Joan Baez said that “Action is the antidote to despair.” That may be so, but I still despair a lot. Perhaps my expectations are too high of everyone, including myself. There’s a quote that I love from Christine Karumba that says, “One woman can change anything, but many women can change everything.” These last years, this is where I have tried to put the bulk of my efforts—into collaborative work.
Differences of opinion do not bother me the way they used to. I have been involved in interfaith work for many years now, and still find value in it. However, I think feminism needs to fit in there somewhere because it still feels very male-centric. As Helen Hye-Sook Hwang wrote:
“The truth is that patriarchal monotheistic religions do not have a theological ground for co-existence with other religions. “The Almighty God” of the monotheistic religions needs to be supreme alone. No other Gods are made comparable to him. Apparently, many do not see that “Interfaith Dialogue” advocated by the leaders of patriarchal religions is inherently flawed. Peace among patriarchal religions is theologically implausible. The male God who is deemed “transcendent,” standing outside his creation, has no theological ground to involve his creation ontologically. Thus, he is destined to use his external force to his creation, which is an aggression in the first place.”
What if we were to revert these faiths to belief in a female God? I believe it is possible. I have seen it start to happen before my very eyes in the last 4-5 years. I am hopeful that hearts will continue to open to Her presence in all faith traditions.
No movement on its own can fix the disaster the world is in now—and I haven’t even mentioned the massive environmental disaster we have made of Mother Earth. We need allpeople, of all faith traditions and political persuasions to rise up and demand change. We need individual metamorphosis to propel revolution collectively.
I know from the two decades I have spent in the Muslim community that people are really not that different. Before I went to Lebanon in 1996 with my first husband, I really had no idea about much of the world, particularly Muslims—other than what I had dug up myself.
I share an essay in the anthology about my frustrations with Islam, but I want to mention a brief introduction via the pillars of the faith. The Five Pillars themselves are quite remarkable. I think it is important to bear these tenets in mind when confronting the demonization of Muslims in the media and elsewhere. While “bad people” exist in all cultures and religions, Islam tends to get a hard rap. In my twenty years in the Muslim community, even as somewhat of an oddball, I have primarily experienced love, kindness and generosity from Muslims.
There are currently an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Ironically when I went to look for the current figure on Google, the thing that popped up with it was “how many radicalMuslims are there in the world?” accompanied by words like, “scary,” “jihadis” and “attacks.”
Clearly with numbers in the billions, Islam is not a monolith. However, I don’t believe there is a way forward as a whole without some sort of peace and understanding between Muslims and “the rest of the world.” It seems like there has become a visible division between “us” and “them” that I did not feel (nearly as deeply) twenty years ago. I feel that otherness as a Muslim every-single-day and I am not visibly or actively Muslim.
The BBC reported before the Paris Attacks that hate crimes against Muslims had increased by 70% in London and that the primary targets were women. In the United States, The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) stated in December that American Muslims have recently experienced an “unprecedented” number of attacks.
Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente recently argued that Islamophobia is gender violence—and a feminist issue.
“Opposing Islamophobia does not mean agreeing with Islam or the hijab, but disagreeing with violence against women—and with bigotry. Women are entitled to their choices, including the choices that we do not like or that we would not make ourselves. If we call ourselves feminists, we must be willing to defend the right of all women to live a life free of violence, leaving aside our prejudices and cultural biases, even when that requires us to deal with our own internalized Islamophobia–otherwise we would be hypocrites. When it comes to violence, we cannot defend only those women which options we agree with. If we only see human rights when women live as we like, then we are not feministing their realities, but colonizing them.
The cause of Muslim women against Islamophobia is a common cause of all women in the south for what it represents: a particular kind of gendered violence rooted in colonialism. Religious feminized violence should be incorporated into the discussion of decoloniality, especially in the context of international political tension that we live because of the Islamic State, the terror alert in Europe, the migrant crisis and increased fear, which have shown that the bodies of Muslim women are a particular battlefield. With or without the hijab, the problems of Muslim women are all women’s problems.”
I would further argue that Islamophobia is also exactly why the world at large seems to turn a blind eye to the growing refugee crisis—despite Western policies that I would call questionable at best, if not outright barbaric.
Islam as a religion has its own host of problems to resolve within itself. I think we all have a lot to learn from each other, but should not get too excited about fixing everyone else. Jesus named it looking “at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye” while paying “no attention to the plank” in your own. As a fan of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, I like what I consider her version:
“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”
There was an elderly woman at the UCC Church I used to attend who would comfort those who were overwhelmed with tasks with these wise words:
“Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.”
Those of us who revere the Goddess can start by talking—and listening—to each other.
I implore you to go further.
Trista Hendren, an excerpt from Jesus, Muhammad and the Goddess.
Hwang, Helen Hye-Sook. The Mago Way: Re-discovering Mago, the Great Goddess from East Asia. Mago Books, 2015.
You can read more about The Five Pillars in the Appendix.
Based on a Google and Yahoo search asking, “how many Muslims are there in the world today.”
Adesina, Zack and Marocico, Oana. “Islamophobic crime in London ‘up by 70%’” BBC Inside Out, London. September 7, 2015.
Dizard, Wilson. “US Muslims experience rise in Islamophobia”. Al Jazeera America, December 9, 2015.
Rivera de la Fuente, Vanessa. Islamophobia is Gender Violence and a Feminist Issue.” Feminism and Religion. January 21, 2016.
The quote was originally from Arthur Ashe.