Can I express without being judged as a Muslim, and a woman?

By Sabrina Iqbal Sircar for

I feel constrained at times. It’s like I have to think a hundred times to speak or express myself on a public forum, thinking what implications it will have, when people deduce my words on the basis of my religion and my sex. I am often reminded that I am a Muslim, and of course that I am a woman, whenever I have voiced my ‘free opinion’. Clichéd isn’t it? We are a an apparently free country, with freedom of religion and equality irrespective of sex, as our fundamental rights, but every time I talk, I have to keep in mind that people should not deduce otherwise.

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I want to talk, and when I do, I do not want to be judged as having said what I did, because I am a woman or because I am a Muslim. I want to be perceived, solely as being an individual in myself. I do not want any biological, social or cultural definitions to my person. I hold my opinions that I do because of my rationality and not because I belong to a particular sex or a community. I would have thought this way, had I been a man, or had I belonged to any other community.

Photo Courtesy: Aljazeera

I feel the way I do because apparently and evidently a section of people think that my being a woman or my being a Muslim, is a fault in itself. The trope of the angry feminist, talked about by Barbara Tromlinson, is what I am reminded of here; and secondly, they think that because I am a Muslim, the doings of all the radical Muslims is on my hands because apparently, I and others like me the ‘liberal lot’ have not done ‘our bit’ in educating and informing them right. So basically, the liberal Muslims are at fault because we apparently haven’t tried to reform the radicals of the religion. Now, the point I am trying to get at is that, I absolutely agree that a section of Muslims are hugely misguided about the religion and kill innocents in the name of it; but how do you blame the doings of that section on all other Muslims? We are trying to withdraw from the ‘radical religion’ tag. We are trying to give a secular dimension to the religion, and to scapegoat all the liberals of the religion, would be like blaming all the men on the planet, for the rapes committed by only a section of them. Now, we don’t do that do we? Then why blame all Muslims for the doings of that lot, who claim to be doing all possible wrong in the name of the religion. We are not denying the existence of radicalism and fundamentalism, but that section which blames the entire community for it, needs to understand that, it is not our doing and we are as external to it, as people from any other religion. And the part when they say that we are to educate the radicals, okay we are willing to do it. But it is a responsibility not only on our part, it is a responsibility on everybody’s part, as innocents are being killed, and these people who kill, before being Muslims are human beings and as such , it becomes, a humanitarian duty on the entire human community’s part. It is not that we the liberal Muslims are shrugging off the apparent ‘responsibility’, but it is not solely ‘our responsibility’. Think about it, will a good man be willing to take the blame of a rapist? Will he be okay, when the women say that it is ‘your lot’ which destroys the dignity of women? Not only is that hurtful, but it is absolutely not right.

Then comes the being woman part. You must have come across the term ‘Feminazi’. Every time, you make any reasonable argument on the women’s part, you become the feminist or worse even, ‘feminazi’. The people who use this term, do not realise the gravity of adding ‘nazi’ to the term, identifying feminism, with one of the worst eras and practices that the world has ever seen. And if you are talking about the rights of the Muslim ready for the bombing! Rights and Muslim women? Uh..are you serious? The internet and media are chock-full of pseudo references to the Qur’an and the Hadiths (traditions of the Prophet of Islam) claiming the most utmost dire things in the name of religion. And as someone who might have a little greater degree of knowledge on the issue, when one attempts to correct them…Boom! They connect women’s oppression and killing of innocents in the name of religion and put you on the spot as the bad girl! Now go on and justify and save your faces! That is the attitude one has to face. Simply put, it is disillusioning. When educated people begin to believe they know it all on the basis of some internet sources that they come across, instead to trying to adopt a scientific and logical approach to religion and gender, the result is often, pointless debates with people unwilling to understand and reason.

It is because of such approaches in public life that to be and survive as a Muslim woman becomes difficult quite often. It is like the argument of the Black feminists, that, we are ‘doubly subjugated’, firstly, of course for being women, and secondly, for being Muslims.

I want to shed all identities. I want to talk and be judged only as a rational and thinking human being. The identities I have, have no bearing on my thought process. I do not want the tag of the clichéd ‘oppressed Muslim woman’, because I am not one. I am an independent, rational, sensitive human being, who identifies with every rational thing on the planet.

I do not want people to presume that I will talk in a particular way, because there is no ‘particular way’ for me. It is sad when people presume. It is sad when people judge you beforehand because you are a woman, or because you are a Muslim. It is to be understood that these apparent identities are only superficial. Like debates in various disciplines have often highlighted, that identities are fluid. They are dynamic and not in any way static. Therefore I will not have some superficial aspect define my being and my thoughts. I want to speak, and when I do, I do not want to judged as a woman or as a Muslim.

I guess this is part of the problem of living in a developing society, which is not yet ready to let go of its cultural and deeply social ascriptions. We are so hugely influenced by things like sex, caste, religion, ethnicity, and the like, that very often, we forget and overlook the person under all those layers of identity. We are so staunchly socially conditioned to presume and pre-judge that, even before a person talks, we tag him a name. Lets us stop doing that. Let us speak without inhibitions, without fears, and without apprehensions, let us be free.

The author is Faculty, Department of Political Science, Cotton College State University, Guwahati, Assam