By Mona Eltahawy, Special to the Toronto Star, from New York, December 12, 2010
I'm no fool. I know that terrible violations of women's rights are committed in the name of my faith. But Islam belongs to me too.
I'm in a boxing ring. On one side is Bill Keller's right wing: bigoted and xenophobic. On the other side is the Muslim right wing, which uses Islam against me to fuel its misogyny.
I'm a bumble bee who carries ideas — pollen — from one place to another in the hope that they will blossom into a wild and challenging orchard. The pollen might be sweet, but I “sting like a bee” because like the great Muhammad Ali, I will not hesitate to knock you out.
Confusion is both my right and left hook.
Her piece, entitled, Let Me, A Muslim feminist, confuse you shouts out a kind of clarity amid strong and opposing forces. Obviously a shining intellect, and a member of a family of shining intellects especially among the women, this Muslim feminist speaks to a kind of "boxed-in" reality that confronts many serious people in all faith traditions.
On the one hand, there are literalist interpreters whose words and actions demonstrate their righteous command of some of the basic tenets of a faith, while at the same time excluding many if not most moderates or even "liberals" from being considered even respected members of the faith. Within the faith traditions, it would seem of all religious traditions, there are those fundamentalists who for whatever reasons observe the dictates and dogma of that part of the faith that appeals to their need for certainty, clarity, and a total absence of ambiguity, at least in their view, of God's commandments.
And on the other side of the faith, are those whose secular approach to current realities renders them anathema to the fundamentalists, because they are so "out of touch" with the black-and-white faith beliefs, practices and interpretations of holy writ, no matter the specific title.
As a baptized Christian, raised in a literalist, fundamentalist church, high-jacked by an Irish bigot cleric, who used his need for personal power to shape his religious convictions, linked to a cultural tradition from the old country, of hatred of Roman Catholics, I rejected his "form of the faith" at sixteen, only to begin a different search for a church home at university. Much later, as a parent, now looking for a church home for a family, I embraced the Anglican church, believing then that at least there, there was an openness to some of the basic questions that faith provokes, without absolute answers. I sought a place where the process of inquiry would be respected as integral to a spiritual quest, only to find that the intellectual and political gate-keepers were as intolerant, perhaps even more so, than any person of my experience who refused to enter any church door, because they simple rejected any faith. they called themselves agnostics or atheists.
However, like many male searchers, I found that feminists were also making ridiculous and even specious political demands of the faith institution, including the schools then engaged in formation of clergy by feminist instructors, at a time when, to push back against such political activism by males in leadership posts was considered, once again from a black-and-white simplicity perspective, blatant sexism. Their instruction was more political ideology than theology. Any movement that is reduced to "raising the middle finger" as a statement of a theology has lost its way, and there are many ways to raise the middle finger, by men and/or by women.
This writer's own words: I'm a bumble bee who carries ideas — pollen — from one place to another in the hope that they will blossom into a wild and challenging orchard. The pollen might be sweet, but I “sting like a bee” because like the great Muhammad Ali, I will not hesitate to knock you out...contain the seeds of their own sabotage.
We are not going to produce a "wild and challenging orchard" with sweet pollen, if we are also committed to "sting like a bee, committed to 'knock you out.'
If the various faith traditions see the world from the perspective of a boxing match, and each intends to "win" by converting the world to its faith, by whatever means, then the whole enterprise is nothing more than a potential repeat of the crusades, and many deaths and much destruction will be the result.
At the same time, pursuing God, and a relationship with God, is one of, if not the most complex pursuits of any human's existence. It will take a conscientious pilgrim through sacred texts, and sacred sites, and sacred liturgies and sacred festivals and rituals, and sacred meals and even sacred traditions of entry, reflection and penitence, hope and even transformation. And along the way, one will encounter pilgrims whose journey inspires and offers hope, while also encountering other pilgrims, equally sincere and dedicated to their own spiritual life, whose attitudes, beliefs and political orientation will cause deep sadnes, rejection and even alienation. And these encounters will include those with so-called leaders in the faith, some of whom will be in a kind of power-struggle with other leaders of the same faith.
That is why, while there has to be a context for one's exploring among other seekers, it is extremely important to listen to the little voice within, in order to sense a deeper meaning of what one is hearing, and thinking and perceiving, as a 'child of God' created in the image of God. And if and when that voice is telling anyone to point a gun, or make a bomb, or detonate a device as part of the legitimate expression of that faith tradition, and as another step toward world domination by that faith tradition, then the voice has lost its capacity for love, in an agape sense, and has lost its musicality, and has been reduced to a tone-deaf banging of metal on rock, leading only to the breakdown of the rock and the bending of the metal....and in the process, the shedding of much blood, and a reduced capacity for tending that "wild and challenging orchard" that we call planet earth, with its finite reserves of life-sustaining clean water, clean air and limitless and unmeasureable oceans of unadulterated hope and courage that bring us together and sustain us in a very small boat on very stormy seas, no matter whose picture of God seems ascendent at the moment.