested in that script. Do I think it is important for Muslim women to assert themselves and learn their rights, and have some level of equality? Absolutely. But I don’t think they need to go to a book by the Suffragettes to gain that.