Leaving the Theology of Bullies Behind

I used to wonder how people, especially converts, could after finding Islam later leave the faith altogether. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently and of my friends who no longer identify as Muslim. Everyone’s life experience is unique but I can’t help wondering if some of my friends left simply because they couldn’t find a safe place within the religion for themselves. I wrote about this earlier in forgiving ourselves for not being perfect. The more I reflect on it, I’m almost certain that many people leave because we’ve encountered a theology of bullies that does not empower us to deal effectively with the pressing issues in our lives.

I was young, insecure, and confused about a lot of things when I converted to Islam. I was certain that I believed in God. I liked the easy and comprehensive answers and a well-defined life path that Islam provided. I was attracted to the repeated calls in the Quran to think, reflect, and ponder over its verses and the signs in universe. In my new convert zeal, I was overwhelmed with a desire to not only ground but also to prove myself in my new faith through learning and practice. It was then that I encountered the theology of bullies and I fell in love…with it and my own ego.

Looking back, I see how naive I was despite my quest for sincerity, which was I think and hope quite sincere. And afraid. Fear is used in theology of bullies to force each person into submission. But this fear thing is a tricky business. If God is worshipped out of love, fear, and hope then surely some fear is a good thing? But in the theology of bullies there’s another type of fear, a fear of displeasing people and of public censure. This secondary fear causes a lot of emotional distress. Some people believe that’s a good thing and to others perhaps a sign of hypocrisy. It’s a tricky thing because we want so very much to be sincere.

This is how the theology of bullies works:

Take any issue, promote your own understanding as correct and closest to the divine decree, and then mock, ridicule or revile those who differ. Setup the equation so that the good Muslim or more precisely, a Muslim, is the one who agrees with you. Thereby putting the faith of those who disagree with you into doubt.

This is how the theology of bullies gets you. If you don’t agree with them on everything hook, line, and sinker then you’re sunk or they’ll set out to sink you and your faith by playing on your insecurities.

xcwn blogs powerfully over at A Sober Second Look about the damaging effects of the psychological, emotional, and theological manipulation many of us have experienced. I see myself in much of her writing. I consider myself in the process of recovering from the theology of bullies, still holding onto my faith in God and in Islam but discovering anew what that means for me as a practical reality.

I’ve learned enough to pass pretty effectively. I know the arguments, the evidences, and proofs inside and out. I can wear the clothes and say the right words and this affords me a certain level of privilege but I know the truth. I don’t believe in much of the way Islam has been presented and taught to me. And I now know that disagreeing with the opinions of others doesn’t mean I’m disagreeing with God. It just means I disagree with you.

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42 thoughts on “Leaving the Theology of Bullies Behind

  1. awesome post, ify. i’ve been following xcwn too and totally relate. it’s a struggle, to find theology that fits comfortably.

    • Thanks Kate! I think the theology I learned as a new Muslim did not really empower me to integrate my identity with my new Muslim faith. Instead, it lead to a number of identity crises where I tried to imitate cultural norms and nuances, which were inappropriate for my situation. Now, I’m working articulate a vision for my life as a Muslim, which is practical and relevant.

    • You are welcome bingregory. A friend brought her blog to my attention, reading it, while painful is also cathartic. The way the conversation is framed can be empowering or damaging. I’ve been in recovery for the past six years trying to undue much of the harmful conditioning I’ve encountered through my interactions with the Muslim community.

  2. Asalaamu alaikum, Sr. Ify. You hit the nail on the head. I wrote about something similar a long time ago on MuslimMatters http://muslimmatters.org/2007/05/04/am-i-teaching-contempt/ . I woke up from that dream when I opened my bookstore and had to start selecting inventory (I wrote about this on my most recent MM post). I realized that I couldn’t fill 1200 square feet with only books that supported what I didn’t scorn, and it was really eye-opening. Great post, and thank you.

    • Wa alaykum salaam Ruth, just read your piece on MM, very important to consider. My parents did a pretty extraordinary job of raising us without stereotypes or disdain for any group. So I’m always taken aback and cringe when I hear people disparage groups of people.

      I noticed pretty quickly the aversion some Muslims have Jews. Shortly after I converted, in a discussion about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, another Muslim called me a “Jew” as an insult.

      This is one reason why I don’t follow the ethnocentric or religious superiority arguments held by some Muslims whereby they think only Muslims have certain rights or protections especially in regard to backbiting or donating organs, etc.

  3. Great post and so true. I have started feeling the same way for some while now. An oh! xcwn’s blog is staggering! I can only read Bits at a time because it is almost like ongoing through the trauma with her. As u say, powerful. Great post Ify!

    • Asiah, I hope and pray you and the baby are doing well! Yes, I can only read some of xcwn’s posts in one sitting. She converted in the 80s but so many of the issues she writes about apply just as much to us and even more converts today.

  4. Salam Ify, a thought provoking and well written post. I am sorry that you and countless other muslim women (and some men too) have had to experience this patronising and harsh attitude. I wish we as a community could be kind to both ourselves and others and accept that there will always be variations in understanding, faith and interpretation no one is better or worse but we are all aiming for the same: unity with our Creator and some inner peace.

    I am glad you have maintained your faith because we need you and so many others in the faith to allow it to evolve and strengthen. To highlight whats wonderful but also more importantly to shed light on all thats not fair, correct or good within us. Its time to say a resounding No to all these bullies who use the rhetoric of shame, fear and hate to exclude and marginalise those with differing approaches.

    As always I wish you the best.
    Maliha.

    • Wa alaykum salaam Maliha, thank you, the warmth and gentleness you bring to the conversation is always appreciated.

      My continuing wish is for more kindness and understanding. I think of the statement of the Prophet (s) about the differences in our community being a mercy and I think part of that has to do with us being merciful to ourselves and each other and allowing for people to differ and make mistakes. So often, we read or see one thing, and we’re ready to excommunicate without first seeking to understand where the other person is coming from.

      We all come to Islam from different places and the challenge is to integrate who we are with Islam. More often than not, I feel the conversation is framed in a way, although, it’s getting better in some quarters, that demands that the convert or newly practicing Muslim choose between a singular interpretation of Islam and aspects of their lives, which are not critical to their belief or faith as a Muslim.

      I used to wonder how people left Islam. Now, I no longer wonder, I think I quite understand how that can happen. I ask Allah to make me steadfast in my religion.

  5. You make an excellent point of not disagreeing with God but of disagreeing with individuals. We all need to keep in mind that our opinion is only an opinion (even if it is well informed) and is not necessarily God’s perspective.

    • Reed, welcome! Yes, this is so critical. Not only our own opinions but the opinions of others even if they are respected by some for their knowledge are just that, human opinion. And as humans, we are ever prone to error and imperfection.

      So often, I’ve felt opinions, fatawa, or even verses from the Quran or hadith are quoted as a punchline or are used in an attempt to browbeat others into submission and agreeing with the opinion of the one wielding them. It’s perfectly possible to look at the same sources and come up with different conclusions. The key, I think, is to not force our own opinions on others or present the opinions we like best as the only correct or most authoritative one.

  6. Salaam,

    As a not-exactly-convert, I can agree that the bullying theology is painful and counterproductive. I’m also reading xcwn, and wow…I love her analyses. Insha’Allah I pray that you are finding your way to your own middle path, your own happy medium that fulfills all the positive reasons you sought out Islam in the first place.

    I can understand why some people leave, too. It’s hard when you feel irrelevant everywhere, that your religion or even just way of being doesn’t make sense.

    • Salam Chinyere, when I reflect on the big picture like belief in God and why I accepted Islam in the first place, those things never change. I think remembering this after of course the mercy of God is what helps keep me within Islam. Doing the hard work of finding an Islam, which resonates with my being in a positive way, is I think part of my life’s work.

      I pray that we can all find a way to divine that is pleasing to us and pleasing to God.

  7. Salamu ‘alaykum,

    You say- you no longer wonder why people leave Islam and understand how that might happen. Could you share the relevant insights with us?

    Thanks.

  8. Following on from one of your comments- is it the case that people who are unable to find an Islam that resonates with them are the ones who leave Islam? Or am I misunderstanding you?

    Thanks again.

  9. Ify, just came across this post by ‘accident’ after having spent a good part of today reading over another blog by a woman who has left Islam called ‘Deconstruction’ and a few weeks ago was reading ‘A Sober Second Look’, both blogs feel like I good write them myself. It’s painful to read.
    And then there are many others, especially from the heydays of Muslim blogging, I have started to feel like it is an anomaly to stick it out.

    the thing is, I can’t leave Islam, it’s what I believe in a beyond language and definitions way, I know it in my heart (mostly, although I have tremors) but I feel traumatised by some experiences. That may seem a heavy word, but it fits.

    So it’s a process of recovery and finding feet in a faith that at times has almost seemed to spit one out.

    • Saha, welcome! Yes, the writers at Deconstruction and A Sober Second Look lend such important and critical voices to the public discussion of very common and overlooked experiences within Islam. Everyone loves a good convert story but only to a point. The real work post-shahadah of living Islam day-in and day-out is not often heard except for the “success” stories.

      I’m with you, I don’t think I can and don’t wish to leave Islam. But I am slowly recovering from the nonsense and detrimental programming I’ve encountered since my conversion. So many of us have been traumatized by our experiences but we usually don’t talk about it. I’m glad some of us are starting to speak about it.

  10. @Anonymous: Wa alaykum salaam, people leave Islam for a myriad of reasons. I’ve met dozens of born Muslims or converts that no longer identify in any meaningful way as Muslim or with Islam.

    It’s hard to generalize the reasons for this here in the comments section but many people I’ve encountered fall into one of two trends. A superficial knowledge of Islam, which doesn’t resonate or empower the individual and/or overwhelming pain either associated with Islam or in their personal life, which their understanding of Islam doesn’t help alleviate. In both situations, religion isn’t serving its purpose, meaning is lost, and it’s easier to turn your back on it as the saying goes, “I could do bad all by myself.”

    What are your thoughts on the situation?

  11. My thoughts aren’t important, except to me.

    Could you give a common example of each of the two phenomenon you described?

    Thanks.

    • Your thoughts are important to me. Conversation is so much more interesting when both sides share, wouldn’t you agree? How about this, you share your thoughts and I’ll share two examples? Otherwise, I don’t see much point in continuing this mostly one-sided discussion. How did you end up on my blog and why are you so keen on knowing my thoughts on the matter?

  12. How flattering. My thoughts: just that Islam as presented to them no longer resonates with them, for whatever reason, as you said. I read a paper on this (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1478-1913.2007.00161.x/full) that listed ten or so reasons in order of prevalence (based on an empirical study, albeit limited in terms of numbers). As I suspected, most of them had little to do with theological or juridical niceties. And the issue of ‘Islam and women’ was right up there somewhere. Well, I hope you found my contribution entertaining.

    btw I didn’t mean examples as in, somebody you know. I just meant, e.g., an example of pain in their personal life might be an abusive husband. An illustrative example of what you mean, based on your own experience.

    Er…I’m a regular on your blog and do visit it pretty regularly. I don’t find that very alarming. And I’m interested in your views because you know more (and more importantly, have direct much more direct experience) than I do about these things (‘dozens’).

  13. I haven’t read the link but thanks for writing the blog entry that summed up 6 years of my life. I don’t consider myself Muslim anymore, and haven’t for awhile now mostly b/c I did feel that bullying. I felt like no matter what I did, I was wrong and was going to hell. Being too liberal, too white, too loud and outgoing, too…ME and was constantly feeling this pull between the life I grew up with, and the life that I’d just been exposed to. I picked the one that was easier. I think I’ve found my peace with the Baha’i faith, but I’m taking it a LOT slower, doing a lot of reading and not letting anyone, or think cajole me into something I don’t wholly believe and endorse. I felt like I was pushed really hard to convert, and to be as conservative as possible. IF I didn’t do things the way people liked, I felt constantly like I was damning myself. The guilt was constant and overwhelming. As a child of abuse, the guilt that I already felt compounded with the guilt of feeling like I wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t healthy for me…not at all. I will never forget the things about Islam that I did love–the same things that you mentioned, but I refuse to ever feel that kind of guilt again.
    This is really short summary of the ‘losing my religion’ series I did on my blog. Check it out, comment, talk to me? I wish we had had more time to talk about stuff like this in person!

    • Eileen, being too…ME, is something I can definitely relate to. For so long, I’ve felt and still feel pressured to be someone else’s cookie cutter ideal of a Muslim woman. I’ve tried to mold myself into that person but more and more I realize it’s not working because it’s not real. And more than that, most of it is not even necessary. But the guilt we feel or have felt at not living up to the that idealized image is intense and very real and very unhealthy for one’s sanity and faith.

      I started to read your losing my religion series and will go back to finish reading it. We should meet up sometime, I’d like to know how you are and there’s so much we could discuss that we didn’t before.

    • We definitely will have to get together. It’s so interesting how both my faith has changed but cocurrently my friends have grown and changed in their own journey’s. I figured that one girl would be totally judgmental of my life now, but instead she’s open, understanding is incredibly sweet. When I converted to Islam people stopped talking to me. When I stopped living as a Muslim I figured the same would happen but I’m been surprised that almost everyone has been even more accepting as I’ve learned more about myself.

  14. This post was really interesting as well as the comments… religious communities are meant for support but it seems like the opposite often happens. It’s just sad that any human can have so much control over the way others’ live. The point of religion shouldn’t be to make life a complete struggle, it’s FAITH that should help us through life’s struggles… err hope that made sense ;)

  15. Salam Ify, I hope you are well. I have been thinking about your post for a few days. Yes, faith is complex and there are many reasons some of which you touched upon: the religion does not resonate with some, others have experienced traumas in their personal lives that their faith simply could not sustain, while others have become disenchanted with fellow Muslims.
    The first two I can understand but the latter is a bit more difficult for me to grasp. Not the fact that there are some deeply unpleasant fellow Muslims. Sadly, I think just about all of us have been exposed to rude & overbearing bigots within our communities. What troubles me is when some Muslims are so disillusioned because they seem to only have access to the above disagreeable people. Surely, there must be nicer people too who run other organisations?
    Perhaps for most new Muslims the first port of call is the mosque and this can be a potential problem in part because many mosques and places of Islamic learning are controlled by mainly very conservative and rigid groups? In turn they are not inclusive and actively discourage alternate voices and interpretations, would that be a fair comment? They in turn shape and form the new Muslims attitudes to Islam, general attitudes & friendships etc? Why would a new Muslim assume that these are the only options open to them? Is it because they assume that other Muslim voices or interpretations are not ‘true’ or are lacking in authenticity?
    If your answers are what I strongly suspect they will be. The above scenario is hugely worrying for a variety of reasons. I won’t get into that just yet as I would like to get your insights on this.

  16. @Anonymous, I’m sorry if my response came off as harsh as I tend to have my defenses up when interacting online. It’s a pleasure to meet you and I’m humbled to know that you follow my blog. I always hope there’s more benefit in my words than harm.

    I’m not seeking to be entertained but to learn from your own experience and found your in-depth response illuminating. I’ll have to check out that study, insha’Allah. Thanks for highlighting it.

    As for the examples, in the first case of having superficial religious knowledge, I’ve met many people who no longer consider themselves Muslim but can give me a long list of fiqh opinions about pictures, music, clothing, food, etc. These secondary issues are simply not important if one’s faith is not secure. What good is there in learning an Islam of fear, rules and do’s and don’ts without knowing that God is incredibly merciful and loving and forgiving? Of course, balance is needed, but what I try to tell converts is to prioritize learning about and knowing God while learning the rules. And that there is great diversity of very valid opinion and practice within Islam.

    For an illustrative example, my friend Eileen has commented so eloquently above about the harm that the theology of bullies has caused in her own experience.

    The sources of pain are many, I’ve known people who’s faith was rocked by the racism, sexism, and other discrimination they faced as Muslims. Issues surrounding the shameful treatment of women and other minorities in our communities. Disparities in education and wealth, being forced to give up one’s profession or being asked to leave one’s spouse or family, and poor marriages. The filmmaker and photographer Mustafa Davis has a few very revealing films, the Jordan Richter Story and DeenTight, which show in-depth how converts struggle to form an authentic identity within Islam while maintaining their faith. It’s not easy, takes a lot of hard work, determination, and prayer and for some it’s easier to leave Islam behind.

  17. Salams everyone… Ify – your words: “For so long, I’ve felt and still feel pressured to be someone else’s cookie cutter ideal of a Muslim woman. I’ve tried to mold myself into that person but more and more I realize it’s not working because it’s not real. And more than that, most of it is not even necessary. But the guilt we feel or have felt at not living up to the that idealized image is intense and very real and very unhealthy for one’s sanity and faith.”

    Thank you so much for sharing that… I have to say that I totally, TOTALLY relate to that. Thanks for raising the issue of “guilt”, this is exactly the problem…

    Why are the Muslim sisters who do not fit that “cookie cutter image” chastised so much? E.g. if you go on some websites/blogs, there are even images of sisters who people think are dressed wrongly, and they have arrows pointing at them or a big X across them and text reading “WRONG WAY” and then a picture of a woman in niqab (or other traditional dress) with a green circle saying “RIGHT WAY”. I just find that is so degrading and discriminating… those images of women with the huge “WRONG WAY” markings on them are REAL WOMEN, and it is as if those images are poking fun and creating hate against our community. Who are any of us to judge another based on their appearance? We don’t know their situation, background, history. It feels at times that it is our outer appearance which is what will define our level of faith… and when that is the case, that is not freeing or liberating at all. I seriously fear an entrapment of ‘idolizing’ a certain image. Kind of scary.

    Anyways, thank you for your honesty.

    • Salam Global Sisters, I think the guilt-tripping and examples you cite are a hallmark of conservative religious patriarchy used to exert power and control over women. So many of the arguments commonly and mind-numbingly promoted by supporters of the status quo are degrading and discriminatory.

      If you disagree with these insulting or asinine opinions, the supporters of religious patriarchy will accuse you of being too liberal or feminist or immodest or western. These insults are used to silence and control and minimize your ability to voice your concerns.

      You will be accused of wanting equality and sameness with men. They will ask you why you’ve made men the standard to which to aspire when in reality they themselves have put men as the standard and continually denigrate your worth as a human being and your life choices simply based on your sex and gender.

  18. Pingback: Aha! moment: Character overpowers Appearance | Global Sisters Group

  19. Salam Maliha,

    It would be interesting to me to conduct more thorough research of converts to uncover these trends. The first people and organizations a newly practicing Muslim interacts with can exert an enormous amount of influence in shaping the person’s experience and understanding of Islam.

    I don’t think the problem is conservatism per se as more liberal voices can also be narrow-minded and exclusionary. Most mosques are not setup to take care of or nourish the convert’s burgeoning faith in practical ways.

    My experience with mosques is that they often are simply a place for the prayer and it requires much persistence to obtain even a very basic understanding of Islam. The imam’s opinion is often presented as universal and diversity of opinion is not explored or encouraged. There is some value in presenting only one opinion because it makes teaching and learning easier.

    Converts have to make an active effort to explore and learn about their faith through many different avenues. We don’t have a basis or foundation to sift through opinions and approaches and often have to rely on the views of those we trust, usually the first Muslims we meet.

    I remember when I first converted being incredibly confused and struggling to understand the differences between sunni, shia, Ahmadiyya, salafi, sufi, traditional, progressive, etc. I didn’t know who to believe or which source I considered more authentic so I read and researched a lot and took many classes. Not everyone has access to diverse resources or the inclination to study in-depth.

  20. Lol. I must say , I am always In a state of awe when I read the challenges people in the US other part of the world go through when battling with faith and conviction in religion as such.

    Like I tell everyone who cares to listen, once you are convert to islam, endeavor to build your foundation on Q23. 1-11. This 11 verses is a complete guide to what is expected of a muslim but rather most convert will first choose a favorite imam or sheik to guide them.

    Successful indeed are the believer is what the beginnig of that verse says and the heart of it is Q23. 8. Your trust in Allah ( Amana) who guided you to Islam and also your pledge (baiah) to him for that favor.

    Most convert that apostase in the first place were either move by the deep and sweet recitations of the Quran or an event that was spiritual than also happen to a non-Muslim. The rasullah (swh) was the ultimate teacher of all in mankind yet , he charged all Muslims to read wide. In addition, just like the Americans made Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech one that rings in their heart till end time, we Muslims should also try and commit to memory the prophet last speech. ( a master piece from all ramifications). The speech summaries the entire current in one page.

    Ma Salam
    (Mystic Merlin)

  21. Thank you Ify for your response. You have a powerful ability to express your thoughts clearly and eloquently. I’m so thankful that there are sisters like you who are speaking out about the injustices that are within our community. You are God-conscious and you are a great example of a person who has the motivation to seek knowledge! You are also not afraid to speak out if you experience or witness something unjust, and this is very empowering. There’s nothing wrong with this, Allah tries to teach us in the Qur’an to be just people and just in our actions. And we can find many examples of our prophet (pbuh) expressing the importance of good manners not just among our brothers and sisters in faith but in all of humanity. We are also meant to use our intellect and question things. In fact Allah commands us of this and not to just blindly follow anything without our emotions and understanding attached to our actions. Actually, there’s no point of worship if we just do it with our eyes and hearts shut. That’s why it just makes no sense to even attempt to control people and guilt people into religious “obedience”. There is also no point to create videos, and materials that try to force people into submission out of pure fear. And unfortunately I think that sometimes this happens. I would hope not intentionally but it is hard to say…
    Social inequalities exist across nations, people, cultures, religions. There’s a game of hegemony, and those who crave power sadly may turn to the oppression of people in order to keep the inequalities alive for their own benefit. Power and social inequalities go hand in hand and it’s not just a Muslim problem… But indeed there are problems within Muslim contexts, and it’s better to try tackle social problems rather than turn our backs on them.

  22. Salam Ify,

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. It was interesting to get your perspective and yes, it would be a fascinating study to look at the impact different Islamic denominations (for lack of a better word!) have on their adherents and particularly their impact on new Muslims.

    Thinking about the different groups, makes me smile, as I don’t think I would fulfil the criteria to be a part of any of them. Not conservative enough, not progressive enough, not sufi enough, definitely not salafi enough, just not sectarian enough—-but I am at peace with my choices and (thank you Allah!) thats enough.

    I wonder what can be done, as in practical measures, to make things better and to counter the ideology of bullies. People are now openly discussing issues on the web and elsewhere and feeling free to express their misgivings and fears, and thats great but there has to be more.

    A safe space for dialog and different opinions so people can realise that Islam has a rich and varied tradition and there are many valid perspectives. So that the same mistakes are not repeated with a new set of people and leading to an endless cycle of hurt and disillusionment.

    Take care Ify and may Allah bless you and your loved ones.

  23. Salaam Alaikum,

    Something further to add to your post, is that sometimes we get so caught up in the whole “Muslims are different and special” (in good and bad ways), that we forget that we are all human first and foremost.

    Before becoming Muslim, I immersed myself in left-wing politics to various degrees (still do identify as left wing), and there were judgements, holier-than-thou attitudes, splinter groups (and plenty of in-fighting), disavowing people, twisting of philosophies, using aforementioned philosophies to justify horrible behaviour, pretending not to be racist, sexist, because the philosophy says you can’t be (but you still are…

    Sound familiar?

    You’ll find all the above in the feminist movement, the green movement and many, many more.

    In some ways, it is easier to cut away this as a Muslim, because first and foremost, we are Muslims for ourselves, not as a social movement.

    I think what is forgotten, what people do not tell converts is that Islam and being Muslim should make you happier. No, it’s not a magic wand, no, it won’t solve all your problems, but you should be a happier and more content person for being Muslim.

    If you are miserable, feel in a constant state of denial and paranoia, then you are doing it wrong. If what someone is telling you, is pushing you towards that state, then they are instructing you incorrectly.

    Islam is meant to be Good News, not a lifetime of hardship.

  24. Pingback: Rejecting the Pretending to be Amish in The Name of Piety stuff « Outlines

  25. Wa alaykum salaam Safiya,

    Yes, yes, yes to your comment and post! There is no monolithic Muslim culture or identity, yet, when we convert, it’s as if many people want us to assume the mantle of “Islam” and of being “Muslim” fashioned in the image or mold, which that person is following. Even if the shoe doesn’t fit, which I think is one reason so many people quit the faith or feel stunted in their personal growth and development.

    Every Muslim has to make their own way in Islam, it’s an individual journey of love, hope, happiness, and submission and may not look like anyone else’s journey.

  26. Thank you Ify, you shed the light on a very important issue. I remember my own experience of such “theologian bullying” by just presenting alternative interpretations and understanding of certain discourses regarding women’s role. Whenever I target women issues I’m faced fervid responses that are far from any rational criticism but really demand to blind conformity. For instance, there are many Muslim scholars (both women and men) who’ve conducted impressive work in redefining certain misunderstanding of women in Islam. However, they’re not really heard in the Gulf area for instance (I’m from Kuwait). I would assume their works would be vehemently attacked by many “traditional” scholars rather having intellectual discourses and letting us make our own reasoned decisions whom do we agree with.

    Such form of bullying not only diminishes freedom of thought or flow of information, but also hinders any chance of resolving or redefining crucial issues in Islam. However, There serious bold thinkers out there who bravely challenge such conformity.

    Take for instance, women’s political rights in Kuwait, they were denied their rights based on “traditional” understanding of Islam. However, women activists were able not only to claim there rights in 2005, but also within an Islamic framework where they insisted that Islam is itself guaranteed there equal rights of civil participation.

    No one is invulnerable from criticism, but when it comes to bashing, debasing ones name, and “Takfir”, rather than targeting his actual work is rather disturbing. It simply translates the message that whatever current thoughts are fragile and easily rebutted.

    Islam is does not form a homogenous group of people, we are diverse as any others. We don’t necessarily agree on monolithic and politicized schools of thoughts. There are Muslim feminist, Muslim seculars, etc. Such “forced” conformity by such bullying only aims to present one image of Islam. It’s never “you either do it my way or not”.

    • Mohammad, you raise some very important points and I’m glad to see the example of Kuwaiti women using their faith in Islam to advocate for their rights and more inclusive and egalitarian interpretations of our faith. So often, Islam is presented as a either-or binary, either you’re with us or against us, but the reality is more complex than that.

      One consequence of this theology of bullying is to silence the voices of dissent. People may be afraid to speak up, express difference or question the status quo out of a fear of being labeled negatively or having their faith questioned. I can accept the truth of a person’s faith even if we differ on substantive issues and don’t fear that diminishes my faith in any way.

  27. Sal’ alaikum sis ify. Great post. I rememba my earliest days of reversion to islam with a self congratulatory nod. Dose days my first muslim acquintances (hu wer 4 all intents and purposes my teachers on d new faith) tried to sell me ideas and belief systems dat ranged from bizzare thru disagreeable to downright silly. Of course i was expected to swallow it all hook line and sinker.
    Wat many born muslims fail to understand is dat dey are often not in d position to teach reverts hu came to islam tru objective search; it’s not to b expected dat a person hu leaves behind d lies, deceptions, superstitions etc found in one religion wud willingly accept suchlike in another religion. My tactics was to silently dismiss wateva lacked dat ring of truth dat originally brought me to islam. My advice to new reverts remains: be alert to any teaching dat smacks of nonsense from any quarter. Like we say in nigeria, ‘shine ur eye well well!’

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