*The identity of the author has been kept anonymous.
I am a young man and I have a bit of a problem with the males in our community. In fact, saying that it is a “bit” of a problem may potentially be an understatement – I have quite a problem with a certain issue that I see in the community and I think that we, the males of the community, are largely to blame. Before I get into what the actual issue is, I want to put out a disclaimer; I have nothing against the Muslim community and in fact I strongly believe that there is abundant goodness in us. I’m not one of those Muslims who likes to bash the community at every possible occasion and I get thoroughly fed up with such antics. However, in saying that, I do believe that there is a glaring problem before us that we need to face. My problem is the treatment of our sisters.
I’m not talking about individual cases, I’m talking about wholesale and general attitudes. The problem is that we push sisters into a dark little predetermined corner. We expect that they will only ever speak about or address “womens’ issues”, that they will only ever think about matters of hijab, marriage and raising children. We tend to, whether knowingly or not, relegate sisters to being secondary members of the community, not primary members. They are forced, through the pigeon-holing of males generally, to occupy a thoroughly limited standing in our community. I have a very big problem with this.
Our sisters are literally half of our community but we relegate them to being secondary, if even that? To be quite honest, that is simply ludicrous. Our sisters should be an active, vocal and central part of our community. By all means tackle women specific issues, but for goodness sake they should be addressing and thinking about far more than that! It is not as though our sisters exist in some kind of vacuum where they only ever have to deal with that very limited range of issues. They live in the same society that we males occupy and they will most likely face similar, or the same, issues. So yes our sisters should be politically aware and active, they should understand issues of ideology and society, they should have input in the direction of this community and have just as significant a say in our affairs as the males. They should be doctors, lawyers, teachers, academics and whatever else their potential may allow for them to be. To push our sisters into a metaphorical corner where they are to only ever cook, clean and have children is wholly unjustifiable and would only be to the detriment of our community.
I do admit here that I am speaking generally, so there will definitely be exceptions. I find few things more refreshing that seeing young, articulate, confident, outspoken, vocal, principled and intellectually charged Muslim sisters who defiantly push against pressures and expectations. They rock the boat and they rock the community as much as they’d be rocking a cradle. Such sisters are treasures of our community and their ambitions and aspirations should be facilitated, not nipped in the bud. In saying this, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that sisters should abandon their Islamically enshrined roles, responsibilities and duties that come with being a wife and a mother. There is no doubt that these are obligations and most all sisters are aware of that and don’t plan on neglecting them. However, just because they must adhere to these obligations does not at all mean that they should be limited to child rearing and household cleaning. Apparently women are brilliant at multitasking, so it shouldn’t be a problem for them to be engaged in community affairs whilst taking care of their personal responsibilities.
Brothers, I’d say the problem in this equation is us. We are unfortunately the ones who tend to impose these expectations upon our sisters. This may not be active, but we all know that we make kitchen jokes. We all know we make cleaning jokes and four wives jokes. We’ve almost got an ingrained perception that we socially strangle our sisters with. It is stifling to them and really not conducive to having our sisters be pillars of our community. I’m going to tread delicately here because I don’t want to step on the (pedicured) toes of our sisters but sometimes I feel that our sisters have come to accept and internalise this relegation. Not only accept it, but even sometimes give it justification. For example, at some community events sisters will not want to be vocal or visible because that is not seen to be Islamically appropriate. Allah swt reward our sisters as they are incredibly active behind the scenes in our community and they are the hands that get things done, but they aren’t in front of the scenes enough! I know personally that it is quite difficult to get sisters to be focal points in certain events and initiatives and often that is because the sisters themselves feel somewhat uncomfortable with the proposition.
It is unfortunate, but I feel as though the brothers have pushed our sisters into that little corner so consistently that some sisters now think that’s where they belong. A very real problem that arises from all of this is the ramifications that it has on our community from a marriage point of view. Brothers want a sister who will occupy that little cooking and cleaning corner and don’t really want a sister who is going to challenge him or push him. They generally don’t seem to want to marry a sister who is opinionated or assertive. I personally find that very odd – there is almost an assumption that being opinionated equates to insolence. I know that some brothers think that a wife who has a backbone might be a bit tough to “manage” and they’d prefer a sister who is easily compliant and effectively mothers him. Again, there are always exceptions but it appears to me as though brothers are intimidated by sisters with brains. To that I say that with marriage comes a partner, a personality, another human being, not a robot that might have an opinion every now and then but not enough to really bother you.
Brothers, honestly, in this regard I think we really need to man up. A sister with a brain is not a threat, she is a gift, if only we knew. Those exceptional sisters who aren’t satisfied being thrust into a pram and apron stereotype are the ones that we should ideally be pursuing, because they are the ones who will challenge us as individuals and as a community and thus force us to grow. Unfortunately, because of that intimidation factor brothers tend to go for the sisters who aren’t seen to be too confronting and when this occurs the whole cycle is perpetuated. The brother has a certain mindset and the sister falls into that and that is precisely what is going to be passed onto the future sons and daughters of that household. It has reached such a ridiculous juncture now that some sisters who are generally seen to be outspoken have to moderate or “dumb down” themselves so that brothers are not threatened and they become more viable “options” for marriage. Honestly, that is so tragically saddening.
The brothers in this community seem to have become anchors that pull down our sisters and when you pull them down, you bring the community down with them. I’m not going to claim to have answers, but what I can offer is a word of advice – to my dear respected brothers, for the sake of yourselves and the community, don’t have your standards set such that you want a sister who is effectively a glorified carer. To my dear respected sisters, don’t accept to be relegated and forced into positions that are simply not appropriate for you. Push yourself and the community and if you do so, hopefully we will take notice and realise your worth.