Sunday, April 6, 2008

Muslim Male Privilege Checklist

In the spirit of B. Deutsch's The Male Privilege Checklist and Peggy McIntosh's White: Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, I decided to create a Muslim Male Privilege Checklist. I realize these kinds of lists usually come from benefactor of privilege and not those who are disadvantaged by it. But I had to do it. Insha'allah I will keep adding to the list as I think about things.

Keep in mind I have written it from a perspective of a Muslim man...

As a Muslim man:

1. I can set foot in any masjid I like. No one will stop me at the door and tell me that I am not allowed in the masjid.

2. When I attend Jumah prayer I know that I will have full access to the main prayer hall. I can enter through the front door and I am not required to sit behind a partition, one-way mirror or placed in a separate room. Also, I can see and hear the Imam when he is giving the kutbah (sermon). I do not have to worry about a speaker or closed-circuit system malfunctioning thereby preventing me from hearing the kutbah or seeing the Imam.

3. My voice is not interpreted as being a part of my awrah (parts of the body that are not meant to be exposed in public.) I can stand up and speak freely in an Islamic gathering. I can ask questions or challenge statements made by the imam or visiting speaker without worrying that my actions will be viewed as inappropriate. I am not told that I must write any questions I have onto a piece of paper.

4. I can use my position as a sheikh, scholar or imam to perpetuate my own sexist, misogynistic beliefs as long as I incorporate those beliefs into my interpretation of the Quran and the Sunnah. When others challenge me about my beliefs I can use my Islamic education, command of the Arabic language and position in the community to effectively silence them. If the dissenters are women, I can always make them seem crazy, emotional or neurotic. I can also accuse them of being influenced by the West, Western secularism, Feminism or “the Kufaar.”

5. If I do not dress in accordance with Islamic guidelines, for the most part, I am left alone by Muslims of both genders. Few people will approach me and inquire about the way in which I am dressed. I will not be written off as a “bad Muslim” nor will my dress code be used as an excuse to prevent me from attending the masjid or other Islamic functions.

6. Interpretations of Quran and Ahadith, fatwas, kutbahs, and Islamic books are often biased in favor of my gender. The body of scholarship produced by members of my gender is available and accessible to all. Their texts, legal opinions and names have not been ignored or virtually erased from Islamic history.

7. When I read a book about marriage, my rights and responsibilities or gender dynamics in Islam, the author is almost always the same gender as me. It is the same when I wish to contact a scholar in regards to any questions I might have.

8. If I have problems in my marriage I can go to an Imam for counseling services and I don’t have to be concerned about sexism or his “traditional” views of women.

9. If I become visibly upset during a marriage counseling session, I am not told that I am too emotional and therefore incapable of thinking logically or making major decisions about my marriage. On the contrary, any decisions I make are presumed to be well thought-out.

10. If I wish to end my marriage, my decision is not scrutinized by an imam or other members of the Muslim community. It is respected as the final one. I am not denied a divorce or told to make tremendous personal sacrifices in order to remain in the marriage.

11. When I convert to Islam, if I have the means (or the financial support of others), I can travel aboard to predominately Muslim countries in order to seek Islamic knowledge. I can be sure that my gender will not be a hindrance any way. At the same time, no one will ever tell me that I must wait until I am married in order to begin my travels.

12. I can stand up for the rights Allah has given me or challenge interpretations of those rights without people associating me with secularist Muslim movements.

13. If I cannot have children or suffer from a condition that interferes with my ability to have sexual intercourse I do not have to worry about my wife taking a second husband. Even if/when she decides to divorce me I can be sure that an imam or other community members will ask her to reconsider her decision.

14. If I am struggling with the temptation to fornicate, I know that I can discuss my predicament with an Imam or other Muslim men without fear that they will think I’m lewd or promiscuous.

15. I am not a visible representative of Islam. When I interact with non-Muslim colleagues, co-workers and members of the general public they may not necessarily know that I am a Muslim. Unless I make my religion/ethnicity known, I am not subjected to a barrage of questions about Islam, Muslims and my gender’s status in the religion. (The exception here would be Muslim men who don a thobe, turban, and wear a lengthy beard. Also, brothers who clearly appear to be Indian/Pakistani or Arab in the eyes of the public).

16. When a visiting scholar/imam comes to the masjid, by virtue of the seating arrangements (men in the front, no partition between the speaker and the men), I am able to speak with him face-to-face. I do not have to worry about crossing into "the women's space" in order to ask a question or to make a comment.


Anonymous said...

Salaam, that was wicked! I'd like to see this paraded by all the Muslim online journals and e-zines.

J said...

as-salaam alaykum,

This is a great and thought provoking list. I agree 100% about the women's section in masjids. It is truly pathetic. However if this conversation is going to move forward, we have to know what you mean by a couple of things:

On points 2 & 6, I just want to be clear about where you are coming from and this is not a challenge. Outside of evils such as FGM and "honor" killing, what "sexist" or "misogynist" beliefs to you feel are being perpetrated by scholars? I am asking because, as you know, there are some on the fringe that are calling for women to lead the prayers etc. Some (not me) will automatically assume that you are speaking on this extreme. (because we tend to look at issues in stark black and white terms)

We need to define the middle. What exactly do you feel needs to be changed?

PS: I think a comment I left here a few days ago may be trapped in spam or something (unless you are mad at me) :)

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Sis:

Masha Allah! You have certainly covered it all :)

Jamerican Muslimah said...
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Jamerican Muslimah said...

On the subject of masjids. Check out a recent experience I had:

Hubby and I went to pray Asr at a masjid we don't usually attend. A brother pointed me to the "sisters area" which was really a small area, sectioned off by a filthy curtain. Once I stepped in there I found the following: poor lighting, dingy walls, an unvacuumed carpet, a clock-radio, a broken fan, a sleeping bag, an old newspaper and GET THIS- a large cat sleeping next to the curtain. A REAL CAT! Not to mention the smell back there...

Anyhow, since the intercom was broken I was allowed to pray behind the brothers. What did their area look like? The floor had been recently vaccummed, a fragrant incense was wafting through the air, light streamed in through the windows and the area was completey devoid of appliances, papers, or animals. You could almost feel the sakinah on the brothers side.

That's just one masjid, some might say. But I can tell you that I've had similar experiences in other masjids (minus the cat of course.)

Jamerican Muslimah said...


Allow me to clarify for those who may take it the wrong way, I am not an advocate of women leading salah by any means. I don't see anything wrong with women praying behind the men in the main prayer hall. In my ideal masjid there would be a space for sisters to pray behind the men and one for us to pray in the balcony. In that way sisters have a choice about where they'd like to sit. Also, in my ideal masjid, women would not be forced to enter the masjid through the back door (close to alleys in some masjids.) I can write an entire blog on how that feels psychologically and what kind of message it sends...

As for the gender bias in interpretations of Quran and Ahadith, books, kutbahs etc. There are too many to name in this small space. However, I can start by mentioning the way some scholars, imams, and sheikhs interpret obedience (in the Quran) to mean complete, full and unquestioned submission to the husband. Or the way Sura 4 ayah 34 in the Quran has been used to sanction the physical abuse of women. Or the way a weak Hadith about a woman bowing to her husband is constantly pushed so that women feel their deen is contingent upon their ability to please their husband and not through the worship of Allah.

Here is the Hadith: When Mu`âdh ibn Jabal returned from al-Shâm he prostrated to the Prophet who said, "What is this, Mu`âdh?" He replied, when I came to Shâm I found them prostrating to their priests and bishops, so I told myself I would like to do the same to you." The Messenger of Allâh said: "Do not! If I were to order anyone to prostrate to anyone else, I would order woman to prostrate to her husband due to the greatness of his right over her. I swear by Allâh that no woman shall taste the sweetness of faith until she fulfills the right of her husband even if he should want her while she is on top of the camel-saddle!"

P.S. I never saw a comment from you. I wonder where it went...

Jana said...

So sad, but so true. I think this applies the world over. But what do you think we, as individuals, can do to change this?

J said...

In my ideal masjid there would be a space for sisters to pray behind the men and one for us to pray in the balcony. In that way sisters have a choice about where they'd like to sit.

Again, I agree 100% on the situation of women's sections in Islamic Centers across the country. (In Muslim lands there is no place at all in many masjids)

ADAMS Center in this area is like that with the women's section.

Again, we think it TOTAL black and white terms. If the women are allowed to pray in the main hall, then an orgy will break out. (Brothers do think like that) Sisters need to be consulted on the design of masjids, and (I know it is tough) but more of you need to speak out about these horrible conditions in the masjids. Silence is consent. Common retort to a brother who speaks up: "Well the sisters aren't complaining"

Also, any brother that speaks up will also be painted as a peeping Tom of some sort

I don't know what to say on the ahadith you are speaking of except to say that I know that some interpretations do reflect the times they were living in. (I read once that one scholar thought that blacks were so dark because they were in the wombs too long)

Anonymous said...

Why do the women in a masjid allow their space to remain unsightly and/ or unclean? Can women take over their space an pay for the enhancements that they seek? I know in the church women clean and maintain this house sometimes better than they do their own homes. I was just wondering. I know I would not put up with it and I would take some of my hard earned money to prove it. I would probably take a second mortgage just to rehab my area. How much could it cost? This may be unislamic i.e trying to have the womens place appear better than the main hall (male space) but a girl has to do what a girl has to do.

Anonymous said...

When do we think men are going to have womens' best interest in mind? It is sad that so many imams are married, supposedly learning a lot about a woman, and yet brothers seem so insensitive and absolutely clueless. I know for a fact that women are speaking about these issues and others, including the 'leading the prayer' idea and they are shot down for everything. Not just leading the prayer.

I think back on some women wanting to have a Fun Day at a park and the imams shut it down citing lack of security but what really bothered them was that the women didn't ask for approval.

Would it be wrong if the Muslim women in the US went the way of the Chinese and started their own mosques? I can guarantee they will be managed more efficiently than the others. And lets face it, we aren't worshipping in 'congregation' anyway so why not look into it? Yeah to some it screams segregation but to others it relieves a big headache.

Brothers cannot be that clueless about and fearful of women. Or can they? If you scared, say you scared. Thats my attitude.

Jamerican Muslimah said...

hayah, I think women need to be more vocal about the way we are treated. Which is happening in many areas. The key is this: men have to open their minds and hearts. They need must be willing to listen to us. So many times when sisters lodge complaints brothers dismiss what they have to say. I realize privileged people do not want to give up their positions of privilege. (Which is part of the reason sisters run into so much resistance). However, if men want to maintain a happy and healthy community they will need to do so. Unfortunately, I've seen so many sisters leave the deen because of the sexist treatment they receive in the Muslim community.

Tariq, I've heard about ADAMS center. Mashallah, you guys have a great imam who really gets it. May Allah reward him.

As for the Hadith, my problem is that imams and other Muslim men are quoting it even though it is weak. (I've actually heard an imam admit it was weak but he went on to use it in his kutbah anyway). There is no doubt in my mind brothers are using the Hadith to privilege themselves while at the same time placing women in a subordinate position. Not okay...

Anonymous, I don't know. I personally would not attend a masjid if I don't feel comfortable praying there. With that said, I don't think the sisters should have to come out of their own pocket to pay for the upkeep of their area. Isn't it a part of the masjid too? Doesn't the masjid receive money from its attendees? As for the cleaning, in the example I gave, it appears someone cleaned the brothers area...

Anonymous said...

Sadly, this is all too common in masjids. Some ppl (read: men) think that women should stay home anyway for prayer for that is their "domain", since they have sooo many other things to do, like cook, clean, take care of the kids and the like...

Honestly, I would love to go to the masjid more often, but I avoid it because 1) I can never hear the imam over the racket of the kids (I know, I know, it sounds like I'm hatin' but I do love kids), 2) I'm little, so a sister who stands next to me always crushes me without asking either before or during prayer to make room for her friends, 3) I can never concentrate when I pray extra prayers before or after the fard prayers because the sisters are trampling all over the place to get to each other. What ever happened to respect of somebody's place??? Sorry this is soo long, but these are my experiences. And lastly, I feel like I have no right for discourse or recourse like you mentioned.

Salam, Farhana

Anonymous said...

Salaam 'Alaikum

//more of you need to speak out about these horrible conditions in the masjids.//

What we need are more men to stand up in the "brothers' side" and advocate for this, b/c as long as it's mainly women bringing this issue up, we are ignored. We're called radical feminists, or dismissed, or given a head pat and a new curtain...

Plans of action have been presented, and rarely is action actually taken. We've gotten little more than lip service on this issue from our esteemed "mainstream leadership organizations."

I have been told in the past that young (18-40) American Muslim men just don't have any sway on the other side of the curtain but, as illustrated by some of the items on this list, the reality is that you all do have more advantage and could use it to advocate for our issues.

I can't believe that a proposed solution might be that we just do what the Chinese have done and get our own masajid. Seperate but... equal? Is that the only solution? To take women out of the already financially struggling masajid where the community is often already fractured and have us get our own?

Of course, btw, a large part of the responsibility for our situation lies on the shoulders of Muslim women. We are complacent and apathetic. As someone mentioned, if we, generally speaking, cared to do more beyond complaining about our dirty little prayer spaces and took it upon ourselves to take care of the space without waiting for a bunch of doctors and engineers on the board to do it for us, we would see some of the change that we're looking for.

Ugh, we have issues.

Anonymous said...

@Umm Zaid;
My 'suggestion' is not so much of a suggestion as it is a question. I stated that there is certainly elements of segregationist thought in it. I am a political scientist and philosopher so academically I am just as challenged as some of the women who are mischaracterized as feminist-only ideologues. The ideas I could present to my fellow brothers would only be dismissed as being tainted and heavily influenced by 'western' thought. The problem with 18-40 year olds is that outside of these guys being men, they don't have a concerted conscious effort on almost anything. Younger men with western tastes are not even active in the mosques so they fall away. On several occasions I have called for more participation among the youth and that also means leadership but the ol'heads aren't hearing it unless it is on their terms and the youth know that.
I referenced the Chinese Muslims for several reasons, some of which are too lengthy to elucidate here, but there is a creepy parallel between what Jamerican mentions here and what I have called BAMs to. I agree that more men need to speak up but realistically these brothers are not sharp and women who have the same concerns as Jamerican can't wait for enough men to take up their cause. I also put the idea out there as a way for forward-thinking Muslim women to show how much more capable they are than the men in these communities. The women will put them to shame. This cannot be denied.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Let me state also that advantage does not equal formidable advocacy. When brothers like myself speak out we are shot down and basically told to fall in line. I have said it before, my readership is largely comprised of women because I don't take the line of the old guard and brothers hate that.

Fatemeh said...

Salaam waleykum.
Would you mind if we linked to it for our Friday links?

Jamerican Muslimah said...

As salaam alaikum Zeynab,

Feel free to use it. Just give me my credit. *wink*

J said...

@ Umm Zaid

wa alaykum as-salaam

What we need are more men to stand up in the "brothers' side" and advocate for this, b/c as long as it's mainly women bringing this issue up, we are ignored.

And as I mentioned, on our side, if a man says anything his honor is challenged and he is made out to be a pervert that wants to look at the women. We often hear that this is what the women want.

We all have to keep chipping away at this issue. The solution is certainly not for the women to be silently angry and stop attending. If there is an open community meeting of some type, then make a comment. If there is a suggestion box, have all the sisters to leave notes and continue to complain. At that point the brothers could support this effort (without having their honor challenged) until something is done.

I think the idea of the sisters raising their own funds and taking care of their section is a good one. I read somewhere that a group of sisters had an "extreme makeover" of the sisters' section

Anonymous said...

Salaam Alaikum,

Brilliant post sister. It really resonated with me.

To relate a positive story though, I went to a lecture by Imam Zaid recently. Sisters were at the front and had equal say and access. Plus, he had a lot to say about the role brothers can play in saving sisters from the foolishness of some men.

Insha Allah, if you all work together, things will improve. Co-operation is a Sunnah!

Jamerican Muslimah said...


Sisters who speak about this issue have been characterized as harlots who only want to be next to brothers. They say we want to distract men from their worship with our presence. (We also have been accused of supporting movements like Amina Wadud's). I don't think a challenge to one's honor is a good excuse for brothers to chill out in the cut and not speak up on this issue. Seriously...are you guys that timid?

Secondly, I feel like sisters have been speaking up about the way we are treated in the masjid. Every Islamic conference I've been to in the past three years has had a workshop addressing women's concerns about the masjid. (Including MANA). I even attended the national imam's conference (the same one where the imams were not allowed to get on the airplane) and sisters spoke about it there. The problem seems to be that imams and masjid boards have been slow to implement the changes or have outright rejected them. CAIR & a host of other groups even created a pamphlet called "Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers" (

I don't blame sisters for getting frustrated and leaving the masjid. I know I've felt like doing it too. Why should I allow myself to be treated like a 2nd or 3rd class citizen in my own country and in my own place of worship? I go to work and supervise non-Muslim men, have a say in the organization, and can sit with them as equals. It's sad that I don't have the same rights in the masjid or when I attend Islamic functions.

Lastly, why should we take our own money to renovate a space in the masjid??? People (including women) donate money to the masjid. Are you going to tell me the shura can't use some of it to maintain the sister's area? So, on top of being mistreated we have to come out our own pockets to maintain a space someone else designated for us? Nope!

The problem is not just that the sister's area is crappy or that we are shelved off into other rooms or behind curtains. It's deeper than that. The problem is the sexist, misogynistic attitudes of many imams, scholars and Muslim men. Unfortunately, brothers have brought these attitudes from overseas and implemented them here. I'm saying forget that.

Alhamdulillah, for the imams who understand where we're coming from. And alhamdulillah for the masjids that are inclusive of women. Otherwise I know I would've been long gone...

Anonymous said...

I was trying to keep from saying it but now I guess I'm going to.

Time out! There, I said it. One of the ideas of the self-actualization I often speak of involves us accepting who we are, including but not limited to our experientalism. It is mindless to attempt to force precepts of an 'eastern' mind onto a 'western' mind. Am I blaming immigrants alone? No, because many of my own BAM brothers have adopted the nonsense too. And they are the last ones who should be anti-women in any form or forum. What I have suggested before and I will here is that taking a break involves getting to know who we are and it also means that once we know who we are and what has helped shape our identity and outlook on the world, then we can proceed in a way suitable to us. The last thing we should see in predominantly BAM and WAM mosques are partitions and all-male leadership. And that idea of leadership goes far beyond who can lead the prayer. BAMs have to have women in every aspect of leadership and community-building in and outside of the mosque. Someone eluded to the idea that the men were slow to 'come around', well, that is a bunch fragglenaggle bull. A lot of these brothers know well what the women are thinking, they've just decided 'womens issues' aren't as pressing. The conversation Jamerican ignited isn't new, women, primarily BAMs have been discussing and pleading with the leadership since they left the NOI way back in the day. The Muslim men who want to see things done differently and who give ears, hearts and minds to what their wives and sisters say are going to have to partner with them to start new mosques and centers along equitable and fully participatory lines. But folks are going to get tired of talking about it real quick and thats exactly what the current leadership wants. One of the white male critiques of feminism was that it was sporadic and that a way to fight against it was to remind the women of how pressing other issues were, in the American sense, there were times when American women were pacified and cajoled out of feminism by being told of the dangers at the hands of ruthless, free blacks. There are creepy parallels today.

J said...

@ Jamerican

I agree with the premise of your argument, but when I say raise your own money, this is nothing strange.

Sisters have done it in places before. They have taken charge of their areas. Put in couches, curtains, etc and make it very feminine. The way masjids work (for men too) is that when you want to get something done, you have to raise some money and do it yourself.

In the absence of the brothers taking care of it, the sisters can take charge and demand support from the brothers.

All of your points are well taken, but when a brother is accused of wanting to "free mix" or look at other brothers' wives he is risking being ostracized in the community as a pervert. You will probably get a good khutbah thrown your way about the dangers of zina and all of that.

We are going to have to work together on this issue

I agree on the imported misogynist (and other) attitudes, but every time someone says something about it, they are accused of "black nationalism" and shut down and even receive hate mail

Hijabi Apprentice said...

Wow! Thought provoking post. I know the dialogue here has mostly been on the disastrous situation that is the women's area of the masjid (LOL @ the CAT) but I think the whole divorce issue is what caught my eye the most.

I know many women who were not supported in their decision to end their marriage even when the husband was doing obviously haraam things. The women are made to feel they are somehow deen deficient by admitting they no longer want to be an unwilling participant in haraam or they just no longer want to be married.

The fact that we have the right to divorce is so conveniently overlooked all too often. Subhanallah!

ma'a salaamah,


Jamerican Muslimah said...

hijabi Apprentice,

As salaam alaikum. You are so right. Divorce is a big issue for Muslim women in the community as well.

I've known sisters who were coaxed, intimidated or made to feel guilty about wanting to leave their marriage- including me. (Alhamdulillah for my stubborn nature). By the same token, when a brother wants to divorce his wife he may be asked if he is sure about his decision but otherwise his decision is respected as a sound, well-thought out one.
If they have children...forget it. It seems like the only way a woman can get a divorce without people badgering her into staying is if the brother is extremely abusive or has apostated from Islam. (And sometimes not even then).

That is why I advocate for sisters to (1) Know their rights (2) refuse to compromise them and (3) be willing to stand up for them (even if the imam is the one denying her, her rights).

muslimahlocs said...

as salaamu alaikum
you were very kind and generous with your list. it could have been much, much longer...
i will have to come back and read through the comments, IA.

Hijabi Apprentice said...

"It seems like the only way a woman can get a divorce without people badgering her into staying is if the brother is extremely abusive or has apostated from Islam. (And sometimes not even then)."

Exactly JA. This type of thing only reinforces the poor behaviour of the husband. He knows he can get away with murder and still make it hard for his wife or wives to get a divorce. Subhanallah! This truly breaks my heart.

luckyfatima said...

this is a brilliant post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this! I'm a part of a collective of young Muslim women who talk about these very subjects, I'm going to bring the list to our next meeting!

Anonymous said...

how you can consistently cry "misogynist interpretation" when polygamy, the hijab, the woman as half witness is all there in the text in black and white baffles the observer.