Annotated Bibliography

Abou-Rizk, Zeina, and Rail Geneviève. “‘Judging a Body by Its Cover’: Young Lebanese-Canadian Women’s Discursive Constructions of the ‘Healthy’ Body and ‘Health’ Practices.” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, vol. 16, no. 1, 2014, pp. 150–164.

This article from the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, deals with health, weight, and beauty ideals in the eyes of Arabic women. It is important to note that this is not about Muslim women, though it does include some specific mentions of Arabic-Muslim cultures. I feel this will lend a modern perspective about bodily ideals that spans across the world, and will compare and contrast perspectives of Muslim women with non-Muslim women, which is an important distinction, as my discussion is about body and sexuality in Islam specifically.

Bullock, Katherine. Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil : Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes. International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2010.

This book is a “contextual approach” to veiling in Islam – the author looks at the concept of veiling in a non-western context. The thesis is that veiling is not inherently oppressive to women, and the author combines sources from the mainstream, the scholarly, and the doctrinal to ultimately delegitimize western feminist arguments that equate veiling with oppression. The article addresses veiling as it relates to religion, history, tradition,  social ideals and situations, sexuality, modesty, and the body itself, and it also addresses the social effects of veiling. These are all relevant to my discussion, as they correlate with many of my questions regarding human sexuality, and and modesty.

Eltahawy, Mona. “Sex Talk for Muslim Women.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 May 2016.

This op-ed from the New York Times discusses the importance of normalizing discussions about sex among Muslim women. Eltahawy speaks of the detrimental effects of silencing and societally repressing the inherent sexuality of women; she pushes for a world and media in which women of religions that do not condone premarital sex can be free in their sexuality without fear of hatred from God, fulfill their sexual desires and needs, and ultimately have agency in how they deal with their own bodies. She does not claim to be a religious expert or member of the “clergy,” but simply advocates for women to gain comfort within their right to choose what to do with their bodies, including having sex. This will be helpful to my discussion, as it is quite a liberal opinion – it can even be grouped among views held by western feminists – but it comes from a Muslim woman; it is an alternative view about sex liberation coming from the firsthand experience of a woman who remained a virgin until she was 29 years old, realized she would not likely be finding a spouse in the near future, and decided to have sex.

Gressgård Randi. “The Veiled Muslim, the Anorexic and the Transsexual.” European Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 13, no. 4, 2006, pp. 325–341.

This article deals with gender, womanhood, and the gender hierarchy, using the examples of a “veiled Muslim,” an anorexic woman, and a transsexual woman. These three archetypes almost inherently have to do with the concept of body, so the argument of the article can lend to my discussion of body and womanhood. In addition, through its focus on veiling and the archetype of the veiled Muslim, it can also perhaps lend to my discussions of modesty and religion in relation to gender and body.

Li, Cha, et al. “Motives for Exercise in Undergraduate Muslim Women and Men in Oman and Pakistan Compared to the United States.” Sex Roles : A Journal of Research, vol. 72, no. 1-2, 2015, pp. 68–84., doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0435-z.

Similar to the article from the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, this article deals with modern health, weight, and beauty ideals. In this case, however, it focuses on Muslim men and women, and specifically on motives for exercise, which have to do with the complicated notion of “body.” Additionally, it compares young Muslims in the U.S. to those in Pakistan and Oman, an Arab land. This will provide comparative modern perspectives about bodily ideals between women and men, as well as between different cultures Muslim people are a part of, which can lend to a more all-encompassing discussion of body and sexuality in Islam.

Malti-Douglas, Fedwa, editor. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Macmillan Reference USA, 4 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 26 Mar. 2018.

The Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender is, as its title suggests, an extensive collection of definitions and comprehensive explanations of terms, historical people and things, and concepts or constructs that influence, define, or have anything to do with sex and gender. It provides multiple perspectives of any number of things relevant to women, sexuality and body in Islam, which could help me to understand, define, and successfully explain certain things that may come up in my discussion. Some entries that could possibly help me are “Islam,” “Clothing,” “Abstinence,” “Baha’i Faith,” “Body, Depictions and Metaphors,” “Body Image,” “Theories of Body,” “Creation Stories,” “Demography,” “Fashion System,” “Folklore,” “Fundamentalism,” “Female Genitals,” “Hair,” “Honor and Shame,” “Libido,” “Masturbation,” “Patriarchy,” “Pleasure,” “Prayer,” “Privacy,” “Sex Manuals, Islam,” “Sex Roles,” “Sexuality,” “Public and Private Space,” “Symbolism,” and “Veiling.”

Medina, Jameelah. “Body Politicking and the Phenomenon of `Passing’.” Feminism & Psychology, vol. 21, no. 1, 2011, pp. 138–143.

This article from the journal Feminism and Psychology approaches body politics and the concept of perceived “otherness” through lenses such as feminism and religion. It’s discussion of the body includes notions of gender in relation to the body, and the author deals with Christianity and Islam in relation to one another in this approach, which perhaps will help to make more distinct the Islamic experience in terms of body politics – though it must be noted it deals with a single Muslim woman as an example. I think the combined focus on body, gender, and religion, will be useful to my discussion, as it shows how bodily expression of religion and gender impacts public perceptions of individuals, and this could perhaps lead to a conclusion one way or another on the potential psychological, individual, or societal effects of this kind of expression.

Opayemi, R. “Gender, Self Esteem, Religiosity and Premarital Sex among Young Adults.” Gender and Behaviour, vol. 9, no. 1, 2011, doi:10.4314/gab.v9i1.67454.

This article is based on a survey study of Nigerian university students, and discusses the interconnectedness of the issues of premarital sex, religiosity, gender, and self-esteem. I am primarily interested in the findings that have to do with the impact of religiosity on premarital sex, though it is crucial to note that it does not have to do specifically with Islam as a religion. It could still be useful as an example of the relationship religion and sex have in general, as these kinds of examples can potentially be used comparatively in the context of my discussion.

Smith, B. J. and Woodward, M. (2016), Magico‐spiritual power, female sexuality and ritual sex in Muslim Java: Unveiling the kesekten of magical women. Aust J Anthropol, 27: 317-332.

In this article from The Australian Journal of Anthropology, Central and East Javanese Muslim societies are the grounds for the analysis of spiritual “magic” in Islam and the ritual practices that follow it, in the context of – specifically female – sexuality. The article, which focuses on sexual norms not based in Sharia, shows how women, female spiritual figures, and sexuality can represent and embody “magical power” in Islam. I expect this analysis will cover the nature and role of the bodies of women in the core of Islam, and the integral nature of sexuality in Islam itself, which is what I am primarily interested in discussing. The fact that it focuses on a very specific group of people, and especially that this group of people deviates from norms of Sharia,  is important to my discussion as well – it shows that not all Muslim societies are the same in their understandings and implementations of Islam, and provides an alternative perspective and understanding.

Zakaria, Rafia. “Sex and the Muslim Feminist.” The New Republic, The New Republic, 13 Nov. 2015.

In this op-ed from an online magazine, Rafia Zakaria expresses her disappointment in how sex-positive feminism has taken shape. She notes the works of several historical feminists, such as Kate Millet, arguing that sex is historically and currently too ingrained in the patriarchy for the complete sexual liberation of women – that women embracing certain “risqué” sexual acts and presentations are simply propagating the work of the patriarchy and capitalism, and that these acts or presentations simply further normalize the degradation of women. She argues that the western focus on sexual liberation has detrimental results for some women, and that equality and intersectionality must be addressed first – that freedom does not only imply some twisted view of sexual freedom. This is the opinion of a Muslim feminist who perhaps supports sexual liberation, but is sure to first examine the meanings and implications of sexual liberation for women everywhere, as well as the context in which the “liberation” is taking place. She focuses mainly on sex, and not so much on modesty or veiling, which is helpful – though it may be lacking a “layer” of understanding Muslim feminism, it provides an alternative viewpoint about sexual practice itself.

Sex, Body, and Modesty in Islam: Sources (Not full Annotated Bibliography)

  • Smith, B. J. and Woodward, M. (2016), Magico‐spiritual power, female sexuality and ritual sex in Muslim Java: Unveiling the kesekten of magical women. Aust J Anthropol, 27: 317-332.
  • Desai, Sonalde, and Gheda Temsah. “Muslim and Hindu Women’s Public and Private Behaviors: Gender, Family, and Communalized Politics in India.” Demography, vol. 51, no. 6, 2014, pp. 2307–2332.
  • Malti-Douglas, Fedwa, editor. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender. Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 4 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library,
    • http://link.galegroup.com.muhlenberg.idm.oclc.org/apps/pub/9780028661155/GVRL?u=mul_coll&sid=GVRL. Accessed 26 Mar. 2018.
    • Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender
  • Abou-Rizk, Zeina, and Rail Geneviève. “‘Judging a Body by Its Cover’: Young Lebanese-Canadian Women’s Discursive Constructions of the ‘Healthy’ Body and ‘Health’ Practices.” Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, vol. 16, no. 1, 2014, pp. 150–164.

Research Paper Intentions: Women’s Bodies and Modesty in Islam

With slogans like “pussy power,” events and protests like the “Slut Walk,” and movements like “Free the Nipple,” it is clear that a large aspect of modern feminism surrounds embracing the bodies of women and women’s sexuality (though it must be noted that the “pussy power” slogan may be well-intentioned but in reality, counterproductive, as not all women have vaginas, or “pussies,” and not all people with vaginas are women – this is a stance I will take for granted in my argument). It is also important to some of the most progressive and informed modern feminists that women are able to choose what they want for their bodies, including the opposite of bearing them – for example, veiling them, as many religious women choose to do. I will focus primarily on women who choose modesty, and not on the women who are forced to veil themselves for fear of violence against them and legal issues. But do the origins of religious modesty matter in the modern day when choosing to veil, and does the value of modesty itself stem from the patriarchy? Alternatively, is embracing the sexuality of women also a product of a patriarchal society? Further, when women choose to cover themselves, are there positive or negative societal, personal, and psychological effects, such as bodily shame or discomfort in one’s own skin, versus having respect for the body as holy and and only to be shared with important, trusted people, and God? And along this same vein, how does the veiling of women impact how men see women? Finally, how does Islam view the primal instincts of sexuality in issues such as premarital sex, and does this have any effect on how Muslim women view their own bodies and operate in society?

The Implications of Feminism on Human Understanding of Divine Language

First, a disclaimer: I must clarify the assumptions and definitions I will be using for the purposes of my argument in this paper. I refer to “feminism” simply for convenience, in the most simple form I can fathom: the notion that women have the same inalienable rights as men (and, ideally, the active support of this notion). I do not mean to invoke any connotations that may come along with the word – though I understand that this word is heavily loaded in different ways for different individuals and groups of people, I am referring to this simple definition only, and do not wish to offend anyone on the basis of a load that may be carried. Secondly, I will assume that the axioms of Islam are truth – specifically, that the Qur’an is of divine origin. My argument is based on the acceptance of generally understood notions of right and wrong, good and evil. I will also assume that women are humans, and should thus be included in Islamic ideals such as peace.

 

Feminism as a formal, at least partially formed concept, has only appeared in widespread human consciousness relatively recently. Nevertheless, the presence of actions of empowerment among women – women retaliating to some degree against oppression, or demonstrating their potential as humans despite the treatment of them as only capable within the boundaries of prescribed femininity  – has existed perhaps as long as there has been some form of patriarchal oppression. In the Old Testament itself, we see the daughters of Zelophehad protest and emerge successful, championed by the divine, in arguing for their right to inherit their late father’s assets, seeing that he had no sons. Obviously, for there to be retaliation amongst women, there has to be patriarchal oppression first, which I will take as a given aspect of societies throughout most of – if not all of – the history relevant to my studies. This history, of course, includes the time (and, in turn, location) of the Prophet Muhammad – the time of the emergence of the religion of Islam. The 7th century in the Middle East is certainly no exception to this patriarchally ruled history. As Amina Wadud notes in her book Inside the Gender Jihad,  these “patriarchal norms of seventh-century Arabia left its mark upon the nature of the Qur’anic articulation” (Wadud 22). Patriarchal ideals crept their way into the holy scriptures, as the language and understanding of humanity in that place and time were patriarchally ruled; perhaps the words and intentions of the divine got “lost in translation” as they were made to be understood by humans with limited language and provincial understandings. Further, even if the language itself is “correct” – even if the translation is flawless – human interpretation of the text may be flawed. Wadud contends that “textual meaning is neither fixed nor static” (Wadud 22); humans with provincial understandings can only interpret text within those understandings. This led to the continual oppression of women, as religious texts purportedly “back up” this treatment. As Zainah Anwar puts it in her contribution to the book On Shifting Ground: Muslim Women in the Global Era, “for too long, men have defined what it means to be a woman, dictated how to be a woman, and used religion to confine us to this socially constructed inferiority” (Anwar 233). In turn, this treatment became linked with Islam itself in shared communal understandings – women who stand up to this treatment, or claim rights beyond the ones they are given by the men in power, can be accused as being anti-Islamic. And as Anwar points out, “rejecting religion is not an option for most Muslim women” (Anwar 333). In response to this vicious cycle, and additionally, as a way to become more pious and involved in understanding Islam,  different groups of women have studied sacred and historical foundational texts, and have interpreted them through non-patriarchal lenses. Amina Wadud believes that this exploration of alternative interpretations is critical: due to the nature of divine text as conditional, she asserts that we must employ and accept “human agency as a critical resource for establishing and maintaining dynamism between a linguistically articulated text, of divine origin, addressed at a fixed time while simultaneously intending to provide eternal guidance” (Wadud 23). With this employment, as humankind grows and evolves, and as the scriptures have been able to reach more and more people, different interpretations have revealed the existence of and potential for equality-based ideals behind and within the translated divine language.

This is all to say that (contrary to the arguments of some Muslims deeply engrossed in the idea that the “correct” way to be a practicing Muslim is to accept that the original and more widely accepted patriarchal language and interpretations are foundational and unerring,) to be a pious Muslim, perhaps one need not subscribe to the anti-feminist implications of certain interpreted scriptural commands or determinations, or those of certain Islamic cultural practices.

In fact, perhaps some of these anti-feminist and oppressive interpretations can be categorized as anti-Islam. Drawing from Islamic practices and her interpretations of holy scriptures, Amina Wadud claims that “nurturing and compassion are ultimate determining characteristics of ‘Islam’”(Wadud 16). In fact, the root of the word “Islam” itself means “peace;” peace is perhaps the most fundamental value of Islam. And, perhaps, the attainment of peace can be achieved through “submission [to God’s will],” as the definition of “Islam” suggests. Wadud holds that Islam is a guide for understanding and carrying out God’s will, as “often tension arises between the divine will and human agency, so Islam is the voluntary choice of surrender” (24). She argues that sexist and oppressive ideals and practices that claim to originate from Islam are not the will of God, but the will of humans themselves; “Muslims either choose engaged surrender to Allah’s will or justify deviation from it by selective inclusions and omissions within the broad possibilities for naming ‘Islam’”(Wadud 21).

While historical and more organized and formal recent acts of empowerment among Muslims certainly serve the purpose of retaliating against the hyperactive oppression present in many Muslim communities, they do more than this. Recognizing the humanity of women and condemning oppressive practices through reinterpretation actually lends more truth to the purported foundational ideals of Islam, including peace, care, compassion, nurturing, and human responsibility.

Works Cited

Nouraie-Simone, Fereshteh. On Shifting Ground: Muslim Women in the Global Era. Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2005.

 

Wadud, Amina. Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam. Oneworld, 2008.

 

Rough Draft: The Implications of Feminism on Human Understanding of Divine Language

First, a disclaimer: I must clarify the assumptions and definitions I will be using for the purposes of my argument in this paper. I refer to “feminism” simply for convenience, in the most simple form I can fathom: the notion that women have the same inalienable rights as men (and, ideally, the active support of this notion). I do not mean to invoke any connotations that may come along with the word – though I understand that this word is heavily loaded in different ways for different individuals and groups of people, I am referring to this simple definition only, and do not wish to offend anyone on the basis of a load that may be carried. Secondly, I will assume that the axioms of Islam are truth, and specifically, that the Qur’an is of divine origin. My argument is based on the acceptance of generally understood notions of right and wrong, good and evil. I will also assume that women are humans, and should thus be included in Islamic ideals such as peace.

 

Feminism as a formal, at least partially formed concept, has only appeared in widespread human consciousness relatively recently. Nevertheless, the presence of actions of empowerment among women – women retaliating to some degree against oppression, or demonstrating their potential as humans despite the treatment of them as only capable within the boundaries of prescribed femininity  – has existed perhaps as long as there has been some form of patriarchal oppression. In the Old Testament itself, we see the daughters of Zelophehad protest and emerge successful, championed by the divine, in arguing for their right to inherit their late father’s assets, seeing that he had no sons. Obviously, for there to be retaliation amongst women, there has to be patriarchal oppression first, which I will take as a given aspect of societies throughout most of – if not all of – the history relevant to my studies. This history, of course, includes the time (and, in turn, location) of the Prophet Muhammad – the time of the emergence of the religion of Islam. The 7th century in the Middle East is certainly no exception to this patriarchally ruled history. As Amina Wadud notes in her book Inside the Gender Jihad,  these “patriarchal norms of seventh-century Arabia left its mark upon the nature of the Qur’anic articulation” (Wadud 22). Patriarchal ideals crept their way into the holy scriptures, as the language and understanding of humanity in that place and time were patriarchally ruled; perhaps the words and intentions of the divine got “lost in translation” as they were made to be understood by humans with limited language and provincial understandings. Further, even if the language itself is “correct” – even if the translation is flawless – human interpretation of the text may be flawed. Wadud contends that “textual meaning is neither fixed nor static” (Wadud 22); humans with provincial understandings can only interpret text within those understandings. Due to the nature of divine text as conditional, Wadud asserts that it is critical to employ and accept “human agency as a critical resource for establishing and maintaining dynamism between a linguistically articulated text, of divine origin, addressed at a fixed time while simultaneously intending to provide eternal guidance” (Wadud 23). With this employment, as humankind grows and evolves, and as the scriptures have been able to reach more and more people, different interpretations have revealed the existence of and potential for equality-based ideals behind and within the translated divine language.

This is all to say that (contrary to the arguments of some Muslims deeply engrossed in the idea that the “correct” way to be a practicing Muslim is to accept that the original and more widely accepted patriarchal language and interpretations are foundational and unerring,) to be a pious Muslim, perhaps one need not subscribe to the anti-feminist implications of certain scriptural commands or determinations, or those of certain Islamic cultural practices.

Drawing from Islamic practices and her interpretations of holy scriptures, Amina Wadud claims that “nurturing and compassion are ultimate determining characteristics of ‘Islam’”(Wadud 16). In fact, the root of the word “Islam” itself means “peace;” peace is perhaps the most fundamental value of Islam, and, perhaps, the attainment of peace can be achieved through “submission [to God’s will],” as the definition of “Islam” suggests. Wadud holds that Islam is a guide for understanding and carrying out God’s will, as “often tension arises between the divine will and human agency, so Islam is the voluntary choice of surrender” (24). She argues that sexist and oppressive ideals and practices that claim to originate from Islam are not the will of God, but the will of humans themselves; “Muslims either choose engaged surrender to Allah’s will or justify deviation from it by selective inclusions and omissions within the broad possibilities for naming ‘Islam’”(Wadud 21).

Perhaps, while historical and more organized and formal recent acts of empowerment among Muslims certainly serve the purpose of retaliating against the hyperactive oppression present in many Muslim communities, it does more than this: through reinterpretation, it lends more truth to the purported foundational ideals of Islam, including peace, care, compassion, nurturing, and human responsibility.  

“Approaching Islam in Terms of Religion” from Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World” by Carl W. Ernst

In this excerpt from his novel, Ernst attempts to define both religion and Islam (as a religion and tradition), to the fullest capacity, using historical, textual, and comparative context. What called out to me most, though I have been exposed to the general notion of them before, were the sayings that come directly from the Qur’an and the prophet Muhammad that quite outrightly embrace the idea of pluralism in religion, and the protective measures taken for people of other religions that traditional Muslim societies subscribed to based on this acceptance. Further, while the modern media-induced view of Islam is that of an imperialistic, violent, and oppressive religion, the origins of this kind of fundamentalism can be traced back to influences from (primarily Protestant) Christian missionaries, and it can be paralleled with Protestant ideals. An early example of stereotyping Muslims as violent and imperialistic can be found in Hugo Grotius’ book On the Truth of the Christian Religion, describing the representational Muslim “with his swords in his hand, by which he defends his Religion, that sprang from Mahomet (Muhammad), a false Prophet…”(41), but ironically, Christianity was a religion at least partially focused on missionary conversion much before this relatively recent development in Islam.

“How America is Transforming Islam” by Emma Green

This article, focused on identity and young American Muslims, brought up many seemingly contradictory concepts and aspects of identities, as well as dichotomies and trichotomies that stem from the same place but are difficult to reconcile. For example:

  • The distinction between spirituality and religiosity: This distinction was brought up with the situation of Taz Ahmed in the very beginning of the article. Although the first thing that comes to mind with the word “Muslim” may be a veiled woman, this challenges that generalization immediately, with the slightest suggestion of a non-religiously conservative Muslim woman. Religion may be a well from which to draw spiritual experiences, but conservatism is not necessarily crucial to having some connection with soul and spirit.
  • Queer existence in the Muslim community: Taz Ahmed’s mother ensured her celibacy on prom night by making her go to prom with a gay male; it seems contradictory for a religious woman who cares about celibacy to encourage camaraderie with a homosexual individual, or even simply to believe in homosexuality itself. Further, there is the potentially or seemingly paradoxical case of “queer Muslims.” This raises questions of flexibility, modernity, and acceptance in regard to values and beliefs in the context of religion and family. To what extent may a Muslim American – or an American Muslim – define their identity based on religion, culture, and tradition, versus defining themselves based on contemporary and ever-progressing social ideals. Are religion and belief malleable, and what role do they play in situations where they are “set-in-stone” versus in which they are up for interpretation and “workable.”
  • Religious extremism: To me, this is seemingly contradictory in and of itself. Though it is unarguably related to the religion, and stems from a possible interpretation of the religion, the values of the religion and those of extremists appear to rather contradict each other. However, this again brings up larger questions about the purpose of religion, the role of religion in the realm of moral values, and even the question “what is moral?”
  • Religion vs. culture, Religion vs. heritage, and Religion and personal importance vs. individual background: Can one be “a part” of a religion if one identifies with or participates in the cultural aspects of the religion? Further, what does it mean to identify as a member of a certain religion? Who deems memberships valid or invalid? Along a similar vein, what role does heritage play in deciding the religion of offspring, besides being raised to observe a certain religion? And when it comes to conversion, does your background have a detrimental effect on the way one observes the religion or engages in the culture? This again brings up questions of the purpose of religion and observance.
  • Assimilated religion, and Religion and religiosity vs. expression of faith: This reminded me of reform or reconstructionist Judaism, which I identify with myself – I participate in aspects of the religion, I fast on Yom Kippur and often celebrate Shabbat on Friday nights, and I feel there is something to gain from the texts and rich history, but I am not orthodox or conservative. As mentioned in the article, religious adults wonder “whether their religious organizations will also be hurt by widespread disaffiliation”(Paragraph 9). Although assimilation often corresponds with disassociation, I feel that assimilation can also bring the religion to further places and reach more people. Again, this brings up questions of the meaning and purpose of religion, and how the religion may be practiced “correctly.”
  • Western vs. Eastern practices: Islam and Muslim culture remain involved in practices most Westerners would view as outdated and even wrong, such as (mild, e.g. somewhat distant cousins etc.) incest and arranged marriages, which can make it difficult to relate to others in different societal circles. This brings up the issue of the importance of religion in marriage and partnership, which partially determine lifestyle and future.
  • The Millennial tendency to assimilate vs. the Millennial push towards pride, and devotion to individuality and love: These two seemingly contrasting stereotypes of Millennials appeared at different points in the article. While one suggests a pulling away from traditional observance, and even from religion itself, the other suggests a shameless embrace of heritage, identity, religion and spirituality. Though they seem like contradictory accusations, the two can coexist, as the progressive Millennial is likely to disown prejudices rooted in religion, but to take the (subjectively) positive and cultural aspects of the religion to heart.

“My Sister’s Prayer” by Suheir Hammad

One of the first things that strike me in this reading is the use of the term “Bears witness” (3), in regard to prayer – to what is she “bearing witness?” This term is typically used to describe an obligation of sorts in relation to a negative event or reality – perhaps by using it here, in reference to a woman participating in traditional Islamic prayer, Hammad is highlighting the potential injustice of the implied absence of a female Imam, and the reality of reconciling womanhood, femininity, and Islamic religiosity. Another thing that strikes me is the different instances of discussion of the body and physicality throughout the poem; for example: “washes her body   covers her human form”(5), “Folds hands on her breast”(9), “heart beat   breath”(11), “She bows”(15/17/19), “Head to the ground”(24), “Her hands are open”(40), and “She invokes peace over her right shoulder / Then her left” (45-46), and . Especially in Islam, religious observance through prayer is a highly physical experience, through bowing and using different arm and hand motions, yet, as Hammad describes, the human body must be covered “In preparation to meet the Most High” (6). People of many other religions – or even people who simply cultivate spirituality with no religious affiliation – employ their bodies in different ways to bring about spiritual experiences, and people who have had religious experiences often describe them through the effects they have on their bodies and the feelings that coincide; Hammad implies an experience like one of these when explaining the longing of the subject of the poem: “She sits alone and patiently waits / To experience the feminine force of the Divine / Within her own body   her own face”(49-50).  Some religions, cultures, and individuals even go so far to view the body as a holy vessel. Thus, the human body is at once both lowly and unworthy – perhaps even shameful – and at the same time, the vehicle through which one expresses and experiences some of the most fundamental means of practicing religion.

1/16/18 – First Class Freewrite

I have been interested in women and gender studies for quite some time, though my involvement hasn’t gone so far past general expressions of feminism. While I would not like to consider myself a “white feminist,” and rather an “intersectional feminist,” and I try to stand for and defend intersectional feminist ideals, I feel that my limited knowledge about women around the world hinders me from being the best activist I can be. Being informed is one of the most crucial aspects of being an activist – to stand for something and defend something it is important to “know” it through and through. When I saw this class was being offered, it intrigued me – I thought it would be a good first step in becoming more informed. I would like to talk about and further develop my thoughts on the female body in terms of modesty and oppression versus expression, and the human body as something shameful versus holy versus “raw” and “human,” and anything else that will come up.